Teaching and Learning
Curriculum, Subjects, Number of Hours
The curriculum for the primary schools is determined by the Minister for Education and Skills, who is advised by theNational Council for Curriculum and Assessment  (NCCA). The curriculum sets out, not only what is to be taught, but how learning in the particular subject area is to be assessed. The NCCA leads developments in curriculum and assessment and supports the implementation of changes resulting from this work. The Department supports the development of overall policy relating to assessment, curricula, Gaeltacht and Irish-medium education and guidance by providing:
Syllabuses, guidelines for teachers, circulars to schools and prescribed material for the examinations;
Funding for standardised testing;
Financial and other supports to bodies such as:
A reform of all aspects of the primary school curriculum was prepared by the NCCA throughout the 1990s, at four levels:
- Level 1 – Infants;
- Level 2 – First and Second class;
- Level 3 – Third and Fourth Class;
- Level 4 – Fifth and Sixth Class.
Consultation and partnership among the stakeholders in primary education was a key principle in the development of the presentPrimary Curriculum  which was introduced in 1999. It is child-centred, rather than subject-centred, and allows for flexibility in timetabling and teaching methods. A new,integrated language curriculum  (for English and Irish), beginning with infant classes, has been developed by the NCCA, and implemented since September 2016.
The curriculum includes the child-centred principles of its predecessor, Curaclam na Bunscoile (1971). It identifies three key aims of primary education to:
- Enable the child to live a full life as a child and to realise his or her potential as a unique individual;
- Enable the child to develop as a social being through living and co-operating with others and so contribute to the good of society;
- Prepare the child for a continuum of learning.
The primary curriculum aims to provide a broad learning experience and encourages a rich variety of approaches to teaching and learning that cater for the different needs of individual children. The revised primary curriculum, launched in 1999, was the first complete revision of the curriculum since 1971. The revised curriculum is designed to nurture the child in all dimensions of his or her life - spiritual, moral, cognitive, emotional, imaginative, aesthetic, social and physical.
There are six main areas in the Primary School Curriculum (1999):
- Language: English and Irish
- Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) such as History, Geography and Science
- Arts Education: Visual Arts, Music and Drama
- Physical Education
- Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE).
The subject matter of these curriculum areas is outlined in the Department of Education suite of twenty-three curriculum documents that have been provided to all teachers – An Introduction, and a Curriculum and Teacher Guidelines for each subject. These can be found atPrimary Curriculum. These documents set out learning objectives, and give guidelines on how the curriculum can be taught and learning assessed. There is a separate syllabus in Irish for schools in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) areas and English-speaking districts. A curriculum for Religious Education is not included, due to the rights of the various denominations (Education Act, 1998) to design and supervise the implementation of such a curriculum. The Primary Curriculum includes a special advisory note on religious education.
Primary schools are required to provide not less than four hours of secular instruction in all classes per day, except infant classes, where modifications for the shorter day are necessary. In addition to secular instruction, religious education is provided in all classrooms for 30 minutes per day.
The following suggested minimum weekly time framework is provided for teachers in the Primary School Curriculum (1999):
Short day (Infant
Language 1 (English
Language 2 (Irish)
Discretionary curriculum time
Total Secular Instruction
The Primary School Curriculum (1999) recommends the use of a flexible approach to facilitate 'blocks of time' rather than clearly-defined half-hour periods. This is especially evident at infant level, where a holistic and integrated approach to learning is promoted. Despite the flexibility provided in the curriculum, teachers are expected to ensure that pupils are enabled to engage with all aspects of the curriculum from the start of their schooling as outlined in the suggested minimum weekly time allocation. Discretionary curriculum time may also be allocated to prescribed subject areas. In line with the National Strategy for Literacy and Numeracy , the time spent in developing literacy and numeracy skills at primary level has been increased. Pending the adjustments to the existing recommended timeframe by the NCCA, and with effect from January 2012, all primary schools were required to increase the time spent on the development of literacy and numeracy skills, by one hour overall per week for language and by 70 minutes per week for mathematics.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is reviewing and redeveloping the 1999 primary school curriculum. Three significant themes have been presented to support the need to change the structure of the Primary Curriculum:
- Alignment and continuity of the learners’ educational experiences; from entry to primary school from early years’ education and on exit from primary school to post-primary education.
- Provision of an appropriate thematic early years’ educational experience in the infant classes of primary school to align with the Aistear curriculum framework.
- Provision of an appropriate subject-centred education in the later years of primary education to prepare the learner for transition to post-primary education and the new Junior Cycle experience
The finalised Primary Curriculum Framework is due to be published in 2022, with the development of curriculum specifications taking place in the following years.
Curriculum Support and other Documents
TheProfessional Development Service for Teachers  (PDST) provides ongoing support and development opportunities for teachers. The PDST is a cross-sectoral support service under the remit of the Teacher Education Section of the Department of Education DoE and is managed by Dublin West Education Centre (DWEC). The work of the PDST contributes to school improvement by providing high quality Continuous Professional Development (CPD) on curricular and educational issues, fostering reflective practice and ongoing development among teachers and school leaders. Amongst the priorities for the DoE for the coming years is the implementation of proposals to improve literacy and numeracy in both primary and post-primary schools. Other key priorities include support for implementing the new Primary Language Curriculum, school leadership, school self-evaluation, health and wellbeing, post primary subjects and programmes and the Digital Strategy for Schools.
Professional development support for the introduction and implementation of the Primary Language Curriculum/Curaclam Teanga na Bunscoile (PLC) is currently being facilitated by the PDST in collaboration with National Council for Special Education (NCSE).
From 2015 a three year programme of continuing professional development (CPD) support for the new curriculum was provided. PDST, in collaboration with NCSE, facilitated one full-day school closure for whole-staff CPD combined with a suite of CPD models, including workshops and in-school support to include in-class modelling, summer courses, as well as website resources and publications. A further cycle of supports for schools during the implementation phase is being provided in the form of in-school sustained support on an elective basis for a cohorts of schools over defined periods of time
Work continues on the new Primary Mathematics Curriculum (PMC) with the proposed date for full implementation in all years of primary school being September 2021. A comprehensive professional development programme to support schools with the introduction and implementation of the PMC will be put in place while an information leaflet for parents will also be made available.
In 2007, the NCCA developed a Framework for ICT in Curriculum and Assessment which outlines the kinds of learning experiences a student should be afforded through their primary and post-primary education. It has also developed assessment guidelines which were disseminated to all primary schools at the beginning of 2008. ThePDST Technology in Education  service provides training for teachers in integrating ICT into learning, manages a digital content portal,Scoilnet , and manages a schools broadband service desk. An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (COGG) is an agency of the Department with a remit to facilitate research and provide teaching resources and support services for Irish-medium and Gaeltacht schools.
In Autumn 2009, the NCCA launched an early childhood curriculum framework,Aistear , for children from birth to six years, which includes children in infant classes in primary schools. This framework describes the types of learning that are important for children in their early years, and offers ideas and suggestions for how this learning might be nurtured.
There also have been curricular developments in relation to special education. In 2002, the NCCA produced a number of draft curricular guidelines for the education of pupils with mild, moderate and profound learning disabilities to support the planning and implementation of the curriculum in both mainstream and special schools. Following a process of consultation with teachers, schools and parents, new and revised guidelines were developed and published in 2007.
TheSpecial Education Support Service  (SESS) provides support and professional development for teachers in addressing the needs of pupils with special needs. The service is part of the work of the National Council for Special Education  (NCSE). The Council was established to improve the delivery of education services to persons with special educational needs arising from disabilities with particular emphasis on children. The Council undertakes consultation and research, provides policy advice to the Minister, and operates a national network of Special Educational Needs Organisers
(SENOs) who interact with parents and schools and liaise with the Department of Education and the Health Services Executive in providing resources to support children with special educational needs.
National Educational Psychological Service
The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) provides a school-based, consultative, psychological service in two ways – through the provision of an individual casework service for students and a support and development service for school staff. The NEPS casework service involves the provision of a psychological service for a student, with the psychologist working with the student, teachers and parents, and other professionals if appropriate, to identify need and plan for intervention and review to support the student in school. The NEPS Support and Development service is an applied psychological service for school staff to help build their capability to respond to the wellbeing, academic, social and emotional needs of all students, and particularly those who are experiencing barriers to their wellbeing, learning, inclusion and participation.
The key policy influences on curriculum, other than the curriculum documents are:
The EU2020 strategy and indicators:
- National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy for Children and Young People 2011-2019
- Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020
- Policy on Gaeltacht Education 2017-2022
- National Skills Strategy 2025
- Action Plan for Education 2016-2019
- Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice 2019
The annual Action Plan for Education sets out the priorities for the Department of Education and its agencies and aegis bodies. The annual plan is driven by the goals and ambitions set out in our Statement of Strategy 2021-23. Both documents represent the Department’s commitment to interdepartmental and whole of Government reform programmes.
Progress on the implementation of the Action Plan framework is monitored through the publication of quarterly progress reports and annual reports. This allows for close tracking of achievements and areas requiring further focus, in order to build and consolidate progress towards the achievement of a long term, sustainable programme of change and reform.
Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice 2019
Extensive on line guidance and support is given to teachers through theNCCA ,Professional Development Service for Teachers ,PDST Technology in Education (24), An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (COGG) andScoilnet (25) websites, amongst others.
Language of Instruction
The primary curriculum provides for the teaching of two languages, Irish and English, which are taught in all primary schools. Although modern languages are not part of the primary curriculum, approximately 550 of the primary schools participated in theModern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative  (MLPSI) which was established as a pilot project in September 1998. Its aim was to introduce modern languages (Italian, Spanish, German or French) at primary level.
MLPSI schools availed of the discretionary time provided in the curriculum to teach the target language for between one hour and one and a half hours per week, mainly to pupils in fifth and sixth class. The teaching was provided by either members of staff or visiting teachers. The MLPSI ended in June 2012. The decision to end the scheme took account of a 2008 Report by the NCCA. The report identified serious issues with curricular overload at primary level. The NCCA's advice recommended that, for the present, modern languages should not be part of the Primary School Curriculum as an additional and separate subject. The decision to end the scheme was also taken in the context of the priority given to literacy (i.e. the teaching of English and Irish) and numeracy arising from the implementation of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. Meanwhile, schools continue to offer an additional modern language outside of the normal school day if they so wish.
English is the language of instruction for all subjects except Irish in English medium schools. In Irish medium schools, Irish is the language of instruction in all subjects except English.
Irish is the medium of instruction in:
- Gaeltacht schools which are designated as Irish speaking areas in each province and mainly along the western seaboard
- Gaelscoileanna – Irish medium schools outside of the Gaeltacht area
- 823 other schools where some aspects of the curriculum (other than Irish language) are taught in Irish, or where some class groups are taught through Irish
- Students in an English medium mainstream school may be granted an exemption from studying Irish if:- their education up to 12 years of age (or up to and including the final year of their primary education) was received outside the State:
- they have re-entered primary education from outside the State for a period of at least three years and are aged 12 or more;
- they have reached at least second class and have a significant and persistent learning difficulty of such severity that they fail to achieve expected levels of attainment in basic language skills in the mother tongue;
- they are children of diplomatic or consular representatives
English as an Additional Language
To meet the needs of newcomer pupils for whom English is a second language, additional language support is available for pupils. Prior to 2012, specific English Language Support Teachers were appointed to primary and post-primary schools to provide additional language support for pupils. The level of extra teaching support provided in respect of language support to any school was determined by the numbers of eligible pupils enrolled and the associated assessed levels of these pupils' language proficiency. This was integrated in 2012 into a combined "general allocation model" for schools, to address their EAL needs and to support students with high incidence levels of disability. Additional teaching resources are provided to schools with high concentrations of pupils that require language support. A similar arrangement also operates at post-primary level.
The revised model affords schools autonomy on how to deploy the resource between language support and learning support according to their specific needs. Schools use language assessment kits for the accurate initial and on-going assessment of language proficiency of pupils that require language support. In collaboration with parents and class teachers, support teachers identify pupils requiring additional support, devise and deliver appropriate language programmes, and record and monitor pupils' progress. Guidelines are available to support teachers and schools in developing a more inclusive learning environment and in providing pupils with the knowledge and skills they need to participate in a diverse society.
To facilitate parents, the Department of Education has published information on its website in six languages; Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian, Spanish and German.
Teaching Methods and Materials
The Primary School Curriculum (1999) advocates that teachers use a wide range of approaches and methodologies in their implementation of the curriculum. In particular, they are expected to attain a balance between the development of pupils’ knowledge, concepts and skills, and place particular emphasis on enabling children to learn how to learn.
The methods advocated in the primary curriculum include the use of the child’s immediate environment as the context for learning, guided activity and discovery methods, collaborative learning approaches and differentiation. Integration is also a key approach in the primary curriculum. All primary school teachers are trained in the use of these methodologies during initial teacher education and receive ongoing support in their use in the continuing professional development provided by the PDST.
The Primary School Curriculum (1999) emphasises that children should experience a variety of classroom organisational frameworks. While these include individual learning and whole-class teaching, the curriculum particularly encourages collaborative learning through pair work and group work as appropriate to the specific learning contexts and goals.
Successive School ICT strategies since 1998 have ensured a substantial government investment in the integration of ICT into teaching and learning. These are described in detail in the Reform Chapter.
Schools are free to determine locally what textbooks and resources should be used, but are advised to avoid frequent changes in texts which might give rise to unnecessary additional costs for parents. There is a grant towards free textbooks for needy pupils, but this is much less that the actual cost of books. Schools are also encouraged to operate book rental schemes. Schools designated as disadvantaged receive higher rates of capitation grant and school book grants. Otherwise, costs for books and resources are borne by parents.
Textbooks for schools are prepared by educational publishers, who usually commission expert teachers to write material. The DES and the NCCA maintain ongoing contact with the Irish Educational Publishers Association regarding emerging developments. However, neither the Department nor the NCCA approve textbooks for use in schools. Homework policy is determined by each school.
- https://www.education.ie/en/The-Department/Agencies/An-Chomhairle-um-Oideachais-Gaeltachta-agus-Gaelscola%C3 %ADochta-COGG-.html
- http://ncca.ie/en/Curriculum_and_Assessment/Early_Childhood_and_Primary_Education/Primary-Education/Primary_Sch ool_Curriculum/Primary_School_Curriculum.html
- https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&am p;uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwimxKHmluzQAhVpD8AKHe6aCB0QFggbMAA&url=https://www.education.ie/en/Publi cations/Policy-Reports/Digital-Strategy-for-Schools-2015-2020.pdf&usg=AFQjCNEBUClGze2iXBuZ0NO_93OgEAxs5g
- https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&v ed=0ahUKEwiR56vA5bTPAhVJLMAKHa95ADQQFggbMAA&url=https://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Policy-Rep orts/pub_national_skills_strategy_2025.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFdW654vF5wbc4p7xXTpWUTg3rhEg&bvm=bv.1344 95766,d.ZGg&cad=rja