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Primary school students to learn less religion and will have mandatory foreign languages

The Primary Curriculum Framework was launched by Education Minister Norma Foley this morning.

FOREIGN LANGUAGES ARE to become mandatory in primary and special schools while the time spent teaching religion will be reduced under a revised curriculum. 

The Primary Curriculum Framework, launched today by Education Minister Norma Foley, was developed over six years by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and marks the first major overhaul of the curriculum in 25 years.

It aims to shape the work for primary and special schools going forward and “sets out the vision, principles and components” of a redeveloped primary school curriculum.

It is not known yet when a revised curriculum will be implemented. 

Launching the framework, Foley said it was a “groundbreaking day” for primary and special school education.

“It’s the first time that we have a framework and that recognises the importance of having an overarching vision for what to teach in our primary and special schools,” she said.

“I think there’s a recognition that children do not learn in isolation, so we need to have a framework that acknowledges the connectedness between the different subjects.”

The curriculum framework includes five broad areas: Language, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Wellbeing, Arts education and Social and Environmental Education.

Under the framework, foreign languages will form part of the curriculum for the first time ever. From third class, pupils will be taught a language that is not English or Irish for an hour a week.

The framework states that it supports the introduction of modern foreign languages and aims to “build on children’s existing knowledge of language” and progress “from a language awareness model to a competency model” in the senior years of primary school.

Foley said she expected the teaching of foreign languages to begin in 2025.

“There’s a body of work that needs to be done there and that work will now begin and we will see that in our schools in 2025, but there will be staged introduction of various elements of the programme,” she said. 

She said a successful pilot had taken place in a number of schools, and noted that the Department of Education would provide necessary upskilling and continuous, professional development (CPD) for the teaching of the foreign languages. 

“I think it is interesting to note from the pilot, that many of the staff within the schools actually took the opportunity to teach that element of modern foreign languages themselves. Obviously not all of them, but there’s a learning for us there as well, so there will perhaps be skill sets within the staff room,” she said.

Foley also said the department is currently engaging with higher level institutions in relation to new graduates and their “familiarity, awareness and their ability to deliver” the new language teaching.

“We will look at every possible opportunity and we will absolutely be supporting the staff in the delivery of this.”


The teaching of religion has been reduced from two-and-a-half hours a week to two hours, while the subject will now form part of a new “religious, ethical, multi-belief and values education” subject, aimed at giving pupils a wider perspective on faith and beliefs.

This will be allocated an hour and 40 minutes a week for junior infants to 2nd class, and two hours a week for third to sixth class.

However, Foley said schools can teach religion for longer if they wish to under new “flexible time” granted to schools. 

Schools can use this time to focus on priority areas of learning. It will range from five hours per month for junior and senior infants, six hours for first and second class and seven hours from third class upwards. 

“Schools will know best what areas need to be more augmented. That could be across any area, whether it’s in area of mathematics, or in language, or whatever that happens to be, that autonomy has been given,” Foley said.

NO REPRO FEE 002 Primary Curriculum Framework Minister for Education Norma Foley launching the Primary Curriculum Framework today. Leon Farrell Leon Farrell

Time spent teaching STEM education will increase as children get older, with the framework stating that it “supports children’s capacity to understand and engage with the world around them”. 

Maths will be taught for three hours a week for junior and senior infants, and four hours from first class upwards, while science, technology and engineering will be taught for three hours per month for junior and senior infants, four hours for first and second class and five hours for third class upwards. 

Foley said the first element to be introduced will be the mathematical curriculum, adding that the work on it “is nearing completion and will be published very imminently”.

The framework states that arts education is “integral throughout a child’s experience in primary school” and that experiencing art and creativity has the capacity “to engage, inspire and enrich all children, exciting the imagination and encouraging them to reach their creative and expressive potential”. 

Children in junior infants to second class will learn arts education for nine hours per month, reducing to eight hours per month from third class onwards. 


A significant portion of the new curriculum framework will focus on wellbeing to support children’s “social, emotional and physical development now and into the future”. 

The framework states that it is important for children to develop self-awareness and knowledge, build life skills and develop a strong sense of connectedness to their school, their community and wider society. 

“Children will be encouraged to value what it means to be an active citizen, with rights and responsibilities, in local and wider contexts,” it states.

It also states that wellbeing “also supports children to value positive and healthy relationships with others, which includes acquiring an understanding of human sexuality that is balanced and connected with the rational and emotional aspects”. 

The framework’s section on inclusion and diversity states that it centres on “the values and practices that enable children, as individuals, to belong and to feel respected, confident, and safe so they can engage in meaningful learning and reach their potential”.

Foley said there has been “a very positive reception” to the framework from all of the partners in education.

“I think we all recognise that we need our students of the 21st century to have a curriculum framework that is of the 21st century and there has been no issue with that and I don’t foresee an issue,” she said.

“We have seen here the value of consultation and engagement, and as a consequence, we have a framework here that is broadly welcomed by all. In terms of curriculum detail, the leadership there comes from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

She said the process of putting a new curriculum in place will involve “very broad consultation, engagement, discussion” and that all views will be welcome across the partners in education and wider society.

“I think that would be a positive thing. I think we have achieved it here with the framework, and I’ve every confidence we’ll be able to achieve it with the curriculum going forward.”

Reacting to the framework, the general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) John Boyle said teachers and school leadership teams must be given dedicated time to engage with, understand, implement and embed the curriculum.

“The Department of Education and other stakeholders must undertake a clear and comprehensive communication strategy ensuring adequate resources including a comprehensive programme of in-person CPD to support curriculum change together with specific funding for school resources,” Boyle said.

“The Department of Education must ensure coherence in the system so that the implementation of the new primary curriculum is prioritised and initiative overload does not occur.”

Boyle also said the reduction of primary class sizes to the EU average of 20 will be “vital for the successful implementation of the framework, as will the restoration of promotional posts of responsibility”.

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