(i) About the new Primary Language Curriculum

Who is the Primary Language Curriculum for?  

The Primary Language Curriculum is for teachers of children of all abilities in all school contexts. The school contexts for this curriculum include English-medium schools, Gaeltacht schools, Irish-medium schools and special schools. The first five sections—Introduction, Rationale, Aims, Strands and elements and, Planning, teaching and assessing for learning, are for teachers of children in all eight primary years. Section 6—English and Irish: Stages 1 and 2, is for teachers of children in the junior primary years, i.e., stage 1, which refers to junior and senior infant classes and stage 2 which refers to first and second classes. In this curriculum, ‘stage’ has replaced ‘level’ in the 1999 curriculum. This change responds to the challenge of using ‘level’ to refer both to a curriculum stage and to a child’s achievement.

What languages are included in the Primary Language Curriculum?  

This is a first language (L1) and second language (L2) curriculum for English and Irish. The L1 is determined by the language teaching and learning context of the school. The Language Curriculum is for all children in primary school including children who attend special schools or special classes attached to mainstream primary schools and children with English as L1, children with Irish as L1 and children with another language as L1. There are two versions of the curriculum: one with English as L1 which is focused specifically on English-medium schools and another one with Irish as L1 which is focused specifically on Gaeltacht schools and Irish-medium schools. The contents of the two versions are the same with three exceptions: (i) the L1 and L2 reflect the school's langugae context (ii) the Expectations for Learners at the end of each stage (i.e., Learning Outcomes and Progression Milestones) reflect the school's language context and (iii) in the version for Irish-medium schools the Progression Continua include additional features for Irish for each of the three strands. The aim of the different versions is that native speakers of English or Irish would achieve the same Learning Outcomes for the school's L1 at approximately the same rate. The L1 Learning Outcomes in the Primary Language Curriculum are organised under the same strands in both English and Irish. Support is given to the native and the non-native Irish speakers in the Learning Outcomes and Progression Continua at a level appropriate to their abilities. The curriculum supports teachers to help each child to achieve the Learning Outcomes for oral language, reading and writing.

What is the language context for the curriculum for English-medium schools?  

While English is the language of the home for the majority of children who attend English-medium schools, there are other children who speak a different language at home. The children in these schools will follow the Learning Outcomes for English as L1 and Irish as L2. Children’s engagement with Irish from the beginning of their primary education broadens their linguistic experience and deepens their cultural awareness. The curriculum recognises that for non-native speakers of Irish, experience and knowledge of Irish are important to enable children to define and express their understanding of national and cultural identity. In the same way, contact with English broadens the language experience of children with Irish as a first language (L1).  

What is the language context for the curriculum for Irish-medium schools?  

To provide a haven for Irish in the case of Gaeltacht schools and Irish-medium schools, the boards of management of the schools, following a consultation process with parents, will have the option of postponing children’s learning of English until the end of senior infants. Not all the children who attend Gaeltacht schools are native speakers of Irish. Often the native speakers in a Gaeltacht school are even in the minority. In the case of Irish-medium schools, only a very small number of the children have Irish as the language of the home. The integrated language curriculum attends to the various needs of all children, in all of these contexts. The immersion experience affords native speakers the opportunity to enrich and develop their Irish, and it affords non-native Irish speakers in Gaeltacht schools and Irish-medium schools the opportunity to immerse themselves in the language. When the learning of English begins after the period of immersion, the children will transfer many language skills from Irish to English, especially literacy skills (see section 6.1). During this time, English is not taught throughout the day in incidental ways but is confined to the discrete English lesson, to establish the target language of Irish.

Why is there a new Primary Language Curriculum?  

The last two decades have seen significant changes in Irish society. Over 200 languages as well as Cant and Irish Sign Language (ISL) are now spoken in Ireland. Curriculum reviews and research during this time have highlighted strengths and challenges of the 1999 curriculum for English and Irish. Teachers have called for a less crowded curriculum with a greater emphasis on practice and on supporting progression in children’s language learning and development. Findings have highlighted the need for a new Primary Language Curriculum which:

  • integrates English and Irish and includes all children and the language knowledge and experiences that children bring to school
  • engages teachers and learners and supports children to develop positive dispositions toward language and literacy
  • supports teachers to help children to progress in their language learning and development through the primary years
  • is more than functional; which enables children to make and explore meaning as well as receive and create it.

Research reports that inform and support curriculum development are published at www.ncca.ie/primarylanguage.

How is the new Primary Language Curriculum different from the 1999 curriculum for English and Irish?  

The structure of the Primary Language Curriculum differs from the 1999 curriculum for English and Irish in several respects (Table 1):

Table 1: Curriculum for English and Irish: 1999 and 2015

Primary English Curriculum and Primary Gaeilge Curriculum (1999)

Primary Language Curriculum (2015)


Strand unit


Different strands and strand units
for English and Irish

Same strands and elements
for English and Irish

Content Objectives


Learning Outcomes



Progression Continua

Assessment advice in Guidelines

Examples of children’s language learning
in the Primary Language Toolkit (online)


Support Material for teachers
in the Primary Language Toolkit (online)


The Primary Language Curriculum is an integrated curriculum. This means that it has the same curriculum structure and the same strands for English and Irish to support integration across the two languages. The number of Learning Outcomes included in this integrated curriculum is far fewer than the number of Content Objectives in the 1999 curriculum (94 and 269, respectively). The change from Content Objectives to Learning Outcomes shifts the focus from the teacher to the child and his/her learning. For each strand—oral language, reading and writing—it includes a continuum (map) of significant Progression Milestones and detailed Progression Steps involved in children’s language learning and development. The Learning Outcomes and Progression Continua are complemented by Examples of children’s language learning to help teachers to make professional judgements about, and support children’s achievement and progression across, both languages. These Examples are presented in an online Primary Language Toolkit along with Support Material for teachers. The Primary Language Toolkit replaces the Teacher Guidelines in the 1999 curriculum. Finally, the Primary Language Curriculum incorporates the principles and methodologies of Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework (NCCA, 2009).

Why is the Primary Language Curriculum described as ‘integrated’?  

Unlike the 1999 curriculum which has a different structure, e.g., separate strands and strand units for English and Irish, this Primary Language Curriculum has the same structure and strands for both languages. This integration between languages is important for primary teachers to plan for and support children’s progression in the L1 and the L2, whether Irish or English. Children transfer certain skills and concepts from their first to their second language and to a third language in some instances. When teachers are aware of opportunities for transfer, they can reinforce these skills and help children to generalise what they have learned to other languages. In this curriculum a link symbol   is used to show where the transfer of skills occurs across the Learning Outcomes for the school’s L1 and L2. (Further information is provided in Section 6.1 - Learning Outcomes: English and Irish.) Using the same curriculum structure for both languages supports teachers to plan for and to integrate children’s language learning across English and Irish. This builds on the two types of integration described in the 1999 curriculum, i.e., integration within a curriculum subject (linkage) and across curriculum subjects, i.e., English and Irish. It recognises a third type of integration which is related to language learning across the three strands of oral language, reading and writing.

What are the strands of the Primary Language Curriculum?  

The strands represent the main areas or modes of learning in English and Irish. The Primary Language Curriculum has three strands: oral language, reading and writing. Like the 1999 curriculum, ‘the strands are not discrete areas of learning, as they overlap and interact to form a holistic learning experience for the child’ (DES, Introduction, p. 42). The connectedness of the strands is emphasised in the definition of ‘text’ to include all products of language use: oral, gesture, sign, written, visual, electronic and digital. It is important that teachers understand this definition of text to help them make sense of the Learning Outcomes and the continua.

What are the elements of the Primary Language Curriculum?  

Elements describe the essential language learning within the strands; they replace strand units in the 1999 curriculum. There are three elements:

  • Developing communicative relationships through language
  • Understanding the content and structure of language
  • Exploring and using language.

For ease of reference, the three elements can be abbreviated as follows: (i) Communicating, (ii) Understanding and (iii) Exploring and Using. Each element has a specific set of Learning Outcomes. Like the 1999 curriculum, the elements are interdependent.

How is the Primary Language Curriculum structured and presented?  

The Primary Language Curriculum and the companion Primary Language Toolkit include:

Table 2: Contents of the Primary Language Curriculum and Toolkit


What are the key messages in the new Primary Language Curriculum?


Why is language learning and development important in primary school?


What do we value in children’s language learning and development in primary school?

Strands and elements

What concepts, dispositions and skills are important in children’s language learning and development in stages 1 and 2 with reference to the strands and elements?

Planning, teaching and assessing for learning

What are the parts/components of the curriculum and how do these work together?

  • Learning Outcomes
  • Progression Continua
  • Examples of children’s learning and development*
  • Support Material for teachers*


What are the important terms used to describe concepts, dispositions and skills in children’s language learning and development and how are these explained?

* Published in the Primary Language Toolkit: www.curriculumonline.ie.

What are the four interconnected parts of the curriculum?  

Section 6 of the Primary Language Curriculum, English and Irish: Stages 1 and 2, describes four interconnected components— Learning Outcomes, Progession Continua, Support Material and Examples of children’s learning and development (see Figure 1). Learning Outcomes describe the expected language learning and development for children at the end of a two-year period while the Progression Continua describe, in broad terms, milestones and steps in a child’s journey in his/her language learning and development. Support Materials include a range of practice guides, podcasts, videos and photo galleries to support teachers’ use of the Primary Language Curriculum in the school’s first and second language. The Examples of children’s learning and development have been developed by teachers and children and show children’s language learning and development across the three strands and across a range of school contexts.


Figure 1: The four interconnected components of the Primary Language Curriculum