More than a third of families would send their child to a non-denominational school if they had the option.
The Irish Examiner ICMSA opinion poll has found that 37% of respondents said they would enrol their children in a non-denominational school, versus 34% who said they would not.
The finding comes amid ongoing debate about the patronage and ethos of schools.
Support for non-denominational schooling is strongest among those aged 35 to 54, at 43%.
Equate Ireland, a group campaigning for more diversity in schools, said the school system was now lagging behind what communities wanted.
Equate director Michael Barron said in response to the poll findings: “In rural Ireland we are now in a situation where more families want a school that is non-denominational rather than religious.
“This represents the reality of modern Ireland.
“Considering the present situation where 96% are under religious patronage, this is an extraordinary situation where parental choice is virtually non-existent, particularly in rural Ireland.
“Change in school patronage across the country is urgent. The Department of Education needs to issue its road map on the divestment of schools from Church bodies. At Equate we will continue to work with education stakeholders and families to bring about this change.”
A separate opinion poll conducted by Equate last year found that 46% of respondents said they would choose to send their child to a non-denominational school.
Mr Barron said: “We live in a modern diverse society and our school system has for too long lagged behind what parents, communities and children want and need.”
In June, Education Minister Richard Bruton said he hoped to accelerate the divestment of some Catholic primary schools in order to provide for parental choice. The plan would see an average of 20 new multi-denominational and non-denominational schools provided per year up to 2030.
Catholic and other patrons control more than 90% of the country’s 3,300 primary schools.
While a number of towns have been identified by the Department of Education where demand for alternatives to faith-based primary school exists, only very small numbers have seen school buildings handed over to multi-denominational or other alternative patrons.
Mir Bruton’s officials have made increased efforts this year to speed the process along. But further pressure exists in relation to rural and other areas where there is no increased choice likely as pupil numbers are not enough to justify providing new schools.
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