Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has said his Department is to immediately begin a process which could lead to the divestment of up to 50 Catholic primary schools in 44 areas around the country.

The Department of Education is to survey the parents of pre-school children in these areas as to what kind of Primary education they want for their children.

The surveys will be carried out in October and November.

The Department will also ask primary school patronage bodies to outline their proposals for new schools in the 44 named areas.

At a meeting with the education partners today, Mr Quinn said he broadly accepted the recommendations of the Forum on Patronage and he wanted the process of divesting in areas of stable population to begin immediately.

He said parents would be given full information on the different types of schools and the different possible patron bodies and helplines will also be put in place during the survey period.

He said he was anxious that local debate and surveys take place in a calm and respectful manner.

Mr Quinn said that following consultation a White Paper would be drafted to deal with issues raised in the Forum report and this would be completed by early 2013.

He added that he wanted the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to immediately start exploring the development of an Education about Religion and Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics programmes, which will complement existing faith formation programmes in schools.

The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in Primary schools published its report in April.

It advised against a "big bang" approach but did recommend sweeping changes to the Primary education system.

The recommendations included the deletion "as soon as possible" of the controversial Rule 68 which states that of all parts of the school curriculum religious education is "by far the most important".

The forum also recommended changes to education and equality legislation.

It said the display of religious emblems should not be exclusive to one faith in any school and all children should learn about all religions and belief systems in general.