More than 100 Catholic primary schools have closed over past decade

Multidenominational is the fastest growing category of school by ethos

More than 100 Catholic primary schools have closed over the past decade while the number of multidenominational primary schools has jumped by almost 50 over the same period.

Despite these trends, Catholic schools still account for 90 per cent of primary schools across the State and enrolment in these schools is continuing to grow.

The figures are contained in the latest Department of Education analysis of enrolment trends recorded in September 2018.

Overall, there are almost 560,000 pupils enrolled in primary schools in the current academic year, an increase of 1 per cent over the previous year.


Some 90 per cent, or just over 505,000 pupils, are enrolled in Catholic schools.

Enrolments in multidenominational schools stood at a little more than 32,000, accounting for 6 per cent of the total.

Church of Ireland schools had enrolments of 16,514, representing 3 per cent of all pupils.

The fastest-growing category of school by religious ethos in both percentage and absolute terms are multidenominational schools, which increased by 8 per cent with an additional 2,284 pupils.

Catholic schools, meanwhile, increased by 0.4 per cent, or 1,966 pupils.

Between 2017 and 2018 the number of schools with a Catholic ethos fell by nine, from 2,785 to 2,776, while those with a multidenominational ethos rose by four, from 115 to 119.

This is part of a longer term trend, with the number of Catholic schools falling, while the number of multidenominational schools has jumped from 73 to 119 – an increase of 63 per cent.

The report says these trends are partly the result of the closure of small schools with declining enrolments and the amalgamation of schools in close proximity to each other, as well as the opening of new multidenominational schools in response to parental choice.

All 24 new mainstream primary schools opened in the past five years have been multidenominational in ethos.

Secondary schools

There is a similar pattern in secondary schools, where total enrolments stood at almost 363,000, at September 2018, an increase of 1.5 per cent.

Catholic schools dominated with almost 186,000 pupils, while there were just under 163,000 pupils in multidenominational schools. There were 12,478 in Church of Ireland schools.

Numbers of pupils in multidenominational schools increased by 3 per cent over the 12 months, far ahead of the rise in Catholic schools which saw their numbers increase by 0.4 per cent.

Church of Ireland schools also saw a modest increase in enrolments, up 2 per cent.

The number of post-primary schools has been gradually rising for the past number of years, going from a low of 700 in 2013 to 722 in 2018.

The report also shows that small schools remain a distinctive feature of the primary Irish education system.

There are some 708 schools with 60 or fewer pupils enrolled for the 2018 academic year, accounting for almost a quarter of primary schools. However, they represent just 4 per cent of the total enrolments.

The prevalence of small schools varies widely by region, with more than half of schools in Mayo and Leitrim having 60 or fewer pupils.

Cork city, Fingal and south Dublin have just one small school each, and Galway city has none.

The size of post-primary schools is following an upwards trend.

The number of large post-primary schools – with 800 students or more – and the number of pupils attending these schools, has risen significantly in the past decade.

The number of large schools has risen by 83 per cent from 54 to 99, and the number of pupils enrolled in these schools has increased from just under 51,000 to more than 96,000.

This trend can be expected to continue for the next number of years, as post-primary enrolments continue to increase.

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