Educate Together, which runs 77 non-denominational schools, and campaign group Education Equality say there is no demand among parents for the community national schools model. They claim it reinforces differences between children by segregating them for religious instruction.
Mr Bruton is planning 400 new primary schools by 2030 through the creation of additional schools and the transfer of patronage of schools from the Catholic Church to other bodies which may be multi- or non-denominational.
He said the fastest form of divestment was for community national schools, run by the State’s Education and Training Boards, to take over patronage.
Children of all faiths and none are taught a joint ethics-based curriculum in some classes in these schools and are then split up for instruction in their own religion. Educate Together schools teach all children jointly and facilitate faith instruction organised by parents as an extra class at the end of the school day where requested.
Emer Nowlan, chief operating officer for Educate Together, said Mr Bruton’s preference does not match that of parents. “The figures don’t stack up,” she said.
“In the surveys that the Department carried out back in 2012/2013 after the Forum on Patronage, they surveyed about 50 areas and in 28 of those areas they established that there is a need for change,” said Ms Nowlan.
“In 25 of those 28 areas, Educate Together was selected as the most popular patron. Community national schools were on offer to parents in all of those areas and they did not choose them.”
April Duff, the chairwoman of Education Equality, said she had “very grave concerns” about the community national school model because children were segregated along religious divides during school time.
Ms Duff told RTÉ she was also disappointed with Mr Bruton’s failure to commit to changing the law to stop faith-based schools using discriminatory enrolment policies against children of different or no faith. “They are not religious institutions — they are educational institutions,” she said.
Mr Bruton said there were differing views as to whether that should be done or if it could be done within the Constitution.
Patrick Treacy of the Faith In Our Schools group said there had been “gross exaggeration” of the difficulties non-religious children faced getting into Catholic schools.