Primary Curriculum Review, Phase 2: Gaeilge, Science and SPHE


The NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) gathered data for Phase 2 of Primary Curriculum Review during the 2006/07 school year. In total, 1,370 teachers from 200 schools completed the Review and Reflection Template for Teachers, and groups of children, parents, teachers and the principals from eight different schools participated in interviews as part of a school case study. Four findings were highlighted in the two research strands.

Click to access a leaflet summarising the second phase of the curriculum review (one page view or individual page view). It outlines the main successes and challenges in working with the curriculum for Gaeilge, science and SPHE as identified by teachers, principals, children and parents, and looks at how the NCCA will respond.

Click to access the Primary Curriculum Review, Phase 2 final report (PDF, 1.5MB).

Methods of teaching and learning
Curaclam na Gaeilge
Commissioned research on science: Key findings


Across the three subjects, teachers identified time as one of the greatest challenges of curriculum implementation. Teachers described two dimensions of the time issue. One focused on curriculum overload (insufficient time to fully implement all curriculum subjects or to cover all the objectives within each subject) while the other focused on class size/children’s needs (insufficient time to meet the needs of all learners). Similarly, the lack of time related to curriculum overload and class size was identified as a key challenge in the Primary Curriculum Review, Phase 1 (NCCA, 2005).

Methods of teaching and learning

Similar to findings from Phase1, teachers’ strong ownership of the child-centred theories underpinning the Primary School Curriculum, contrasted with their limited ownership of child-centred teaching and learning methods. A number of findings across the three subjects relating to methods of teaching and learning included the following:

  • As with findings from phase one of the review, whole class teaching was the organisational setting most frequently used across all three subjects. However, in this second phase of review large numbers of respondents (at least 80%) reported using pair work, group work and individual work frequently or sometimes in each of the three subjects.
  • Limited opportunities were being provided for children to develop the higher-order thinking skills listed in the Primary School Curriculum, which include summarising, analysing, making inferences and deductions and interpreting figurative language and imagery (DES, 1999, Introduction, p.16).
  • Teacher response rates to the ICT questions in the template were notably lower than for any of the other areas of questioning.



Four key issues emerged from Phase 2 in relation to assessment:

  •         purpose of assessment
  •         assessment methods
  •         exemplification of standards
  •         use of assessment information.

These are similar to findings on assessment in Phase 1, as well as there being additional findings.

In general, the data suggests that teachers are unclear on the purpose, role and function of assessment and its potential in supporting teaching and learning. Teachers identified the nature of learning in the three subjects as a challenge to assessment.

Teacher observation and teacher questioning were reported as the most frequently used assessment methods across all three subjects, reflecting the findings of Primary Curriculum Review, Phase 1 (NCCA, 2005). Teachers also reported using teacher-designed tasks and tests, and work samples, portfolios and projects relatively often. In contrast, assessment methods such as curriculum profiles and concept-mapping which can be especially useful in Gaeilge and science respectively were used less frequently.

Teachers’ lack of awareness of, and perceptions of the limited availability of, assessment tools and resources for the subjects under review was highlighted across findings. Respondents noted the availability of standardised tests for English and mathematics and indicated that they valued having standards against which to judge children’s progress and achievement in these areas. However, teachers drew attention to the absence of standards in other curriculum areas against which to judge children’s progress in knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values.

Across the three subjects, teachers reported finding assessment information most helpful for planning follow-on lessons, reporting to parents, and providing feedback to children. It is of note, however, that fewer teachers reported finding assessment information helpful for providing feedback to children in Gaeilge than in science or SPHE, despite the greater time allocation for Gaeilge in primary schools and the importance of feedback in language learning. Giving feedback to children is a central strategy in Assessment for Learning—one of two assessment approaches presented in the document, Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum: Guidelines for Schools (NCCA, 2007).

Curaclam na Gaeilge

Though children are responding favourably to the communicative approach emphasised by Curaclam na Gaeilge, analysis of data indicates that a range of issues have emerged which teachers recognise as challenges. These issues include children’s limited range of language experiences, teachers’ focus on meaning versus form and the use of two phonetic codes when teaching and learning Gaeilge.



The NCCA will respond to the above findings through the development of a school network. Teachers involved in the school network will work on shaping the responses to the challenges identified in this phase of the review. This network will comprise clusters of schools, each potentially dedicated to one project (for example, assessment).

Teachers participating in the network will have opportunities to work with and learn from teachers in other schools within a single cluster, as well as schools in other clusters. Through this network the NCCA will work closely with teachers in order to develop a number of resources and support materials to support teaching and learning in primary schools. Many of these resources will be housed on the ACTION website.

Commissioned research on science: Key findings

Science in Primary Schools, Phase 1 of the commissioned research

The first phase of commissioned research on science focused on primary pupils’ experience of science in school. Analyses of the data highlighted a number of key findings including:

  • Primary children are enthusiastic about learning virtually all of the science content areas outlined in the Primary School Curriculum. They enjoy hands-on science and working collaboratively in small groups when they do conduct these activities. However, not all children have the opportunity to participate regularly in hands-on science.
  • Children are not entirely positive in relation to the use of reading and writing including: copying from the board; reading textbooks; and completing worksheets and workbooks during science lessons.
  • Children are very enthusiastic about working on science outside the classroom and about using ICT in science. However, children’s encounters with these activities appear to be limited. The majority of children’s experiences of school science relate to the strands Living things, Energy and forces and Materials.

Click on the link below to read the full report.
Science in Primary Schools, Phase 1: Final report (PDF 2.15MB)

Science in primary schools, what the kids think. Article from info@ncca, edition 11, January 2009

Science in Primary Schools, Phase 2 of the commissioned research

Phase 2 of the commissioned research brought a post-primary dimension to the research on science. Responding to the question how does children's learning in science at primary level impact on their learning of science in first year at post-primary?, the study gathered information through questionnaires from 234 first-year post-primary students, and through interviews with students in eight case study schools between February and May 2008. Click on the link below to find out what the students said.

Science in Primary Schools, Phase 2: Final report (PDF 7.96MB)

Transition in science. Moving from primary to post-primary. Article from info@ncca, edition 12, April 2009.


Related links:

Primary Curriculum Review: Overview
Primary Curriculum Review: Phase 1
Primary Curriculum Review Publications
Primary School Curriculum
Download the Primary School Curriculum