Curriculum reform – still no instructions

Sir, – In an article on curriculum reform by "The Secret Teacher" (February 26th), the view is expressed that the current approach being taken to the reform of the second-level curriculum "resembles an Ikea-style flatpack, but with no accompanying instructions". The "Secret Teacher" states that the new Leaving Cert curriculum needs to come "fully built and entirely for purpose".

In common with many other teachers, I agree with this view. The current template (of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) for designing a new (or revised) curriculum is limited to a statement of topics and a list of learning outcomes – it is simply an outline or a framework for a possible syllabus. No further details are provided – no indication is given of depth of treatment of a topic or theme, nor are teachers’ notes or an examination specification included in the syllabus document – as was available in the past.

Writing a syllabus, especially a syllabus for a high-stakes examination such as the Leaving Certificate, solely in terms of a list of topics and learning outcomes, poses a serious risk of a fall in standards since learning outcomes are statements of essential learning, and as such they are written at minimum acceptable or threshold (pass/fail) standard. If teachers focus only on learning outcomes without guidelines as to the depth of treatment required and the standards that should be aimed at, there is a real risk that teaching and learning targets will be set at minimum rather than maximum level, that the bar will not be set high enough for student learning and that as a result, standards will fall.

I again add my voice to the many requests for a change in the current approach being taken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and repeat the recommendation I made almost five years ago, ie that the full range of syllabus documentation (including depth of treatment, teachers’ notes, an examination specification, etc) should be officially published at the same time as the syllabus (or so-called specification) itself, under the logo of the Department of Education and Skills.


This elaborated documentation should be available to students, teachers, third-level institutions, school management and the general public well before the new or revised syllabuses are due to be implemented. – Yours, etc,


Emeritus Professor

of Education,

University College Cork.