English or Irish not mother tongue for 50,000 primary pupils

New database reveals most detailed picture yet of national school population

Almost 50,000 pupils at primary level do not have English or Irish as their mother tongue, new figures show

The findings are contained in a new primary schools database which provides the most detailed picture yet of the ethnic, cultural and religious profile of children in the primary education system.

The database was at the centre of controversy when it was established in recent years due to fears among some parents over the sensitive information being sought from schools and parents. However, questions around ethnicity and religion were optional questions which parents could refuse to answer.

Overall, there were 558,000 pupils enrolled in 3,250 primary schools as of September 30th, 2016. Of the 47,973 pupils who said English or Irish was not their mother tongue, just over a third were Irish nationals, followed by Polish, Lithuanian and Romanian nationals.



When broken down by nationality, 89 per cent of all students at mainstream primary schools were Irish, followed by Polish (3 per cent), Lithuanian, Romanian, dual nationalities – Irish and another – and British (all 1 per cent).

In relation to ethnic or cultural background, the level of “no consent” or non-response was 30 per cent or about 160,000.

Of those who responded, the largest category was “white Irish” (320,773), followed by “other white background” (34,030), “Asian or Asian Irish” (10,478) and Irish Traveller (7,980).

On religion, about 140,000 did not respond or consent to the question. Of those who answered, the largest category was Roman Catholic (359,921), no religion (10,333), Church of Ireland (9,195), Muslim (8,953).

A total of 90 per cent of students were enrolled in schools with a Catholic ethos, followed by multidenominational (5 per cent) and Church of Ireland (3 per cent).

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent