Here to Help

Since 2002, we've been helping Irish primary teachers in all areas of the job, from advice on technology to getting a job. We also post regularly on all social media. We're here to help so ask us anything.

Blog Post

A short guide to religion in primary schools

Over the last number of years, the population of Ireland has changed. One of the things that has changed greatly in the last while is the rise in the number of belief systems in the country. Traditionally, Ireland consisted of a population of around 99% Christians, generally either Catholic or Church of Ireland with a smattering of other faiths and none. Today, there are over 180,000 people in Ireland who describe themselves as having no religion and there are a growing number of other faiths. However, despite attempts from all education partners including the various churches to try and balance this out, over 95% of schools are run by denominational patron bodies.

There are generally three types of national schools in Ireland: denominational, interdenominational and multi-denominational. Currently, there are no non-denominational schools. This should make things easy, but unfortunately these labels are more complicated than they should be. The purpose of this guide is not to criticise or judge any school or organisation. Schools are perfectly entitled to follow their patronage. It is simply to outline to interested people what to expect from a school from a religious point of view and information on opting out if this is something one wishes to do.


Image from Breaking News.

Image from Breaking News.

Denominational schools are the easiest to describe. These schools are run by a particular faith group as their patron body. The vast majority of these are Catholic schools (roughly 93% of Irish national schools) followed by a smaller number of Church of Ireland schools and a handful of others, (2 Muslim and 1 Jewish). Denominational schools will provide faith formation during the school day. In fact, the religious ethos of the school should generally permeate throughout the school day. As most people are familiar with Catholic schools, I will give some examples. Prayers would most likely be recited at several parts of the school day, e.g. morning prayer, evening prayer, lunch time prayer, sometimes the Angelus, etc. Assemblies would generally have a Catholic message. Children also learn religious songs and sing these throughout the day, perhaps as transitions between classes. Religious symbolism should also be evident in all areas of the school.  Children also have opportunities to visit the local church for prayer services. Many schools also have choirs that sing hymns in church. Sacrament preparation takes place in 2nd and 6th class. This is on top of the 30 minutes religious instruction every day required by the patron. It is a similar set up in other denominational schools.

Most (if not all) denominational schools will welcome children of all faiths and none and most (if not all) will treat your child with the utmost respect whatever their faith or lack thereof. However, this doesn’t mean that they are able to cater for your child’s belief system. If a school is denominational, they generally must do everything in the list above. It is generally possible to take one’s child out of their religion class for the 30 minutes per day and some denominational schools might be able to cater for children during this time. Some schools put their faith formation at the beginning or end of the school day to make collection easier. However, schools are not under any obligation to do this as yet and even if they do, it is important to remember that religion still goes on throughout the school day.

Interdenominational schools in Ireland can be defined as Christian schools. The “inter” means that the ethos of the school is both Catholic and Church of Ireland. Many Gaelscoileanna are labelled as interdenominational. Like denominational schools, most will welcome children of all faiths and none, but are under no obligation to cater for children during faith formation, which goes on throughout the day, no matter who the patron body is.

From Educate Together

From Educate Together

Everything gets very complicated when it comes to multi-denominational education in Ireland. This is probably because “multi” can be defined in many different ways. Some multi-denominational schools teach religious instruction during the school day, other don’t. Some schools label themselves as multi-denominational but are in effect interdenominational but as multi means more than one, 2 religions count! Some schools call themselves multi-denominational when they really mean multi-cultural so be careful with that! We’ll look at some of the options that are out there (concentrating on national schools.)

Most people associate multi-denominational schools with Educate Together (ET). All ET schools are multi-denominational and you can be assured that faith formation does not occur during the school day in these schools. Any faith formation occurs outside of school time and is usually taken care of by parents and parish groups. Some of the older ET schools might still have some faith formation in school but this is being phased out and there might only be one or two of them still practicing this. Just check before you enrol. Don’t forget that “School Projects” are part of the Educate Together network and a full list of ET schools can be found on their web site.

A more recent addition to the patronage list is the VEC, (or ETB as they are now known.) These new schools were introduced a few years ago and are labelled as multi-denominational. However, VEC schools do practice faith formation during the school day. The difference between them and denominational schools is that they separate children according to their beliefs so children that believe in one god might remain in the classroom, while those who believe in more than one god or none go somewhere else. They come together for some general instruction using the programme “Goodness me, Goodness you” More information on this programme can be found at this web site.

From Gaelscoileanna website

From Gaelscoileanna website

There are a number of other multi-denominational schools in Ireland but you will have to check this out on enrollment. Many of the newer Gaelscoileanna, for example, are multi-denominational, but again, it is worth checking out what this will mean for your child when it comes to religion. For example, Gaelscoil na Giúise, Firhouse in Dublin follows the same ethics programme as Educate Together schools.

While we’re speaking of Gaelscoileanna, there is no one answer when it comes to religion in them. The web site,, claims that they come in all flavours: denominational, interdenominational, multi-denominational and non-denominational (though I didn’t think non-denominational schools existed in Ireland.) In any case, it’s best to check out your local Gaelscoil to find out their religious ethos even if its patron body is non-denominational. The list of all Gaelscoileanna is helpfully listed on this web site.

I hope this short guide gives a flavour of what a child should expect from their schooling from the coalface rather than in theory or from a government perspective. For those who wish for their child to have faith formation during the school day, if they are Catholic, there are thousands of options; for those that don’t, things are trickier as religion permeates the whole of a school day and is more often “caught” rather than “taught” either through song, prayers, religious symbols, visits to church, etc. While this appears not to be a problem for the vast majority of people in Ireland today, it may be something that surprises those who have yet to enter the system.

Note: Featured Image from:

Comments (0)

  1. Suzanne Murphy 28th October 2014 at 10:12 am Reply

    Thanks for that very informative piece. I do have a question though, about aspects of our culture which we don’t even think about as being “catholic/christian/pagan” anymore, which have infiltrated textbooks, media and are unavoidable such as Halloween, valentines, mothers and fathers day, but which pose a big issue for some of my students, eg Jehovas Witnesses. I teach in a denominational school, we cater for others with respect for their wishes and beliefs, timetable around them, do “non religious” plays and concerts especially, but aside from RE, these students ate asking to be excused from anything relating to these areas as well- Art, music, even gaeilge and reading when these things come up. I wonder how do multi denominational schools deal with these?

    1. admin 28th October 2014 at 9:36 pm Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Suzanne. It sounds like you have a school that really goes out of its way despite its ethos! Multidenominational schools work in such a way that we celebrate all festivities without saying any of them are correct. For example, when we teach about Christmas, we say, “Christians believe that…” rather than assuming everyone celebrates it. For Hallowe’en, it’s similar, “pagans believe that…” Children can discuss their own circumstances but know to respect that not everybody does the same as they do. We also make sure to compare festivals aroudn the same time. On the last day of term in my school, we have an Autumn Festival where we play lots of games around Hallowe’en, Diwali and Samhain and any other festivals that happen around this time.

      Children from different faiths, such as Jehovah Witnesses, therefore, should not feel that their beliefs are disrespected. However, like any other subject, they are free to remove their children from classes if they wish even though there is really no need.

      You’re also right about your point of many festivals becoming “cultural” more than their original purpose. I guess this is a natural evolution. Most Christian festivals were originally pagan celebrations and I’m sure these were originally something else before that and in the future they will evolve to something else again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts Predictions for 2017

Every year, I try to predict what the big stories will be in primary

A Look at the Action Plan for Education

The Action Plan for Education was published today by Minister Richard Bruton. The government

Twitter and Droichead

There was a lot of talk about Droichead on social media over the last

What are the best Summer Courses for 2016?

Every year we scour the Summer Course list. This year there seems to be

What is the biggest issue for Community National Schools?

The Community National School model is being lauded as the ideal solution for primary education

What Vehicle will get us over the Bridge?

With the overwhelming majority of teachers voting to not cooperate with Droichead in its

Droichead: The People have Spoken

Yesterday, the INTO revealed the results of the ballot regarding non-cooperation with the Droichead

What's the difference between the CNS model and the Catholic model?

Another government, another disappointing day for education. Jan O’Sullivan has left her mark and I

INTO Congress: A Lesson in how to do Congress

The INTO congress was on this week. You might have missed it because you

How to make denominational schools more inclusive

Around 96% of Irish primary schools are under the patronage of a religious body,

Primary Schools: Inclusive or Tolerant?

As most people know, there are a number of parents in Ireland who have

Infographic of Survey on Inclusiveness

I developed an infographic based on the data received from my survey on how

How inclusive are Catholic Schools?

Recently, The Irish Independent carried an article with the headline, Catholic Schools are as inclusive

Is it ethical to publish League Tables?

The Irish Independent published, what they called, a definitive league table of the best schools

The Mathematics of Patronage and Pluralism

Between 96% and 98% of Irish primary schools are denominational in patronage, which means

2016 Predictions

As we come to the last day of year, it is traditional at to make predictions

What will removing Rule 68 actually do?

One of the rules of National Schools that has been causing much debate over

Multidenominational: A long word, long-abused

The education landscape used to be an easy one to maneuver. Between the 1920s

Which dark stain will be removed in 2016?

Ask most teachers who the best education minister was and you’ll most likely hear

Can the new NCCA Ethics Curriculum work in Ireland?

It always strikes me as odd the stories about primary education that get noticed

What are teachers for?

Michelle McBride writes about healthy eating in schools in her article called “It is

Why Pluralism in Education Doesn't Work

I was listening to a debate on the radio about the Angelus last week.

Media Focuses on Religion during Maths Week

There were a number of stories in the newspapers and media this week surrounding

Thoughts on the Digital Strategy

The Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 is the latest attempt by the government to

Should we be Celebrating the 1916 Rising?

Earlier this week, two army officials came to my school to present us with

An Alternative to Droichead

Following my blog post on Droichead last week, I thought I might expand on my

Droichead: A bridge too far

Droichead is a new model of induction and probation for newly qualified teachers, which

No wishes for pay equality from INTO

This week an email went out to all INTO members to welcome them back

Burren National School: A symbol of the divestment process

Today, Educate Together announced that the proposed new Educate Together school in Castlebar was

Where do unbaptised children fit in?

I’ve been following the recent discussions about unbaptised children accessing primary education over the last

Lansdowne Road Agreement: Vote Yes or No?

I usually have strong convictions about issues affecting the education system but I am

Who are the role models in primary schools?

Last weekend, I was part of a panel at the Excited Festival of Learning

Anything to Gain from Gain Time? #DojoChatEU

I find it difficult to attend ClassDojo’s chats every week so when this week’s

Why We're Voting Yes to Marriage Equality

Commenting on referenda is not something that we generally do at but the

Should schools be allowed to discriminate?

The headline grabber from the INTO congress was Jan O’Sullivan’s announcement that new enrollment

Ten Things to Keep in Mind at INTO Congress

Every year, during the spring holidays, the media takes an interest in education as the

Swapping Books for iPads?

The Irish Independent reported recently  that an anonymous donor had given a school in Fermoy, Co

Is all well with the new well-being guidelines?

In the last week, primary schools all received their first paper-based document from the

Why the INTO need to support Marriage Equality

The campaign for marriage equality in May seems to be overwhelmingly supported by teachers

Safe Internet Day: Can one day save our children?

Today is Safer Internet Day and Webwise as usual are doing brilliantly, positive things

One School's Plea to the NCSE

The new proposed NCSE model is likely to be sanctioned very soon. I wrote

IPPN 2015 Review

The annual IPPN conference, the largest educational conference in Ireland, where over 1,200 principals

Denominational Schools and the Upcoming Marriage Referendum

The upcoming referendum on marriage equality has sparked some conversation among teachers who work

Why we don't need to start teaching coding in primary schools

Ciaran Cannon is one of the most innovative politicians I know and he is

Overwhelmed and Underwhelmed: Web Summit

I was delighted to get the opportunity to go along to the Web Summit

Primary Schools and Broadband: The biggest issue in education today?

Following on from a conversation on the wonderful CESI list, I thought I would

10 Educational Books that have stayed with me

Facebook is awash with challenges from ice-buckets to listing how you’re grateful for the

Why we should care about Ireland's Human Rights Record in Education

Last week, the Irish government was given a major slap on the wrist for

Who Jan O'Sullivan shouldn't Hire as her Advisor

Jan O’Sullivan is our new Education Minister and, as a new member to the cabinet,

Five more things the new Minister for Education should do…

Following on from Fintan O’Mahoney’s excellent article, “Ten things the new Minister for Education

What will Ruairi Quinn's Legacy be?

Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, announced his resignation today. The announcement was met with mixed

Is the NCSE reform even less equitable?

With much fanfare, the NCSE are reforming how resources are given to schools for

What does the end of XP support mean for Irish schools?

If you walk into most primary schools, you’ll find a vast array of different

Draft Primary Language Curriculum Consultation:Your input needed!

Draft Primary Language Curriculum Consultation:Your input needed! I posted about the draft primary language curriculum

INTO Congress: How should teachers behave?

Teachers are professionals in the same way doctors and lawyers are. Society expects professionals

4 Problems with the new Anti-Bullying Procedures

The government’s anti-bullying procedures are to be ratified in all schools before the 11th

Are schools to blame for us not speaking Irish? (#edchatie)

This week’s chat on #edchatie on Twitter was very interesting and the subject of

Fitness to teach is all about motivating teachers to love their job-Part 2

Self-actualisation and flow In my first post on performance-related pay, I spoke about the process

Public Consultation for a new Digital Strategy for Schools

A couple of days ago, the Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, launched a public

Cutting the cost of school uniforms? Why not cut them altogether?

Irish parents are to be balloted on school uniforms in the coming weeks in

How to save the Irish language

One of the most popular conversations I have with non-teachers is about the Irish

The Literacy Shed

In my free time, which isn’t very much, I love, love, love writing and

Blog Awards show sharing breeds success

Last night I attended the Blog Awards in Naas. It was a glitzy affair,

Should be more socially responsible?

I’m currently asking some questions about social media in an attempt to see what

How will the new enrollment laws affect primary schools?

Ruairi Quinn has welcomed teachers back to school with new legislation surrounding enrollment in

Shouldn't we ensure Web 2.0 is not anonymous?

I’m currently asking some questions about social media in an attempt to see what

A Step towards Paper-Free Roll Books

The Department of Education were busy during the summer making some more circulars and

Should we ban children from using

I’m currently asking some questions about social media in an attempt to see what

Should we shut down

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m asking some questions about social media in

JobBridge Controversy

JobBridge is a government internship scheme that that was designed to provide work experience

Should we be happy with Quinn's U-turn on Resource Hours?

Today, the minister for education, Ruairi Quinn reversed the most recent cut he had

Cutting through the latest spin on cuts to education

A day or so after the majority of primary school teachers decided to vote

Irish Primary Classrooms according to ERSC study:Not the best!

Studies Yesterday, you may have heard about a study from the ERCS has found that

Why Standardised Testing plans are rubbish

Last year, as part of the government’s literacy and numeracy improvement plan, primary school

Before you vote on Croke Park 2…

Croke Park 2 has caused a lot of discussion in the teaching community. The

Textbooks, Post Holders and Teacher's Autonomy?

I trained to become a teacher in the UK back in 2002 after “teaching”

The online rollbook is coming

Last week, at the IPPN conference, words that I never thought I would hear

Wifi Warning or Scaremongering?

Image from During the week, I received an email from an organisation called IDEA,

Predictions for 2013

Last year we predicted that 2012 was going to be the year of the Review of 2012

Every December, we look back on the year and remember some of the highs

SSE: Shifting the Bell Curve

In my last article about the SSE (School Self-Evaluation), I wrote about how I

Couch Soundbite Doesn't Sit Comfortably

There was something that grated on me when I saw the highly retweeted soundbite

Primary Education and the 2013 Budget

Ruairi Quinn has to make around €100m of cuts to the education budget today.

A Day Without Technology

Camara Education set a challenge to see if we could live without technology for

Thoughts after absorbing SSE

I’m largely in favour of the new School Self-Evaluation, (SSE), that was launched a

The Gathering Letter writing project

Gabriel Byrne is not a fan of the Gathering but that doesn’t mean you

Do Teachers need Honours Maths?

  What does atan(y,x) do? If you did well in your Leaving Certificate Honours Maths

Should teachers be techies in 21st Century schools?

Following a very interesting tweet on last week’s #edchatie, a contributor said that teacher

Killing Primary Education

Screenshot from Irish Times article Back in October, The Irish Times ran a feature outlining

Interviews via Video Conference

A few years ago I was asked an interesting question about whether it would

Technology in Schools in the Dark Ages?

Great – another article damning schools and the Department of Education for failing the youth

INTO uses Social Media during Congress

It’s good to see leadership in education. An example of this is in the

Do we need Teaching Council 2.0?

It hasn’t been the best couple of months for the Teaching Council. Established six

Best Schools? Another missed opportunity.

Sunday newspapers often feature supplements on different topics. This week the Sunday Business Post

Technology and Pedagogy – not a chicken and egg

The IPPN conference is the biggest conference for primary school prinicpals in Europe with

Something to think about Ruairi Quinn (Part 3)

The final part of my letter to Ruairi Quinn… Has there been any mention of

Something to think about Ruairi Quinn (Part 2)

Continuing from my letter from the last day, here is part 2… Instead, in the

Something to think about Ruairi Quinn (Part 1)

After attending the BETT conference in the UK, I experienced Michael Gove for the

Thoughts on Ruairí Quinn's Plan for Literacy and Numeracy

Ruairí Quinn has figured out how we can improve literacy and numeracy standards in

Survey Results: Web 2.0 in Schools

As part of’s competition to win a HD Flip Cam, participants answered some

Should Moodle be used in Primary Schools?

Moodle is a tool for creating online courses and virtual learning environments (VLEs).  When

Labour – Fine Gael Education Programme

With a new government in place, a few decisions between the two parties had

What do Jedward and Positivity Week have in common?

There is a link, trust me. I am a member of the IPPN but that

A Reaction to Falling Literacy and Numeracy Levels

I wanted to comment a bit on some of the proposals from the government

PISA reveals worrying results for Ireland

According to the research of PISA 2009, only 6.6% of students questions did not

We need an update on kids' safety.

Here’s a transcript of Rozz’s recent article published in the Think Tank section of

ICT Grant = Demise of Gaeilge?

Recently, Irish primary schools were allocated a share of €25 million from the Department

Where do you like to sit when you are the teacher?

The Desk at the top of the classroom! (and organisational settings for you to

Technology Upgraded, Teaching Downgraded?

I remember my first day at school vividly because everyone laughed at me.  My

Douglas Adams, The Fourth R and Learning

I was happy to see that technology was on the agenda at the annual

12 reasons to have Computerised Roll Books

Imagine it’s 11:30am on June 30th.  What are you doing?  Apart from trying to

International Study of Interactive Whiteboards

Last year I took part in an international study of Interactive Whiteboard use.

Saving Money for ICT

I came across a great article from Open Source Schools, a British web site,

Why don't VEC primary schools have web sites?

If I want to find out about a school for a particular reason, the

ICT in Education Conference 2010

Last year was the first year I attended the ICT in Education Conference in

A Case for Computer Rooms

Computer rooms were on top of every primary school’s wishlist back in the late

Social Networking and Bullying

With the news that Bebo may soon be no more,  I asked colleagues was

My Twitterversary

I’ve been using Twitter for a while now and am about to tweet for

What have the Teaching Council ever done for us?

Have recently discovered Inside Education on 103.2 Dublin City FM. Simon introduced me to

Why IPPN works

I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment about how the net generation think,

The brains of Spain are mainly very sane

I was sent a press release from Promethean Ireland entitled “Promethean Wins Major Spanish

Talkin' 'bout iGeneration

I’m a big fan of Conor Galvin, from UCD’s school of education.  I have

Technical Support in Schools (Irish Style)

We all know that primary schools are underfunded. We all know that the

€150m for Smart Schools isn't smart at all

I feel that I should reiterate that I have deep concerns about the €150m

Why Blogging is Best – a digiteach article

I was asked to write a follow-up article about my workshop at this year’s