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Draft Primary Curriculum


Monday 19 April 2021


The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is reviewing and redeveloping the 1999 primary curriculum. Read the Draft Primary Curriculum Framework here. The current phase of consultation on the draft is now complete, with further re-engagement in 2021/2022. Early Childhood Ireland (ECI) welcomes the draft curriculum framework for primary school and the consultative approach and process of the NCCA in this current and exciting work. ECI believes the draft primary curriculum framework recognises and prioritises the child as a confident learner and communicator. It is placing significant value on a healthy mind, body, and spirit. The consultation process sought views and input on the proposed draft primary curriculum framework. The NCCA team's work on the draft curriculum framework is very in-depth; within this Scéalta, I am going to discuss a few aspects of the draft curriculum framework that strike us as important.  


The draft primary curriculum framework has both implicit and explicit links with Aistear. 

First, there is a connection between learning in ECEC, primary and post-primary, and the acknowledgement that it is essential to achieve an integrated learning journey and continuity with Aistear. Within the Early Childhood Education and Care sector, our National Quality Curriculum Framework – Aistear, does not impose an outcomes-driven curriculum. As a framework, it supports educators in implementing a local curriculum. A way of ensuring that settings can develop and have shared principles, aims, and objectives, but most importantly, there is not a 'one size fits all' approach. Recognising that methods, activities, and content will emerge with the context and the interests of the group. 


Within ECI, we believe that Aistear serves as an excellent framework to guide both curriculum development and the quality-of-service provision. We believe in the importance of the environment we create (physical and emotional environment) the relationships we make, and how we respond to children in the moment. The central most important practice in every setting is responding to children in the moment, building their sense of belonging through caring, trusting, and loving relationships. Environments where care and education weave together. When implementing a local curriculum for all children, we believe a focus on 'dispositions' is the starting point. When educators see children as 'confident and competent' as suggested at the centre of Aistear, their dispositions thread through everything they do. We know that some educators working in our sector have interpreted Aistear as a 'curriculum' rather than a curriculum framework. Our sector's experience is that many educators like the control of knowing what they have covered and can feel they can tick a box. We believe that bringing the focus back to the 'dispositions of learning' helps re-align the sector's thinking, helping educators interpret Aistear as its intended framework. This experience from ECEC may support the implementation of the new primary curriculum framework over time. 


As children become part of new learning communities within ECEC or primary education, we must remember they do not do this in isolation; they have their unique history and context. We would also highlight that it is essential that continued work is done to recognise play within primary education as a sound pedagogy. Play must not be seen as a break from learning. Or seen as a separate subject, adding to curriculum overload, which a lot of teachers’ experience. Also, allowing for a more multi-sensory approach is particularly important to meet all children's diverse learning needs. The draft curriculum framework interprets and presents five broad curriculum areas. We believe it sets out a basis for each school setting to develop a contextually suitable curriculum that reflects its own distinct needs and values. ECI welcomes the broad curriculum areas – a focus on wellbeing, social and environmental education, and arts education is particularly welcome. The curriculum area of arts education is a significant shift for many schools; however, it is an excellent and exciting opportunity for a more distributed leadership approach with school settings. That highlights the diverse skills and attributes that each teacher brings to enacting the school's vision. 


The draft curriculum framework shows that it recognises the past and prepares children for the future. There is flexibility within the draft curriculum framework and connections made with children's life experiences and interests. We welcome the theory that underpins the draft curriculum framework. However, the theory must translate into practice across the diverse contexts of all schools. The local curriculum must ensure that the child's voice is recognised, all children have the right to high-quality learning opportunities, with a commitment to equity in opportunities. In ECI, we believe that each child is on a unique journey and that they come into the world eager to learn, and we as educators must work to support a love of lifelong learning. Therefore, children are on a continuum of learning from ECEC into primary school. The draft curriculum framework bridges the gap between both curriculum frameworks. 


Our experience with ECEC recognises that effective leadership practices include identifying and articulating a collective vision in service. Requiring effective communication; encouraging reflection; monitoring and assessing practice; a commitment to ongoing, professional development; distributed leadership; building a learning community and a team culture; encouraging and facilitating parent and community partnerships. We believe it is critical to the new primary curriculum's success that leadership is key to the implementation and embedding of a local curriculum. The theory within the draft framework is very welcome; however, we acknowledge that some teachers may find the idea of this journey exciting, while daunting at the same time. Many teachers will welcome support and training on the implementation of integrated, playful, and inquiry-based learning. It was also the case within the ECEC sector when Aistear was introduced. The quality of a setting does not exceed its teachers' quality; all educators need to be innovative and committed to new ways of being and doing to nurture the creative and curious spirit in all children.


We look forward to the finalisation of the draft curriculum framework and the further development of documentation to support teachers. We also look forward to enhanced and meaningful connections and shared dialogue between ECEC and primary school educators in the future. 


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