Project to track children through schooling

Children are to be tracked from pre-school through to the start of second-level in a six-year project to monitor their experiences and to help improve primary education.

The work for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) will provide new insights into how children experience primary school and how school staff and management view themselves.

But it will also help to inform a current NCCA review of the primary curriculum that is looking at giving schools more freedom to decide how much time is allocated to various subjects.

The council began consultations last year on the time and structure of the curriculum that has been operating at primary level since 1999. The proposals could lead to principals and teachers deciding to block off longer periods to some subjects or to use more play-based or themed teaching.

The research, which the NCCA hopes to get under way later this year, involves tracing two groups of children, over five years and six years. One will be children in the pre-school year before beginning primary school, who will be studied through to second-class. At the same time, the progress of another cohort starting second class will be followed through to first-year of secondary school.

Among the key themes the NCCA wants to examine is how children cope with the transitions from pre-school to primary, and from primary to second-level education.

Across the entire research, an emphasis will be placed on differentiating the experiences of pupils from different backgrounds, taking into account language, culture, social background, family types and children’s various levels of ability.

The possible impacts of attending different types of school are also to be compared, likely to consider factors such as size, urban or rural location, single-sex and mixed schools, and whether schools have a religious patron or are non-denominational or multi-denominational.

“In the case of some lines of inquiry, it will be important that, in addition to children’s perspectives, other voices are captured in the study. For example, those of teachers, principals, parents, special needs assistants, and ancillary staff such as school secretaries and caretakers,” the brief for prospective study teams said.

The NCCA hopes to gain insights into the perspectives of children, teachers, management and parents on how schools are run and led, and how they see themselves in the context of their local communities. The views of school staff about what does or does not work in establishing effective learning environments for children, and how they interact with parents, will also be probed.

While the longitudinal study will run for up to six years, a number of preliminary and thematic reports will be expected to help inform the NCCA’s work over the next two to three years.

Other themes for possible focus may include how well schools make all children feel included, with particular attention to children experiencing socio-economic disadvantage, pupils with special educational needs, children of immigrants and those from the Traveller community.

Previous longitudinal research for the NCCA conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute with second-level students has strongly informed ongoing reforms of the three-year junior cycle.

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