Number of Catholic children in schools at all-time high
THE religious divide in schools is at its widest ever with the number of Catholic children at an all all-time high.
Official government figures also reveal the percentage of pupils who identify as Protestant is plummeting.
There are now more Catholic children at nursery, primary, secondary, grammar and special schools.
On school census day this year there were 175,617 Catholic pupils - 50.7 per cent of all enrolments. It is the first time this figure has topped 175,000.
There were 114,314 Protestant children - 33 per cent - while 56,408 identified as `other'.
In 2000/01, the divide was 50.7 per cent Catholic and 42.7 per cent Protestant.
The latest school figures reflect recent population and employment shifts.
In 2011, the census put the Protestant population at 48 per cent and Catholics at 45.
A separate Labour Force Survey Report published this year found the number of Catholics and Protestants of working age was almost the same for the first time.
The shift is becoming even more striking among schoolchildren. It has been suggested, however, that many Protestants are not self-identifying as such.
In 2000/01 there were about 173,000 Catholic children and 146,000 Protestant. The decline since then in children identifying as Protestant has coincided with a rise in those who are `other' or `non Christian'. There were almost 23,000 others in 2000/01 compared to 56,000-plus now.
The figures also show that Catholic families are more likely to send their children to schools in other sectors - while Protestant children in Catholic schools remains low.
Just 1.3 per cent of pupils in Catholic grammar schools are Protestant, while about 12 per cent of Catholics attend non-denominational grammar schools.
The statistics also mirror research by the Controlled Schools' Support Council (CSSC), which found that more than one in three children in state schools do not belong to a Protestant denomination.
CSSC chief executive Barry Mulholland said the sector was open to all faiths and none.
"Controlled schools are justifiably proud of the organically integrated nature of their schools, and this gives an opportunity for children and young people to learn, develop and grow together within the ethos of non-denominational Christian values and principals," he said.