Curriculum reform in Irish secondary schools: A focus on algebra

Mark Prendergast, Paraic Treacy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Algebra has long been identified as an area of difficulty in the teaching and learning of mathematics. Evidence of this difficulty can be found in Irish secondary-level classrooms. Chief Examiner Reports have consistently identified algebra as an area of student weakness in State examinations. In light of poor student performance, and as part of a nationwide reform of secondary mathematics curricula, a functions-based approach to teaching algebra has been adopted in Irish schools. It was introduced in September 2011 in place of the transformational (rule and procedure)-based approach which was previously used. Through comparing the diagnostic test scores of incoming students in an Irish university in the years before and after the reform, this study finds that the reformed approach has coincided with a decline in students’ technical algebraic skills. However, interviews with practising mathematics teachers reveal that this decline is not a direct result of the functions-based approach, but rather of a mixture of approaches being implemented in classrooms. Such divergence of approaches can be linked to the common mismatch between the intended curriculum prescribed by policy-makers and the implemented curriculum that is actually carried out by teachers in their classrooms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-143
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Curriculum Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Curriculum Studies on 10/04/2017, available online:


  • algebra
  • Curriculum reform
  • functions approach
  • secondary level


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