Fulfilling the unmet potential: Harnessing ambition, autonomy, and agility in Northern Ireland's education system

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Despite the divisions within Northern Ireland's education system along religious and academic lines, it has managed to maintain relative stability, or at least a functional inertia, over the past four decades. The full potential, however, of this system and in particular, the Northern Ireland Curriculum (NIC), has yet to be realised. This paper presents a comprehensive exploration of the intricate interplay between the NIC and Initial Teacher Education (ITE), bringing to the fore the footprint of Lawrence Stenhouse. It critically examines the salient features of the NIC, particularly its alignment with Stenhouse's pedagogical tenets, and its subsequent ramifications on ITE, for both its content and pedagogical strategies. The ambitions are, however, not without their challenges. The overarching shadow of an exam- centric system stymies the NIC's full realisation, presenting a dichotomy between curriculum goals and pragmatic educational realities. The absence of a coherent Teacher Professional Learning framework also inhibited curriculum development. The Learning Leaders strategy, although yet to be implemented due to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly and consequently lack of financial support, has the potential to pick up the baton of reform and help teachers and school leaders move closer to implementing the NIC in the way it was intended. The paper concludes by identifying the probable, possible, plausible and preferred ways forward for NI's education system
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalCurriculum Journal
Early online date19 Jun 2024
Publication statusPublished online - 19 Jun 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s). The Curriculum Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Educational Research Association.


  • curriculum development
  • curriculum flexibility
  • enquiry
  • Lawrence Stenhouse
  • research
  • teacher autonomy


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