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Primary Language Curriculum/ Curaclam Teanga na Bunscoile

What’s this I hear about a new language curriculum in Irish primary schools?

Yes, the Minister for Education and Skills announced a new language curriculum for primary schools, covering both Irish and English, in December 2015. Teachers are currently receiving in-service on the first phase of the curriculum which is for classes from junior infants to second.

But didn’t we get a new curriculum in 1999?

Yes, but believe it or not that was almost twenty years ago. Ireland has changed a lot since then. Language and the modes of communicating have also changed. The only ones tweeting in 1999 were the birds! In 1999, the full curriculum was changed, all subjects were renewed and indeed some new subjects were added. It took a number of years for teachers to be fully in-serviced in all curriculum areas. After that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) said that in future curriculum change would happen incrementally. Subjects would change from time to time but the big-bang that happened in 1999 wouldn’t happen again. Few in education circles disagreed. Curriculum change works best when it happens over time. So, that’s the reason we have just a new language curriculum being introduced now. Maths will be the next subject to change and the other subjects will be renewed in stages after that.

Why did they start with language?

Well language is at the centre of all learning. By talking, reading and writing we learn most things in life. So not only is it important for children to learn language but they also learn through language. Secondly, the languages used in Ireland have changed a lot in twenty years. Just listen to the variety of different languages used in any shopping centre nowadays, even in rural Ireland. Many children coming to our schools speak more than one language. This is a great richness that needs to be valued and celebrated.

So what are the new bits?

There are a number of significant changes in the new language curriculum. Firstly, the same curriculum structure is used for both English and Irish. The research shows that there are similarities in the ways children acquire all languages. So it’s good that the curriculum and language teaching are in line with the research. There have also been some changes in terminology and structure.

Don’t tell me they’ve got rid of the strands and strand units.

Well, yes and no. We still have the three strands – oral language, reading and writing, but the strand units are gone and the term “elements” is used instead. The elements, just like the strand units, describe the essential learning in each strand. The three elements can broadly be categorised as: communicating, understanding, using and exploring.

What else is new?

Well the NCCA took the opportunity to change the labels used for the different class groupings in primary school. For example, junior and senior infants are now described as being at stage one rather than level one. Stage two is first and second class and so on up to stage four, fifth and sixth class. The content objectives of the 1999 curriculum have been replaced by learning outcomes. There are far fewer learning outcomes than content objectives and the essential difference between the two is that content objectives focus on what the teacher will do to enable learning, while learning outcomes set out what children will be expected to know at the end of a two-year period. The other major new feature is the concept of a progression continuum. This describes the steps a child will take and the milestones they will achieve in their journey of language learning. The curriculum sets out in some detail the steps and expected milestones at various stages in the three strands of Irish and English.

So what help is provided for teachers?

Do you remember the separate book of teacher guidelines that went with each subject in the 1999 curriculum? Well, they’re gone! Instead a lot of support including samples of teachers’ and pupils’ work are provided in an online toolkit. For instance, a teacher in second class can go online and view samples of second-class children’s writing. They will then be able to use the samples to assess the work of children in their own class. Other supports in the form of videos, audio and printed material are provided. These will be added to as time goes on. In-service is also currently being rolled out to teachers across the country.

So, is CJ Fallon doing anything about this new language curriculum?

Of course. CJ Fallon, as the foremost publisher of educational material in Ireland, is right up to speed with the changes taking place. We’ve been keeping in touch with the developments as they were happening and our new Irish language programme Céim ar Chéim is fully in sync with the new language curriculum. Indeed all our publications are rigorously tested to ensure compatibility with the curriculum.