19 December, 2018 - Minister announces measures to manage the impact of reform on the primary school sector

The Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, T.D., has today announced measures to manage the impact of reform on the primary school sector.

“I am happy to say that, following my engagements with our partners, including through the Primary Education Forum and other fora, I have listened and am actively responding,” Minister McHugh said.

The Primary Education Forum was established in September 2018 and aims to support the planning and sequencing of change in the primary school sector and to exchange information on the intent and impacts of the actions in the Action Plan for Education, in order to look for synergies and opportunities for schools to streamline implementation and address workload issues.

The measures now being implemented relate to the new Primary Maths Curriculum and regulations associated with the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.

Primary Maths Curriculum (PMC)

Concerns have been raised by various stakeholders, including the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), the Support Services (PDST), Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA), Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), other partners and teachers themselves about the need for more time to adjust to new pedagogies within the Primary Language Curriculum/Curaclam Teanga na Bunscoile. 

The decision to re-schedule the implementation of the Primary Mathematics Curriculum takes on board these concerns and gives teachers the time to expand on their understanding and engage more fully with the new curriculum. It also allows for further supports to be developed for teachers along with a more sustained, transformative model of professional development.  Consultation on the PMC in Q1 2020 will also enable schools to engage more thoroughly with the consultation process for the redeveloped Primary Curriculum, which is due to go to consultation in autumn 2019.

Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018

The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 was signed into law by the President last July. Implementation has commenced with measures including the banning of admission fees, new arrangements for the provision of special education classes and the amendment to the Equal Status Act 2000 to prohibit schools from using religion as a selection criteria in their admissions processes. As a result of these landmark measures, children now have greater access to local schools and there is greater transparency around admissions processes overall. 

Consultation is now required with the education partners in order to draw up the regulations that will be put in place alongside the commencement of the remaining sections of the Act.

The aim is to provide schools with significant flexibility in relation to the running of their individual admission processes but within certain broad and transparent timeline parameters which will apply to schools generally.

In order to help provide this flexibility, the Department will be providing an outline of the proposed approach to the education partners in the coming weeks and will seek feedback as part of the consultative process.

Through a combination of existing policy consultation mechanisms, the Primary Education Forum, and the Minister’s recent engagement with stakeholders, there is a clear picture of the impact on schools of the range of reforms which have taken place and which are already underway in the sector. Today’s announcement recognises this and is a clear signal that the pace and sequencing of change can respond to circumstances within schools to ensure that pupils benefit from considered reforms.  

Minister McHugh said: “I have listened to concerns raised about the pace of change particularly in relation to changes to the Primary curriculum and I have made a decision to re-schedule the implementation of the Primary Mathematic Curriculum.  In addition I have taken a decision to pace the commencement of the Education (Admission to schools) Act 2018 by initially focusing on regulations relating to the essential key features of the Act. We will engage with the education partners in the coming weeks to consult with them on the drawing up of the relevant regulations.”


Notes for Editors


Primary Education Forum

The Forum is working to:

  • Facilitate the exchange of information between the Department, agencies, teachers, school leaders and managers.
  • Support the planning and sequencing of change in the primary sector in order address workload issues – in particular for school leaders, school management and teachers.
  • Provide insights and advice to the Department on the impact of the implementation of the Action Plan, and other change initiatives being implemented by agencies within and beyond the education sector.
  • Advise on the development and dissemination of communication messages to schools and the education system about the programme of actions in the Action Plan and their implementation.  This may include a calendar of Action Plan-related activity.
  • Identify potential synergies and examine ways in which available supports could be used to best effect.

Members include key personnel from the Department, school management bodies, patron bodies and representatives of school principals and teachers. The Forum is chaired by Dr Alan Wall, Assistant Secretary at the Department.

Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018

Generally schools operate their admissions processes in the preceding year and they would have already started the process for the September 2019 intake. Therefore, if the remainder of the Act is commenced early next year it will apply to admissions for the September 2020 intake group.

More detail on the commenced sections of the Act can be accessed on the DES website at the following link: https://www.education.ie/en/Parents/Information/School-Enrolment/


Primary Curriculum

The curriculum change at primary includes:

  1. the implementation of a new Primary Language Curriculum/ Curaclam Teanga na Bunscoile – Gaeilge and English (PLC)
  2. development  of a new Primary Mathematics Curriculum (PMC)
  3. a review of the full Primary Curriculum

Primary Language Curriculum (PLC)

The PLC is being introduced on a phased basis. Phase 1 commenced in 2015 with the introduction of a curriculum for Junior Infants to Second Class and this is being implemented in schools at present. The Primary Language Curriculum/Curaclam Teanga na Bunscoile for stages 3 and 4 (3rd to 6th class) has been submitted for Ministerial approval. The curriculum for senior classes builds upon the curriculum for stages 1 and 2 (junior infants to 2nd class). As such, it has the same rationale, aims, strands and elements for English and Irish.  When published in 2019, the Curriculum will be presented as a full curriculum i.e. Junior infants to Sixth class. 


Primary Maths Curriculum (PMC)

The NCCA is currently working on the development of a new Primary Mathematics Curriculum (PMC).   As with the PLC it will be presented using broad learning outcomes, which will replace the existing content objectives. The decision that the PMC will be introduced as a single whole-school curriculum from junior infants to sixth class was made by the Department following consideration of feedback received from education partners, teachers and school leaders around the implementation of the Primary Language Curriculum. The delay of implementation of the PMC allows teachers and school leaders to expand on their understanding of the curriculum and engage more fully with the new curriculum and for sustained support in order to embed the Learning Outcomes approach.


Redeveloped Primary Curriculum

This is the first time, in almost twenty years, that the primary curriculum is being reviewed and redeveloped. On 29th January 2018 the NCCA published the final report on ‘Primary Developments: Consultation on Curriculum Structure and Time’. The report highlights key findings from the consultation and outlines the next phase of the work. The next phase of consultation, due to take place in autumn 2019, involves consideration of a number of further significant questions about a redeveloped primary curriculum including:

  • The purpose of the primary curriculum taking account of developments in the early childhood sector and a changing junior cycle experience when students begin post-primary school.
  • The values and principles underpinning the curriculum and reflecting a changing Irish society
  • The priorities for our children’s learning across the eight years of their primary education
  • The structure and content of the curriculum — the number of stages and what the curriculum will comprise in each
  • An updated framework for allocating time within the curriculum
  • Important pedagogies to support children’s learning and development across the curriculum.