New State-run primary schools are having to negotiate with local Catholic priests on the amount of school time they can dedicate to preparation for communion and confirmation, according to research carried out by Trinity College.
The study also found that children attending the new Community National Schools believe Catholic pupils are being privileged over others because school time is being given over to allow them to prepare for the sacraments.
Sociologists at the university interviewed teachers, principals, and children attending Community National Schools as part of their research.
There are currently 11 Community National Schools nationwide, but many more are expected to open in coming years.
Unlike the vast majority of primary schools here the CNS schools are not Catholic run, and have no formal connection with the Catholic church.
They are run by the State's Education and Training Boards.
However, unlike other multi-denominational schools, the CNS model does provide faith formation for Catholic children as an integral part of the school day.
This means Catholic children have to be separated from their classmates for some class periods.
The research found that CNS pupils preferred not to be separated according to their faith for religion classes.
CNS schools aim to provide equal and inclusive education to children of all faiths and none. This study set out to examine the extent to which this aim was borne out in practice.
The study concentrated on pupils, with more than 70 children aged 11 and over interviewed in groups settings across six of the schools.
The other schools are more recently established and have as yet only very young children attending.
It found that the provision of preparation for communion and confirmation as part of the school day in CNS schools had led to a perception among pupils that Catholic students were being privileged over other children.
It found the amount of time dedicated to preparation for the sacraments differed depending on the school, and was largely influenced by local Catholic parish demands.
The Trinity study quotes one teacher who complains that the local parish has "had it their way" for so long that "they really feel like they can put any stipulation onto a school."
"[The parish have] had it their way for so long that they do really feel like they can put any stipulation onto a school. Now, I've fought with them tooth and nail and we have really knocked it down so what the children get here is seven hours [sacramental preparation during the school day] – not 36 – and I've made an agreement that the Church has to provide a certain amount of those hours".
Sociologist Daniel Faas, who led the study, told RTÉ News that schools said the amount of school time dedicated annually to communion and confirmation practice was something they had to negotiate with their local parishes.
This finding concurs with comments CNS school principals have made to RTÉ’s education correspondent on an ‘off the record’ basis.
Asked several months ago about future plans around time given to Catholic sacramental preparation, one school principal told Emma O Kelly that "We'll have to see what the parish priest says".
Prof Faas told RTÉ News the amount of time agreed seemed to be subject to how "progressive" or "ideological" a parish was.
He said schools felt that they should be doing less, and parishes and parents doing more when it came to time spent on preparing Catholic children for such rituals.
Prof Faas said some teachers and principals believed that separating Catholic children from other pupils in this way was to some extent undermining the schools' ethos of togetherness, and that the practice should be reconsidered.
One Community National School, Ard Rí in Navan, has moved sacramental preparation to outside of the school day.
However the other Community National Schools continue to deliver it during school time.
Pupils told researchers they preferred learning together for religion classes, as opposed to being separated into groups according to their religious backgrounds.
Prof Faas said there was clear evidence that children were making inter-ethnic friendships and that they wanted to spend the entire school day learning alongside those friends.
Education and Training Boards Ireland has said the study affirms that the CNS schools are moving in the right direction.
It points out that full control of the Community National Schools was only formally granted to the ETB's a year ago. Prior to that, the Department of Education was directly in control.
Asked about the role Catholic priests were playing in deciding how much time was dedicated to communion and confirmation preparation, an ETB spokesperson said these were questions that the ETB's were looking at.
The spokesperson said the ETB's were determined to continue with the evolution of existing approaches.
A review of the junior religion curriculum is due to begin this coming September. It will be carried out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.