Early Childhood and Primary Education


The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) advises the Minister for Education and Science on curriculum and assessment in early childhood education, primary and post-primary schools. Early childhood refers to the period from birth to six years while primary education caters for the period from six to 12 years, although in reality most five-year-olds and about half of the country's four-year-olds attend primary school. This webpage provides an overview of the NCCA's work to support children's learning from birth to the end of primary school.

Early Childhood

In October 2009, the NCCA published Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework. Aistear is for all children from birth to six years. It is the outcome of extensive research, consultation, planning, and development by the NCCA in partnership with the early childhood sector. Aistear can be used in the range of early childhood settings including children's own homes, childminding settings, full and part-time daycare settings, sessional services and infant classes in primary schools. Highlighting the fact that children learn many different things at the same time, the Framework uses four interconnected themes to describe the content of children's learning and development: Well-being, Identity and Belonging, Communicating, and Exploring and Thinking. Aistear highlights the critical role of play, relationships and language for young children's learning. In doing this, it provides a guide to using play, interactions, partnerships with parents, and assessment to help children progress in their learning and development. The Framework has both implicit and explicit links with the Primary School Curriculum (1999). With its focus on children from birth to six years, Aistear can play an important role in the NCCA's ongoing review of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and in supporting continuity and progression in children's learning.


In September 2009, the NCCA celebrated ten years of the curriculum in primary schools. When launched in 1999, the Primary School Curriculum was described as evolutionary rather than revolutionary because it was founded on Curaclam na Bunscoile (1971) and it was developed by the NCCA through engagement with the partners in education. The 1999 curriculum is structured in six curricular areas with 11 subjects. Curriculum aims, principles and features are explained in the Introduction and these underpin teaching and learning in all subjects. Curriculum content and teacher guidelines are provided for all 11 subjects. Since 1999, the NCCA has produced additional guidelines to provide practical support to schools on specific aspects of curriculum and assessment such as assessment and teaching students with special educational needs. To date, the NCCA has completed two phases of review to support ongoing improvement of the curriculum in primary schools. Further information on the NCCA's work to support learning and growing in early childhood and in primary schools is provided in the publications below.


Primary School Curriculum
Primary Curriculum Review: Phase 1 Report (PDF)
Primary Curriculum Review: Phase 2 Report (PDF)
Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework