The babies that are being born today will be the first to benefit from the proposals published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment this morning.

Their new framework is a sapling grown from seed by the council and now being planted out for public examination.

The current primary school curriculum is 21 years of age. In curriculum years that's old. It was cutting edge in its day, but now it is showing signs of wear. And the NCCA is clearly of the belief that a graceful retirement is the best thing for it.

Teachers complain of a crowded curriculum with little space for things like a modern European language, or coding, or physical education.

"Areas like PE and Social Personal and Health Education are being subsumed into a new subject called Wellbeing"

There's been debate around the fact that schools are obliged to dedicate at least two-and-a-half hours a week to the teaching of religion. Time, some argue, that would be better spent elsewhere.

The NCCA says its new framework is an attempt to address these and other "challenges, changing needs and priorities".

It is also an attempt to align primary education with the new Junior Cycle framework, and it shares some of the approaches contained in that programme. 

In what is the most notable timetabling change, areas like PE and Social Personal and Health Education are being subsumed into a new subject called Wellbeing. And the new framework envisages a doubling of the minimum time that will have to be spent weekly on this area, from one-and-a-half hours weekly to three hours.

This is significant. According to the council this new subject, Wellbeing, will support "children’s social, emotional and physical development". Its ambit is broad. It includes "for children to develop their own ethical understanding of the world, and in doing to learn to make good decisions", and "to be as physically and emotionally well and healthy as they can be".

"Wellbeing also supports children to value positive and healthy relationships with others" the framework states "that includes acquiring an understanding of human sexuality that is balanced and connected".

The mandatory teaching time for religious education is being reduced somewhat, from two-and-a-half hours weekly to two hours.


Read more:
Draft Framework in full
NCCA proposes doubling time spent on social, health education


The minimum hours for languages (including English) and maths are being reduced - only slightly in the case of maths. But schools are being offered flexibility too, with up to seven hours teaching weekly unassigned, to be allocated to subject areas as individual schools see fit. 

Like the new Junior Cycle programme this new framework proposes a shift away from discrete subject areas in favour of a focus on what it calls "key competencies", broad capabilities to govern the direction of overall teaching and learning, such as 'being creative’ or 'being a digital learner’.

There’s work to be done. The months after October - when consultation ends - will see agreement reached on a final framework. Then the work on fleshing out a curriculum within that framework begins. The NCCA hopes to have all this completed and ready for government approval by 2024.

NCCA says framework "builds on the success and strengths" of its predecessor

The current primary school curriculum may be old, but it has served us well. The OECD places Irish teens among the most proficient internationally when it comes to their reading ability, and significantly above average when it comes to science and maths.

Our 21-year-old primary curriculum can certainly take some of the credit for this. Conscious that care will have to be taken not to throw the baby out with the bathwater the NCCA says its new draft framework "builds on the success and strengths" of its predecessor.

The parents of children being born today and this year are very likely to have other more immediately pressing things on their minds right now.

But the documents published on the NCCA's website today give us a first glimpse of the kind of system these babies and their younger sisters and brothers are likely to experience when they begin their primary school education in five years' time.