Terms used to describe schools are ‘confusing’ – education expert

Fr Michael Drumm, head of the Catholic Schools Partnership (CSP), has called on the Government to clarify the matter.

A leading figure in Catholic education has warned that the language used to describe schools in Ireland is “confusing” and gives rise to negative representations of faith-based schools as narrow and sectarian. Fr Michael Drumm, head of the Catholic Schools Partnership (CSP), has called on the Government to clarify the matter.

Schools in the Republic are defined as denominational, inter-denominational and multi-denominational. However, according to Fr Drumm, “the meaning of these terms is very unclear”.

Speaking to The Irish Catholicthis week, Fr Drumm said “there is a tendency to speak only of denominational and multi-denominational schools and to define the latter as more open and inclusive.

“This gives rise to negative representations of denominational schools as closed and sectarian. This is completely at odds with the experience in local communities throughout the country,” he said.

Fr Drumm also pointed out that no school is actually providing a non-denominational, entirely secular education in Ireland today due to a lack of demand.

He said the absence of truly secular schools is a contributing factor to the confusing terminology used in Irish educational discourse. As a result the term ‘multi-denominational’ is used in numerous, often contradictory, senses, Fr Drumm said. “In that sense the CSP would be calling for some clarification on the terminology,” he added.


The report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, established by Education Minister Ruairí Quinn, noted “a certain fluidity exists” in the use of terms in relation to religious education and the characterisation of schools.

When questioned by The Irish Catholic at the launch of four new Educate Together schools last month, Mr Quinn defined multi-denominational education as a “toleration and an acceptance of people of religious belief or no belief whatsoever, and there is mutual respect for all those conditions”.

Educate Together schools claim to be multi-denominational. A spokesperson said this “places a legal requirement on Educate Together schools to ensure that all children have equal rights of access to the school, and that children of all social, cultural and religious backgrounds are equally respected”.