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UCD to delve into the secret lives of children navigating Irish primary school

Posted 1 November, 2018

  • UCD reseachers will follow 4,300 children through primary school in Ireland.
  • The focus is on the persaonal experiences of each child. 
  • The study will feed into the development of the national curriculum.

Researchers from University College Dublin will follow 4,300 children through primary school in Ireland to gauge how it shapes their young lives.

The study, ‘Children’s School Lives’, will track the children for six years, and aims to present an intimate portrait of school and community life in Ireland that can feed into national policy on the development of curriculum for early childhood, primary and post-primary education. 

Funded by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), the landmark research is the first systematic attempt to track the same group of children from pre-school and primary into secondary school. 

Principal Investigators for the study are Professor Dympna Devine, Head of UCD School of Education, and Assistant Professor Jennifer Symonds, who are working alongside Assistant Professor Deirdre McGillicuddy and Assistant Professor Seaneen Sloan to oversee the research. 

The investigation by the researchers at the UCD School of Education will examine such themes such as relationships, inclusion, school culture, religion, curriculum, ethnicity and emotional wellbeing. 

“Primary schools in Ireland have always been central to the vitality of local communities, the focal point for marrying the love and care for children with national goals for economic and social development,” said Professor Devine.

“This study takes a holistic view of children’s learning and development, exploring how their experience of school contributes not only to their academic attainment, but also their self-confidence, and capacities to thrive,” she added.

Approximately 4,300 children from 200 primary schools will be involved in the quantitative aspect of the study. 

Nested within this, children in 14 case study primary schools will be involved in a more in-depth investigation. 

The study will focus on two cohorts of children, with one group in their last year of preschool in 2018/2019 followed annually until they finish 2nd class. 

The second group, taken from children in 2nd class in 2018/2019, will be followed annually until they finish their first year in post-primary school.

According to Professor Devine, the focus is on capturing the lived experiences of each child in school and their interactions with, and across family, school and community. 

“We lack a detailed understanding of what happens in primary school classrooms,” she said. 

“We also know very little about how this is viewed through children’s eyes. This study will ask key questions such as: What is it like to be a child in primary school today? Do all children have equal chance to succeed? 

“What are the critical incidents and relationships that shape children’s values and identities? And how might this be different for boys and girls, for children from different social and ethnic backgrounds, and those with a range of additional support needs.”

She added: “We also need to understand how key adults engage with the system, both inside and outside primary schools.”

Building on the 2006 Growing Up In Ireland study, which followed the lives of 18,000 Irish children, this new national study aims to present a rich tapestry of the experiences of children in primary schools in Ireland, and how these experiences shape and are shaped by, schools as communities, institutions, and systems.

Speaking of the significance of the Children's School Lives study, Brigid McManus, Chair of the NCCA, said: "The NCCA always uses evidence-based research to guide its advice on how the curriculum should be developed.  

“For the first time in almost twenty years, the Council is reviewing and redeveloping the primary curriculum from junior infants to sixth classs.  

“This is an important opportunity to step back from the curriculum and ask what it should do for children and for teachers in the next ten, fifteen years."

Professor Devine added: "Over time, Children’s School Lives will provide us with key insights into promising practices in the system, as well as those that need to change.  

“Fundamentally it will facilitate curricular and wider policy planning."

The first wave of data from the study is planned for Q1 in 2019.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations