New primary curriculum: What will the school day look like?

Foreign languages, Stem education, wellbeing and ‘flexible’ time for school feature in new blueprint

The new primary curriculum aims to better prepare children for the challenges of the 21st century. Photograph: iStock

It is almost 25 years since the last primary curriculum was finalised. The looming publication of a new primary curriculum framework – the result of several years of consultation – aims to catch up with many of these changes and better prepare children for the challenges of the 21st century.

So, what are those priorities? And how might they change the modern classroom?

Foreign languages:

One of the most eye-catching changes is a new emphasis on foreign languages. From third class, pupils will have one hour a week to learn a language that is not English or Irish. The framework states that it aims to progress from a “language awareness model to a competency model” in the senior years of primary school.


Science, technology, engineering and maths education is seen as increasingly important in supporting children’s capacity to engage fully with the world around them. The amount of time dedicated to this area will grow as children age, from three hours in junior/senior infants to four hours a week from third class upwards.



As any school principal or teacher will tell you, there are rising concerns over emotional ill-health, anxiety and mental health problems in schools.

In recognition of this, a significant portion of the new curriculum – two and a half hours in junior/senior infants to three hours a week from first class upwards – will be set aside for wellbeing.

It will include an emphasis on arts and “social and environmental education”. It describes the latter as ensuring children come to an “understanding and appreciation of their inherent rights and responsibilities as custodians of this planet”. Arts education, meanwhile, is defined as “arts, drama and music”.

Beliefs and ethics

An area of tension over recent years has been the emphasis on “faith formation” in denominational schools. The compromise in the new curriculum is that the length of time spent teaching religion be cut by half an hour a week, down from 2½ hours a week to 2 hours.

In addition, religion would be supported by a new curriculum on “religion, ethical and multi-belief education”, to give pupils a wider perspective on beliefs.

The changes are unlikely to go far enough to keep secularists happy, but policymakers say the move is driven by a recognition that school patrons have a legal right to deliver “patron’s programmes” in accordance with the ethos of their schools.

Flexible time

Schools and teachers will be given more flexibility to focus on priority areas which meet the needs of pupils. It could anything from the core curriculum to whole-school activities or the patron’s programme. This flexible time will range from five hours in junior/senior infants to six hours in first/second class and seven hours from third class upwards.

Primary curriculum framework – weekly time allocations:

English: 3 hours 45 minutes

Irish: 3 hours

Foreign language: 1 hours

Maths (including science, technology and engineering): 4 hours

Wellbeing (including social & environmental education; arts education): 2 hours

Flexible time: 1¾ hours

Religious ethical and multi-belief and values: 1 hour 40 minutes

Patron’s programme / faith formation: 2 hours

Roll call/assembly: 1 hour 15 minutes

Breaks: 50 minutes

Recreation: 2 hour 30 minutes

Source: NCCA Primary Curriculum Framework

Note: The times, above, are for third to sixth class in an English-medium primary school. Different time allocations are outlined for junior & senior infants; and first & second class; and Irish-medium schools