Consultation on the Primary Curriculum 2024

The draft curriculum specifications for the redeveloped primary curriculum were published by the NCCA in March 2024. The NCCA are running a consultation until June 7th 2024, where interested parties can give their feedback on the draft Arts Education; Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) in the Primary Language Curriculum; Social and Environmental Education (SEE); Science, Technology and Engineering Education (STE); and Wellbeing curricula.

I would encourage all primary school teachers to take a look at the draft curriculum specifications and to take part in the consultation as it will have a huge impact on the teaching and learning that will take place in Irish primary schools going forward. There are a number of ways in which you can take part, including by making a written submission online.

In this post, I am going to share my own thoughts after reading each of the new documents and which I included in my submission. I am sharing them here for other teachers to consider. These are my own opinions and other teacher may or may not agree. The important thing here is that you have your say and make a submission based on your own reading of the drafts. I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments! These are important conversations for teachers to be having!

Making a submission

To have your say, visit the NCCA’s consultation page here. You can answer questionnaires on each of the draft specifications, make a written submission, or sign up for a focus group. 

The questionnaires ask you to rate your level of agreement with various statements about the curriculum, and there is a small box with a limited word count where you can include any other points you wish to mention towards the end. 

The written submissions section allows you to include more detailed responses that aren’t restricted by the NCCA’s choices (as is the case with the questionnaires). 

Section 1 of the written submission page asks you about the alignment of the draft curriculum specifications with the Primary Curriculum Framework. I didn’t have something to say for every one of the points here, but what I did have to say is below:

  • The 1999 curriculum was incredibly progressive and had a huge number of positives including its child centeredness, broad and balanced nature, and usability/ clear guidance for teachers. Perhaps it would have been wiser to update the 1999 curriculum rather than completely replace it. The PLC has proved difficult to implement and teachers have struggled to use it. The new subject specifications follow the same format as the PLC so I am concerned that many of the same issues will arise.
  • With that in mind, I appreciate that the curriculum aims to increase teacher agency and flexibility, but I am concerned about the lack of detail and the vague/ broad nature of some the learning outcomes, especially in Arts Education and Wellbeing Education. It is unclear what learning they encompass and unless sufficient progression continua and examples are provided in the toolkits, it will be left up to the publishing companies to fill the gap with programmes for schools to follow.
  • Clarity is needed on how to employ playful learning throughout all classes and subjects. Teacher CPD and funding for resources will also be needed. Clear guidance on Aistear and whether or not it is to be used in infant classes is needed as the training that many primary school teachers received in the past in relation to implementing Aistear does not align to the vision for play in the redeveloped curriculum.
  • The curriculum emphasises inclusive education and diversity and it is for all children in primary and special schools. But truly inclusive education is not possible without adequate funding for supports, especially from the HSE, NEPS, and giving the schools adequate SNA and SET allocations that are based on what the schools need rather than how many posts have been approved by the Department for a particular year. The issue around lack of school placements for children with SEN needs to be addressed. The curriculum focuses on inclusive education within schools, but hundreds of children are completely excluded for school in the first place. These underlying issues need to be addressed in the first instance, otherwise the curriculum documents are just paying lip service to inclusivity.
  • I am pleased to see the focus on sustainability and that climate change is addressed directly throughout many of the curriculum specifications and that “Being an Active Citizen” is given prominence through its inclusion as one of the key competencies. 

Section 2 allows you to comment on each of the individual primary curriculum specifications. 

You have a word count of about 600 words for each subject that you want to comment on. 

Below are my thoughts after reading each of of the draft specifications:

The PLC, including Modern Foreign Languages

  • The significant reduction in time allocations for teaching English and Irish is alarming. Most teachers will tell you that it is already impossible to cover the multiple facets of literacy development in English and Irish. A 75-minute reduction in teaching time for T1 for 3rd – 6th is unworkable.
  • Teachers will spend an hour per week in 3rd and 4th class on “Building an awareness of languages and cultures” before learning any of the MFL in 5th and 6th Class. An hour every week for 2 years is excessive, especially when this time has come from English and Irish lessons.
  • The logistics teaching the MFL are still unclear. I cannot fathom how class teachers are meant to teach a MFL that they do not speak. In Stage 4 the children will be asking and answering questions, using simple expressions, engaging with texts in the target language, reciting poems/ rhymes/ songs etc. Page 53 of the PLC states that the MFL should be taught thought the target language and that it should be used regularly throughout the school day outside of the language lesson. It is clear that more than a basic proficiency in the third language will be required of teachers.
  • Even if individual teachers do speak different MFLs, it is not guaranteed that they will get to use this knowledge as schools have to choose one MFL as the curriculum specifies on page 52 that the same language must be taught to 5th and 6th
  • It is positive that there is a focus on developing intercultural awareness, but it appears that teachers are again being asked to address all of society’s ills – support and work on this is also needed from other agencies.
  • Schools will need funding and recommendations for the purchase of “authentic texts”.
  • There is a need to address the outdated EAL PSAK assessment materials and the “Up and Away” curriculum and bring them into alignment with PLC.
  • More generally the PLC needs to be updated to ensure that all facets of the progression continua are in line with current best practice and research.
  • Clarity will be needed on exemptions from the study of MFLs. Children who get an exemption from the study of Irish do so because their learning needs are so great that they need to focus on developing proficiency in one language. Therefore, it would follow that children who have such needs would be exempted from the study of all other languages and we wouldn’t have a situation where some children are exempt from studying Irish, but not an MFL.
  • The sample lessons from the Primary Language Toolkit in Chapter 7 are good, but there will need to be a very comprehensive suite of these available for teachers to use.

Arts Education

  • I am concerned about the lack of detail and the brevity/ broad nature of some of the learning outcomes.
  • The 1999 curriculum provided examples of appropriate songs and musical excerpts for the musical concepts for each class level/ ideas for dramas for the objectives/ suggested art activities for the objectives. The Arts Education Toolkit should provide similar suggestions as it can’t be expected that all teachers are experts in every subject.

Social and Environmental Education

  • It is great to see that the environment and sustainable living has been given such prominence and has been made one of the three strands of the SEE curriculum. Given the current climate end ecological emergency, it is appropriate that climate change is addressed directly and included as a learning outcome for Geography for 5th and 6th class.  

Science, Technology and Engineering Education

  • Curriculum overload has been exasperated with the addition of technology and engineering.
  • Comprehensive, face to face teacher professional development and ongoing support will be needed for the teaching of engineering and technology. Teachers are being asked to teach programming at sages 3 and 4 and this is specialist knowledge that most teachers do not have. 
  • Schools will need funding for the purchase of concrete materials and digital technologies (hardware and software) so that they can teach the learning outcomes in technology and engineering.
  • It is appropriate to see the focus on reducing energy consumption and promoting clean energy in the learning outcomes.

Wellbeing

  • The increase in time allocated for PE and SPHE is welcome.
  • Some of the learning outcomes are incredibly vague and there will have to be more detail provided so that teachers know what the are referring to. There are many examples that I could have chosen, but for brevity I will choose one. At stage 1 under “Movement strategies” it says “Explore introductory tactics and strategies in a range of PE activity areas.” It is unclear what this learning outcome would look like in practice. Clarity is needed, otherwise it will be left up to the publishing companies to fill the gap with programmes for schools to follow.

At the end there is a box that asks what supports schools will need to implement the curriculum and if you have any other comments that you wish to make. 

Supports I feel are needed:

  • High-quality face-to-face and sustained CPD (not webinars).
  • Adequate funding for schools to buy the resources needed such as authentic texts for MFL, and hardware and software for technology education.
  • Adequate supports from the HSE, NEPS and other relevant professionals, as well as adequate SET and SNA support for children with SEN so that they can meaningfully engage with the new curriculum. 
  • Teachers need hard copies of the progression continua and other relevant materials from the toolkits as it is not practical to have to access them online. The research of Prof. Maryanne Wolf on the brain’s response to reading material presented in digital format makes it clear that hard copies are necessary for proper engagement.

General comment on the new curriculum:

  • Curriculum overload has not been addressed and it will actually be exasperated with the addition of MFL, technology and engineering. The curriculum books are indeed shorter and there are fewer of them, but the detail that teachers need (and which was provided in the 1999 curriculum books), has just been moved online to the toolkits. There are fewer learning outcomes than there were objectives in 1999, but it is now necessary for teachers to check the progression continua online to see the learning trajectory, whereas it was built in to the 1999 curriculum objectives.

Conclusion

The new curriculum marks a radical shift in primary education with a move towards broad learning outcomes rather than the specific objectives of the 1999 curriculum. This move towards increased teacher agency and the addition of the extra subjects (Modern Foreign Languages, Technology, and Engineering) will be a huge burden for teachers and I really cannot see it being a success without massive supports (including sustained CPD and funding for resources), as well as addressing the underlying issues which are causing so much teacher burn out at present (including teacher shortages and resources for SEN).

Letter to the Minister for Education

As well as making a submission to the NCCA, I also wrote to Minster Norma Foley regarding my concerns. I fear that the NCCA may argue that some of the above points apply to education more generally, and are outside of the scope of the current consultation. The Minister cannot ignore large numbers of teachers who get in contact with their feedback, so I would urge you to email her with yours too . The email address is norma.foley@orieachtas.ie 

Below is what I wrote to the minister. Feel free to adapt it for your own use. It is based on the points above, however I have summarised them into a format for email:

Dear Minster Foley,
 
I am a primary school teacher and I am writing to you with regards to the draft curriculum specifications for the redeveloped primary curriculum were published by the NCCA in March 2024. 
 
The new curriculum marks a radical shift in primary education with a move towards broad learning outcomes rather than the specific objectives of the 1999 curriculum. This move towards increased teacher agency and the addition of the extra subjects (Modern Foreign Languages, Technology, and Engineering) will be a huge burden for teachers and I really cannot see it being a success without massive supports (including sustained CPD and funding for resources), as well as addressing the underlying issues which are causing so much teacher burn out at present (including teacher shortages and resources for SEN). I will outline my concerns in detail below:
 
  • The 1999 curriculum was incredibly progressive and had a huge number of positives including its child centeredness, broad and balanced nature, and usability/ clear guidance for teachers. Perhaps it would have been wiser to update the 1999 curriculum rather than completely replace it. The first phase of the implementation of the new curriculum happened with the roll out of Primary Language Curriculum in 2015, and after that proved to be a disaster, its revised version in 2019. Since then the PLC has been incredibly difficult to implement and teachers have struggled to use it. The new subject specifications follow the same format as the PLC so I am concerned that many of the same issues will arise.
  • With that in mind, I appreciate that the curriculum aims to increase teacher agency and flexibility, but I am concerned about the lack of detail and the vague/ broad nature of some the learning outcomes, especially in Arts Education and Wellbeing Education. It is unclear what learning they encompass and unless sufficient progression continua and examples are provided in the toolkits, it will be left up to the publishing companies to fill the gap with programmes for schools to follow.
  • Curriculum overload has not been addressed and it will actually be exasperated with the addition of MFL, technology and engineering. The curriculum books are indeed shorter and there are fewer of them, but the detail that teachers need (and which was provided in the 1999 curriculum books), has just been moved online to the toolkits. There are fewer learning outcomes than there were objectives in 1999, but it is now necessary for teachers to check the progression continua online to see the learning trajectory, whereas it was built in to the 1999 curriculum objectives.
  • Clarity is needed on how to employ playful learning throughout all classes and subjects. Teacher CPD and funding for resources will also be needed. Clear guidance on Aistear and whether or not it is to be used in infant classes is needed as the training that many primary school teachers received in the past in relation to implementing Aistear does not align to the vision for play in the redeveloped curriculum.
  • The curriculum emphasises inclusive education and diversity and it is for all children in primary and special schools. But truly inclusive education is not possible without adequate funding for supports, especially from the HSE, NEPS, and giving the schools adequate SNA and SET allocations that are based on what the schools need rather than how many posts have been approved by the Department for a particular year. The issue around lack of school placements for children with SEN needs to be addressed. The curriculum focuses on inclusive education within schools, but hundreds of children are completely excluded for school in the first place. These underlying issues need to be addressed in the first instance, otherwise the curriculum documents are just paying lip service to inclusivity.
The supports that I feel are needed if this curriculum has any chance of success are outlined below: 
  • High-quality face-to-face and sustained CPD (not webinars).
  • Adequate funding for schools to buy the resources needed such as authentic texts for MFL, and hardware and software for technology education.
  • Adequate supports from the HSE, NEPS and other relevant professionals, as well as adequate SET and SNA support for children with SEN so that they can meaningfully engage with the new curriculum. The lack of almost any support from outside agencies, therapists and specialists for children with SEN in Irish schools is a major cause of teacher burnout and exiting the profession. 
  • Teachers need hard copies of the progression continua and other relevant materials from the toolkits as it is not practical to have to access them online. The research of Prof. Maryanne Wolf on the brain’s response to reading material presented in digital format makes it clear that hard copies are necessary for proper engagement.

Below are my thoughts after reading each of of the draft specifications:

The PLC, including Modern Foreign Languages

  • The significant reduction in time allocations for teaching English and Irish is alarming. Most teachers will tell you that it is already impossible to cover the multiple facets of literacy development in English and Irish. A 75-minute reduction in teaching time for T1 for 3rd – 6th is unworkable.
  • Teachers will spend an hour per week in 3rd and 4th class on “Building an awareness of languages and cultures” before learning any of the MFL in 5th and 6th Class. An hour every week for 2 years is excessive, especially when this time has come from English and Irish lessons.
  • The logistics teaching the MFL are still unclear. I cannot fathom how class teachers are meant to teach a MFL that they do not speak. In Stage 4 the children will be asking and answering questions, using simple expressions, engaging with texts in the target language, reciting poems/ rhymes/ songs etc. Page 53 of the PLC states that the MFL should be taught thought the target language and that it should be used regularly throughout the school day outside of the language lesson. It is clear that more than a basic proficiency in the third language will be required of teachers.
  • Even if individual teachers do speak different MFLs, it is not guaranteed that they will get to use this knowledge as schools have to choose one MFL as the curriculum specifies on page 52 that the same language must be taught to 5th and 6th
  • It is positive that there is a focus on developing intercultural awareness, but it appears that teachers are again being asked to address all of society’s ills – support and work on this is also needed from other agencies.
  • There is a need to address the outdated EAL PSAK assessment materials and the “Up and Away” curriculum and bring them into alignment with PLC.
  • More generally the PLC needs to be updated to ensure that all facets of the progression continua are in line with current best practice and research as at present, this is not the case. 
  • Clarity will be needed on exemptions from the study of MFLs. Children who get an exemption from the study of Irish do so because their learning needs are so great that they need to focus on developing proficiency in one language. Therefore, it would follow that children who have such needs would be exempted from the study of all other languages and we wouldn’t have a situation where some children are exempt from studying Irish, but not an MFL.
  • The sample lessons from the Primary Language Toolkit in Chapter 7 are good, but there will need to be a very comprehensive suite of these available for teachers to use.

Arts Education

  • I am concerned about the lack of detail and the brevity/ broad nature of some of the learning outcomes.
  • The 1999 curriculum provided examples of appropriate songs and musical excerpts for the musical concepts for each class level/ ideas for dramas for the objectives/ suggested art activities for the objectives. The Arts Education Toolkit should provide similar suggestions as it can’t be expected that all teachers are experts in every subject.

Social and Environmental Education

  • It is great to see that the environment and sustainable living has been given such prominence and has been made one of the three strands of the SEE curriculum. Given the current climate end ecological emergency, it is appropriate that climate change is addressed directly and included as a learning outcome for Geography for 5th and 6th class.  

Science, Technology and Engineering Education

  • Curriculum overload has been exasperated with the addition of technology and engineering.
  • Comprehensive, face to face teacher professional development and ongoing support will be needed for the teaching of engineering and technology. Teachers are being asked to teach programming at sages 3 and 4 and this is specialist knowledge that most teachers do not have. 
  • Schools will need funding for the purchase of concrete materials and digital technologies (hardware and software) so that they can teach the learning outcomes in technology and engineering.
  • It is appropriate to see the focus on reducing energy consumption and promoting clean energy in the learning outcomes.

Wellbeing

  • The increase in time allocated for PE and SPHE is welcome.
  • Some of the learning outcomes are incredibly vague and there will have to be more detail provided so that teachers know what the are referring to. There are many examples that I could have chosen, but for brevity I will choose one. At stage 1 under “Movement strategies” it says “Explore introductory tactics and strategies in a range of PE activity areas.” It is unclear what this learning outcome would look like in practice. Clarity is needed, otherwise it will be left up to the publishing companies to fill the gap with programmes for schools to follow.
Teaching has become completely unstainable and it is a huge reason why there has been a chronic teacher shortage in the last decade. Teachers are leaving teaching in their droves, or are taking career breaks, job shares or other forms of leave because they are completely burned-out. If the redeveloped curriculum is implemented without the points above being addressed, it will push many of the teacher who do remain working full time to leave too.
 
I hope that you will take my feedback on board and work to address these issues. 
 
Regards,

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