The vision for primary education espoused in the Primary School Curriculum (1999) is to nurture the child in all dimensions of his/her life: spiritual, moral, cognitive, emotional, imaginative, aesthetic, social and physical. The curriculum incorporates the child centred principles of Curaclam na Bunscoile (1971) but also includes new content and embraces new approaches and methodologies. It is learner-centred. It emphasises the importance of literacy, numeracy, and language, while at the same time responding to changing needs in science and technology, social personal and health education, and citizenship.


The general aims of primary education are:

  • to enable the child to live a full life as a child and to realise his or her potential as a unique individual
  • to enable the child to develop as a social being through living and co-operating with others and so contribute to the good of society
  • to prepare the child for further education and lifelong learning.


The curriculum is presented in seven curriculum areas, including Religious Education which remains the responsibility of the different church authorities. The principal division of content within each subject is the strand.

The curriculum for each subject is presented in hard copy in separate books, with an accompanying Teacher Guidelines book. The Primary School Curriculum can also be downloaded as separate pdf documents or viewed online at www.curriculumonline.ie. The content of the Primary School Curriculum is presented in levels corresponding to a two year cycle for junior and senior infants; first and second, third and fourth; and fifth and sixth, to facilitate curriculum planning.

The table below identifies the curriculum areas and their constituent subjects.

Primary School Curriculum

Areas Subjects
Language English, Gaeilge, Mathematics
Social Envirnmental and Scientific Education (SESE) History, Geography, Science
Arts Education Visual Arts, Drama, Music
Physical Education
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
Religious Education

Defining features

The curriculum is firmly based on a set of beliefs and values about children and learning.

These include :

  • the focus on the process of learning, and on the many ways in which children learn
  • the importance of active, independent learningand in particular active exploration of the local environment. Opportunities for using concrete materials and hands-on approaches are provided in all curriculum areas.
  • the vital role of language in children's learning. Much learning takes place through the interaction of language and experience. Language helps the child to clarify and interpret experience, to acquire new concepts, and to add depth to concepts already grasped.
  • the importance of the social and emotional dimension in learning and the need to build the child's self confidence and self-esteem and provide opportunities to develop his/her interpersonal and intrapersonal skills
  • the importance of collaborative learning and the need for a variety of classroom management strategies
  • the emphasis on creative problem-solving, critical thinking and the importance of helping children to investigate, to question, to observe and to make informed judgements. The development of these higher-order thinking skills is incorporated in every curriculum area.
  • skills of inquiry and investigation are a particular feature of the science curriculum which is given a renewed emphasis
  • the emphasis on school and classroom planning. There is a wide range of support materials in the documentation that gives guidance on planning.
  • the recognition of the importance ofassessment, the use of a varied range of assessment methods and tools and an emphasis on assessment as part of a cycle which includes planning, teaching, learning and assessing.

A characteristic feature of the development of the curriculum was the close involvement and co-operation of the partners in education. This partnership approach was also advocated in planning for its implementation in the school.

The Primary School Curriculum was launched in 1999. Incremental implementation continued in schools until 2007, a process that was supported by the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) and the School Development Planning Support (SDPS). The Primary Professional Development Service (PPDS) continues to support schools in implementing the curriculum.

Primary Curriculum Review

In 2003 the NCCA initiated a first review of the Primary School Curriculum for English, Visual Arts and Mathematics. The NCCA's report on the first phase of review was published in May 2005. In 2006 work began on reviewing Gaeilge, Science and SPHE. The NCCA's report on the second phase of review was published in May 2008.

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