Sunday 20 October 2019

Minister keeping up pressure for history to be made a core junior cycle subject

Joe McHugh believes history should have a special place
Joe McHugh believes history should have a special place
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Education Minister Joe McHugh is keeping up subtle pressure for history to be made a core junior cycle subject, as a draft report appeared to recommend that it will remain optional.

The debate over junior cycle history reignited yesterday as details emerged of an unfinished report, prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

Mr McHugh is a strong advocate for making history compulsory for 12 to 15-year-olds and soon after taking office last autumn, he asked the NCCA to review current policy.

In effect, he asked the curriculum advisory body, which had spent years deciding what the best approach to modernising junior cycle should be, to reject its own advice.

As is normal for such a reports, it sets out the background and presents arguments for and against making history a compulsory subject, but it is unfinished and does not extend to making any recommendations either way.

A new board was recently appointed at the NCCA, and the matter is on the agenda for its first meeting on May 1.

Mr McHugh said that he wanted to allow the NCCA board "the space and time to deliberate and make their own recommendation".

He added that he respected the autonomy of the NCCA and did not "want to put them in a corner before their first meeting", but said he could not "over-emphasise" the view that history should have a special place in the junior cycle framework.

"My point of view on this is we need to come up with some determination to place a value on it," he said

Under the new junior cycle framework, Irish, English and maths are the only compulsory subjects, and it has also introduced a wider range of subject options, such as short courses in coding and Chinese.

History was never compulsory, although schools traditionally run by religious orders made it mandatory; it was optional in other second-level schools, and overall about 90pc of students studied it.

However, the reforms led to concerns that subjects that have traditionally been popular will lose out, and a particularly strong campaign built up around history.

The rationale behind the reforms was to give schools the flexibility to meet the needs of their pupils as they saw fit, and one point made in the report is that "making a significant number of subjects core or compulsory would weaken that autonomy".

That raises a question as to what the NCCA would regard as a "significant number of subjects".

On the other side of the debate and citing some of the arguments made by President Higgins and historian Diarmuid Ferriter, the report refers to concerns that "reflect deeply held convictions in Irish society about how we value an appreciation of the past and its impact on the present and future".

In an education policy document launched yesterday, Fianna Fáil confirmed that it would make history and geography core junior cycle subjects.

Irish Independent

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