Most Irish students learn either print script or pre-cursive letters in junior and senior infant levels. From Class 1 onwards, they add exit strokes to letters and connect them to achieve a cursive hand.
In Ireland, the An Chomhairle Náisiúnta Curaclaim agus Measúnachta, or National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), advises the country’s An tAire Oideachais, or Minister of Education, on matters related to curriculum and assessment for early childhood education, as well as primary and post-primary schools. The educational system is bilingual, with most schools teaching English as the primary language, and Irish Gaelic as the secondary language.
Education is compulsory from ages 6 to 16 years. Primary school is divided into three stages: junior infant (4–6 years old), senior infant (5–7 years old), and then Class 1 (6–8 years old) to Class 6 (11–13 years old). Secondary school serves students roughly between the ages 12–18 years old, and is also divided into junior and senior cycles. Most children in Ireland attend free, state-funded primary schools, which are locally known as National Schools, though private ones that charge fees also exist.
The NCAA publishes the national curriculum, and issues of language are dealt with in the Primary Language Curriculum, which was last published in 2019. The Primary Language Curriculum replaces its predecessor from 1999, and is fully bilingual in English and Irish Gaelic. It specifies that students must be able to write legibly and fluently in any chosen handwriting style. A guideline document for teachers called Primary Language Curriculum. Support Material for teachers. Writing is also published by the NCAA. This devotes a full section to handwriting, and suggests that children can be introduced to cursive writing as early as junior infant level.
In practice, however, each school can choose their own methods for teaching handwriting. Most teachers start with either print script (locally called “manuscript”) or precursive letters in junior and senior infant levels. From Class 1 onwards, students are taught to add exit strokes to letters, and then to connect them to achieve a cursive hand.
Role of private publishers in handwriting education
In compliance with the Primary Language Curriculum for English and Irish Gaelic, primary schools in Ireland follow a phonics approach to reading and writing education, a system that is based on understanding the relationship between phonemes and groups of letters. This teaching method can be implemented regardless of what handwriting model is taught, and the Ministry of Education provides no guidelines about what handwriting model should be used in classrooms.
Resources created by private publishers are the lynchpin of primary education, and are made available by many companies. The common practice in Ireland is that between March and April each year, sales representatives from different publishers visit schools and offer their textbooks to teachers. Teachers, in turn, ask parents to purchase the books they have selected at the beginning of the school year.
The preferred resources for phonics are Jolly Phonics and Twinkl Phonics, which are both created by British publishers. On the other hand, there is greater participation by local publishers in the production of handwriting resources. Irish companies such as Edco, Prim-Ed Publishing, CJ Fallon, Folens and Just Rewards offer series of handwriting books, with increasing levels of difficulty, for primary school students. There are books featuring print, pre-cursive and joined cursive styles, and they can be selected and combined by schools and teachers to fit their own pedagogic approaches.
According to Mairéad Fitzmaurice, Ireland Country Manager for Twinkl Ltd., one particular handwriting style has gained acceptance in primary schools, and many publishers, for instance Prim-Ed in their New Wave Handwriting series and Just Rewards in Just Handwriting, have adopted it. It is a slightly slanted, continuous cursive with a somewhat mechanical appearance, which become the de-facto handwriting model that most students in Ireland learn today.
Samples from New Wave Handwriting, Pre-Cursive programme (Prim-Ed, 2018)
Samples from New Wave Handwriting, Cursive programme (Prim-Ed, 2018)