Primary pupils to learn foreign languages from third class under draft curriculum

Reduction in religious faith formation teaching under new proposals

Pupils could start learning foreign languages as early as third class under sweeping changes being proposed for the primary curriculum.

The planned shake-up in teaching and learning in primary schools – the most dramatic in 20 years – could also see a reduction in time allocated to religious faith formation and other subjects.

Instead, there will be a strong emphasis on wellbeing, maths and languages, along with new aspects such as technology.

Schools would also be given more “flexible time” to decide on what areas of learning they want to prioritise for their pupils.


The proposals are contained in a draft primary curriculum framework which is the subject of new consultation process, overseen by National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

A previous consultation with schools was postponed in late 2020 due to the pandemic.

Parents, teachers, school leaders and children are being invited to share their observations online from todayMonday until February 2022.

This draft framework will guide the development of a new curriculum which will shape how children learn over the coming decades.

The NCCA envisages the completion of the development of all curriculum area specifications by summer 2026.

The speed of the rollout of the changes will be a matter for the then minister for education.

It is expected that among the first children to be taught under the new curriculum will be born from this year onwards.

Underlining the need to keep the curriculum up to date, the NCCA pointed out that these children will begin their working lives in the 2050s and are due retire in the late 2080s/early 2090s.

Some of the proposals contained in the draft framework would see major changes such as:

  • The replacement of subjects during the first four years of primary with much broader "curriculum areas" rather than up to 11 separate subjects as it the case at present. More defined subjects would be taught from third to sixth class. There would be an increased emphasis on areas such as PE, digital learning and the introduction of foreign languages, education about world religion and ethics, and a broader arts education;
  • More "flexible time" to allow schools to focus more on areas of learning which would be decided by individual schools. This would be facilitated by reduction in time allocated for most areas of the curriculum. This across-the-board reduction in time would reduce time set aside for patron's programmes – or faith formation in denominational schools – from 2½ hours a week to two hours;
  • The introduction of seven key competencies which aim to capture essential knowledge, skills and values to enable children to adapt and deal with a range of situations, challenges and contexts. These competencies link closely with Aistear – the pre-school curriculum – and Junior Cycle at secondary school.

The NCCA says the changes build on the strengths of the 1999 primary school curriculum, while responding to challenges, changing needs and priorities.

It says the changes aim to give increased agency and flexibility to schools in their role as “curriculum-makers”.

It would also, say officials, promote stronger connections between children’s experiences in primary and their prior experiences in pre-school, and with their later experiences in post-primary school.

The proposed changes are based on an extensive body of research and curriculum consultations.

They also draw on work which has taken place in a schools forum, which included dozens of primary, pre-schools and post-primary schools, along with deliberations with education partners and wider stakeholders.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent