Subjects, short courses and priority learning units
Each junior cycle student can experience a mix of subjects and short courses. For a
small group of students with special educational needs priority learning units (PLUs)
are available. All of these will enable the statements of learning, literacy and numeracy and other key skills to become a reality for students throughout their three year junior cycle.
Subjects continue to play an important role in the Framework for Junior Cycle. New
curriculum specifications will be developed by the NCCA . A number of these subjects may be selected by schools for their junior-cycle programme.
The new curriculum specifications for subjects will be outcomes-based and in most
cases, there will be common level specifications. The exceptions to this will be the
subjects English, Irish and Mathematics where the specifications will be at two levels,
Higher level and Ordinary level.
To promote the development of literacy and numeracy skills, the specifications in
English, Irish, and Mathematics will be designed for a minimum of 240 hours of
engagement across the three years. In line with current DES policy, schools should
make every effort to ensure that all students have access to an English and
Mathematics lesson every day. Students attending Irish-medium schools should have
access to an Irish lesson every day.
Schools will have flexibility when including other subjects in their programme. The
specifications for these subjects will be designed for 200 hours of learner
engagement during the three years of junior cycle10. The 200 hours should be viewed
as a minimum and does not preclude a school devoting more time where it is needed
or desired. The amount of time devoted to a subject can vary from school to school
according to the priority given to, among other things, its time allocation, the learning
and teaching approaches and activities used, and the particular cohort of students
The new curriculum specifications for subjects will be introduced on a phased basis
beginning with the implementation of English in 2014. The specification for each
subject will be available in schools a year prior to its implementation with first-year
Short courses are an integral component of the Framework for Junior Cycle. Short
courses already exist, for example, Civic, Social and Personal Education (CSPE) and
Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE). In the Framework, short courses will
link directly to the key skills. They are designed for approximately 100 hours of
student engagement over two or three years and specified at a common level across
the entire junior cycle. This level of engagement will provide an opportunity for an
enhancement of current provision for areas such as CSPE, SPHE and Physical
Education (PE). Some short courses will be developed by the NCCA and can be
used ‘off the shelf’ by schools in their junior cycle programme. Schools can also
develop their own short courses locally in accordance with a specification provided
by the NCCA. A maximum of four short courses can be included in the new School 14
Certificate. Each short course must be aligned to the relevant level of the National
Framework of Qualifications.
To begin with, seven NCCA short courses will be developed for use on an optional
basis from 2014.
Priority learning units (PLUs)
The third curriculum element in the Framework for Junior Cycle is the priority learning
unit (PLU). The PLUs will form part of the Level 2 Learning Programme (L2LP). This
programme will target the learning and accreditation needs of certain students with
general learning disabilities in the higher functioning moderate and low functioning
mild categories where such needs prevent students from accessing some or all of the
subjects and short courses on offer and require focused priority learning outcomes.
These students are small in number (one or two in a typical school, more in a special
school) and all have Individual Education Plans (IEPs). It should be noted that most
students with general learning disabilities in the mild category will be able to continue
to access most, if not all, subjects and short courses (Level 3) through differentiated
teaching, learning and assessment; varied use of additional resource allocation such
as team-teaching, small group and individual withdrawal; and through programmes
like the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), as at present.