Cork school principal gives verdict on new draft curriculum for primary schools

The pilot of the new primary school curriculum is going well for one Cork school. JENNIFER HORGAN catches up with the Principal of Scoil Bhríde in Crosshaven to find out more
Cork school principal gives verdict on new draft curriculum for primary schools

Scoil Bhride, Crosshaven.

STAFF at Scoil Bhríde, Crosshaven, have spent the last three or four years contributing to the first curricular changes in the primary curriculum since 2000.

As well as piloting the draft form of the curriculum in their school, they’ve attended national workshops to share their feedback.

Their feedback is glowing. The draft curriculum certainly has its critics, many seeing it as too conservative, but Principal Seamus O’Connor seems wholly positive.

For Mr O’Connor, the new draft curriculum provides a more holistic school experience for the child.

“This new curriculum is more far-reaching. The focus is on the teacher’s relationship with the child; it’s about responding to their individual needs.”

Providing a rounded experience is clearly a priority for the 215 all-girls Catholic school by the sea.

Their online welcome promises ‘a safe and caring environment for all through positivity and individual development.

“The last curriculum was all chalk and talk, and far less interactive,” O Connor continues, “and there were 11 curricular areas. There were lots of outside initiatives around maths and science. This new curriculum is more streamlined. It reduces learning to fewer curricular areas. This makes it a lot easier to do project work. There are so many crossovers between subjects; it doesn’t make sense for us to separate them out.”

He continues enthusiastically: “The new curriculum is not only holistic in terms of meeting the needs of the individual child, it also nurtures a more global outlook. It invites schools to adopt far more inclusive practices. It focuses on racism, bullying and digital literacy. We’ve multilingual, multicultural children in our school community now. This is adequately reflected in the tone and ethos of the new framework.”

I ask Mr O’Connor how his school embraces different cultures.

“Well, in our school for instance we’ve children from Afghanistan so we’ve encouraged them to play cricket rather than demanding they play hurling. We meet them where they’re at; the new curriculum supports this approach.”

Principal O’Connor is particularly excited to introduce a European language to the students for the first time under the new plans.

“We’re trialling it this year in our Easter term. We’ve chosen third and fourth class as they’re very open to new things at that age. They’re well settled in but they’re not yet having to think about the transition to secondary school.”

Students will receive twelve 60-minute lessons in Spanish during the Easter term.

“This is also part of being more inclusive in our practice. Many students speak Spanish. We might consider introducing French as students come from countries on the African continent also, where French is spoken.”

Language plays a key role in the new curriculum.

“We are very conscious that our children bring with them their own skill set when they come from different cultures, different countries. Our EAL (English as an additional language) students are encouraged in language classes to use their own language too. So, for example, when we’re teaching numbers, we’ll ask Polish children to count in Polish too.

“Languages are taught as literacy at Primary now. This predates the new curriculum. English and Irish are taught in the same way, not in isolation. So, it’s easier to introduce more languages on top of this.”

Mr O’Connor’s only reservations relate to staffing and school facilities.

“To teach Spanish, we plan to use internal expertise along with external resources. For instance, we may ask parent experts to come in and talk to the children also.”

But this is a short-term measure. He predicts a shift in teacher training in the future.

“The Teaching Council will have to discuss how best to manage this. There are a lot of excellent language teachers in Ireland who can’t teach in our primary schools because of various restrictions. They may need to alter these restrictions alongside curricular changes.

“We also need to work on diversifying our staffroom to reflect the changing faces in our classrooms. We may need to have a further discussion about Irish, about whether or not it needs to be a requirement for all teachers in our schools.

“There’s a balance to be struck between protecting our national language and being true to the diversity of modern Irish communities. It’s a delicate balance that will need to be discussed in the next phase.”

I ask Mr O’Connor if he thinks the new curriculum offers a more seamless transition to secondary school.

“Well, we’re in a very special situation as we’re on the same site as a secondary school so we get a very clear picture of the transition. We’ve been meeting up with secondary year heads over the last eight or ten years. It would be interesting to combine with the all-boy primary school down the road but at present, the infrastructure doesn’t allow for that.”

HAVE YOUR SAY

Consultations on the redevelopment of the primary curriculum are ongoing. You can share your thoughts- see details on www.ncca.ie/primary

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