The move comes as demand for certain schools becomes too great, while numbers at other institutions fall. The polls will gauge whether parents want management of schools taken out of Catholic control. Their views on single-sex and all-Irish speaking schools will also be examined.

Minister Ruairí Quinn said that although “a debt” is owed to religious bodies for their contribution to education, “there is now the potential for change within the primary patronage system to better reflect our society.”

“Modern Ireland is hugely diverse and we have to be sure that our schools cater for this diversity.”

Earlier this year, an advisory group made a number of recommendations to the Government on the divesting of patronage where a lack of choice for parents exists.

Minister Quinn is now looking at the possibility of transferring some schools to different patrons. Altogether his department will examine 44 areas which were identified as in need of more diversity.