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The figures were published by the Department of Education. Alamy Stock Photo
Department of Education

Number of students at multi-denominational secondary schools exceeds Catholic schools for first time

There were 201,102 pupils attending multi-denominational schools across the country in September, compared to 199,292 students in Catholic schools.

THE NUMBER OF students attending multi-denominational schools at post-primary level has exceeded the numbers enrolled in Catholic schools for the first time ever during the current academic year.

New figures published by the Department of Education show there were 201,102 pupils attending multi-denominational schools across the Republic in September, representing 48.3% of the total.

At the same time, there were 199,292 students in Catholic schools accounting for 47.8% of all enrolments at secondary level.

Multi-denominational schools in Ireland outnumbered Catholic secondary schools for the first time in 2018 but until now, enrolments in Catholic schools had still remained higher.

The change was driven by a 4% increase in enrolments over the past 12 months in multi-denominational schools with pupil numbers up 7,747.

In contrast, the growth in student numbers in Catholic schools was smaller at 0.8% with a net increase of just 1,519.

The Department of Education said the number of post-primary schools had been gradually rising for the last number of years in tandem with demographic changes.

The latest figures show the number of multi-denominational schools has remained unchanged over the past 12 months at 358, while the number of Catholic schools has decreased over the same period by six to 337.

Overall, the number of students attending post-primary schools rose by 2.5% in September to 416,631 – an annual increase of 10,239.

Excluding students from the Ukraine, the increase would have been 7,782 or 1.9%.

The number of students from Ukraine enrolled at post-primary level on 21 December has risen by 24.7% to 6,836 since the summer holidays.

They were enrolled in 593 different schools – 82% of all secondary schools – and accounted for 10% or more of student numbers in 36 schools.

Eight counties account for half of the total of Ukrainian students at post-primary level – Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Donegal, Galway, Clare, Mayo and Wexford.

Meanwhile, there was an increase in the number of all students attending post-primary schools in all local authority areas for the current academic year with the sole exception of Clare where enrolments fell by 49.

The largest increases in absolute terms were in Cork County and Fingal where there were over 1,000 extra students attending secondary level compared to the previous year.

In contrast to strong growth in enrolments at post-primary level, the number of pupils attending primary schools has fallen by 0.4% to 546,787 – a decrease of 2,411 compared to the 2022/23 academic year.

The decrease would be more than twice as high but for the impact of students from Ukraine.

The preliminary figures show that the annual decrease would have been 1.0% or a net reduction of 5,577 in overall enrolments if children from Ukraine were excluded.

A total of 10,558 children fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine were enrolled in primary schools in September – an increase of over 3,100 over the previous 12 months.

Since then, the number of pupils from Ukraine has continued to increase by over 600 to reach 11,165 by 21 December.

The age of children from Ukraine attending primary schools is spread fairly evenly across classes with the greatest number (1,544) enrolled in 3rd Class.

There are 1,656 schools – 54% of all primary schools – with students from Ukraine enrolled

They accounted for more than 10% of student numbers in 244 schools.

The highest concentration of Ukrainian pupils at primary level are found in Cork (1,153), Dublin (1,131), Kerry (1,099), Donegal (950) and Wexford (605).

The smallest numbers are located in Monaghan (88), Longford (107), Kildare (169) and Carlow (169).

The number of pupils attending primary schools in the Republic has been falling since 2018, although the first influx of Ukrainian refugees halted that trend briefly in 2022.

The latest figures also reveal that the decline in numbers attending primary schools has not been spread uniformly across the country.

The largest decreases occurred in Dublin City and Cork County where both have recorded a net reduction in enrolments of 669.

In contrast, several counties showed an increase in enrolments due to the effect of Ukrainian pupils including Donegal and Mayo which had a net increase of 348 and 290 respectively.

The figures show the vast majority of students at primary level still attend Catholic schools, although the proportion has dropped slightly from 88.9% in 2022 to 88.6% this year.

The number of pupils attending Catholic primary schools has fallen by 3, 507 to 484,577.

The fastest growing category by school ethos in both percentage and absolute terms is multi-denominational schools where enrolments now account for 8.1% of the total compared to 7.8% in 2022.

The number of students attending multi-denominational schools has risen by 3% in the past year with an additional 1,273 students to bring the total to 44,254.

Over the past academic year, the total number of Catholic primary schools in the Republic has decreased by eight to 2,731.

The number of multi-denominational schools has grown by two to 168 over the same period.

The number of Church of Ireland and “other” schools has remained static at 168 and 22 respectively.

In the past 12 years, the number of Catholic schools has fallen by 126 as a result of closures and amalgamations, while an extra 71 multi-denominational schools have been established.

Seán McCárthaigh
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