Thursday 17 October 2019

History to be made a 'special status' subject for junior cycle schools

Education Minister Joe McHugh
Education Minister Joe McHugh
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Education Minister Joe McHugh is pushing ahead with moves for History to be given special status on the Junior Cycle curriculum.

His decision effectively means students will be obliged to study History. At the moment Irish, English and Maths are the only 'mandatory' subjects.

Mr McHugh is going against the advice of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), which maintains it should remain an optional subject.

He said he had given "full consideration" to NCCA advice, but was asking it to work with him to restructure the Junior Cycle so that History was awarded a special place in the curriculum.

The minister wants change by next September and will not await a planned NCCA evaluation in two years' time.

Read more: Joe McHugh: 'We owe it to our children to ensure they know the importance of the past'

Third-level student Deirbhile Clenaghan and Caoimhe Ní Mhaolaí of the Irish Second Level Students’ Union at the Department of Education and Skills in Dublin for the launch of a campaign called #Gaeilge4All which aims to strengthen and defend the Irish language in the education system. Photo: Leah Farrell/Photocallireland
Third-level student Deirbhile Clenaghan and Caoimhe Ní Mhaolaí of the Irish Second Level Students’ Union at the Department of Education and Skills in Dublin for the launch of a campaign called #Gaeilge4All which aims to strengthen and defend the Irish language in the education system. Photo: Leah Farrell/Photocallireland

"I am not prepared to risk a fall in the number of students studying History in that time," he said. The issue has sparked a passionate national debate, with President Michael D Higgins expressing "deep and profound concern" about history not being a core subject.

While the minister has taken a policy decision that history will not be optional, its exact future status has yet to be determined.

He said the "strong case" put forward by the NCCA, but believed the education system was "responsive and progressive enough" to allow History to have "special core status".

Read more: Editorial: 'Knowledge of history vital - if only to move beyond it'

The minister said he was "seeking the support of the NCCA to examine how best that can be achieved and their expertise to design a special core status for History within the new Junior Cycle to meet the request".

Mr McHugh was only in office a couple of months last November, when he asked the NCCA to review the optional status of History in the new Junior Cycle.

He sees it as a vitally important that the maximum number of students learn about the past, the important lessons it can teach, and how it links the world in which they live.

Read more: Frank Coughlan: 'History opens doors to the future - if it's taught well'

Months earlier, President Michael D Higgins led his own charge about the status of History in the new Junior Cycle, stating that a knowledge of history was "intrinsic to our shared citizenship, to be without such knowledge is to be permanently burdened with a lack of perspective, empathy and wisdom".

Historians and some History teachers also advocated a re-think, although on the other side of the debate, questions were raised about the experience of making a subject compulsory in the curriculum.

In its 40-page report to the minister, delivered in July, the NCCA stressed the new Framework of Junior Cycle was a "re-conceptualisation" of the educational experience for students at that level.

It strongly defends the approach taken - including a focus on 'core learning' rather than 'core subjects'. Among its arguments was that making a significant number of subjects core or compulsory would compromise the integrity of the framework and the capacity of teachers and principals who are "most capable of making professional judgments about their students' learning".

It acknowledged the "strong depth of feeling and passionate commitment" to History that was evident in the public debate, and said it shared the conviction about the importance of History. In that context, the NCCA report pointed to the value attached to History in the 24 "statements of learning", designed to guide schools in the delivery of the new Junior Cycle.

Mr HcHugh noted the focus of the new Junior Cycle on "core learning as opposed to core subjects", but added: "It is my view, after long consideration, that History is central to that."

The NCCA report also highlighted the "reinvigorated" History course for those taking the subject and says while there may be concerns about the potential impact of the changes in the uptake of history over time, "that impact is not immediately apparent and is likely to be less so given the reach and influence of the public debate around History".

Read more: Katherine Donnelly: 'Minister eager to ensure subject has new chapter in classrooms'

According to the report: "There are no indicators to suggest that the figure of almost 97pc of schools currently offering the subject is set to diminish, nor that the 90pc of students who have consistently studied and taken the Junior Certificate History examination will not continue to do so."

The council offered to undertake work and initiatives to support the teaching of history, including a Young Historian competition along the lines of the BT Young Scientist, and an "off the shelf" short course in History, as an option.

Irish Independent

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