Their rising popularity is underpinned in a report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), which is out today.
The baby boom has pushed up enrolments in primary schools generally, with 45pc experiencing a rise in pupil numbers in recent years.
But the greatest pressure is on the small number of multi-denominational schools, where enrolments are up by 57pc. They now have more applicants than they can accept.
There are only about 70 multi-denominational schools across 19 countries, out of more than 3,000 primary schools countrywide, which may help explain why they are oversubscribed.
The report, which was funded by the multi-denominational body Educate Together, focuses on the profile of schools and pupils’ experiences across Catholic and minority faith, mainly Protestant, sectors.
It is based on studies done before VEC community national schools came into being.
It looks at the social, economic and educational characteristics of students and shows how the sectors differ in terms of social class background and maternal education levels.
The report found that children attending multi-denominational and minority faith schools were more likely to come from middle-class backgrounds and have more highly educated parents.
This is put down to middle-class parents being more likely to exercise choice and send their children outside their local areas.
Mothers in multi-denominational schools were found to be better educated than those in minority faith or Catholic schools.
While there is no surprise that student intake in the Catholic schools is still predominantly Catholic, the ESRI also found that half the pupils in multi-denominational schools are Catholic.
And mothers in multi-denominational schools are just as likely to describe themselves as religious or spiritual as mothers in Catholic schools.
A sizeable 30pc Catholic intake was also found in minority faith — mostly Church of Ireland — schools.
There were no significant differences in pupils’ perspectives on their school experience across the three sectors.
The publication of the report coincides with the start of surveys in five towns and suburbs asking parents whether they want a greater choice of primary schools.
In all, 44 areas will be surveyed over the next month to establish the level of demand, if any, for the handover of some Catholic schools to other patron bodies.
Speaking on behalf of the Catholic bishops, Fr Michael Drumm expressed concern, warning of a danger of “mass non-participation”, where only the motivated parents supporting a particular school type would complete the survey.
– Katherine Donnelly