Making history mandatory will squeeze other subjects – principals

School leaders say Minister’s move will have an impact on junior cycle reform

School principals will warn on Friday that giving history “special core status” in the Junior Cycle will limit their ability to provide pupils with subjects such as art, civics or PE.

Kieran Golden, president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, will tell its national conference that junior cycle reforms have given schools flexibility to meet students' needs and strengths.

However, he will say the Minister for Education’s decision will have implications for this and he will urge Joe McHugh to “tread carefully”.

Earlier this month, the Minister – who is due to speak at the conference on Friday – announced that history would be mandatory for all future junior cycle students from next year onwards.


He also said the subject would be allocated the same number of hours as compulsory subjects such as English, Irish and maths – 240 hours.

This is an increase from about 200 hours and means many schools will need to dedicate additional time to history.

Mr Golden will say that his observations are not based on the pros and cons on the values of history as a subject.

“I know everyone here recognises the importance of history and the knowledge and values that the teaching of history has to offer our students,” he said.

But he will point out that junior cycle reforms have allowed school leaders introduce short courses in areas such as artistic performance, CSPE (civic, social and political education) and PE to meet the “many identified needs and strengths of their students”.

“The proposed ‘special core status’ of history has implications for this process,” he will say.

"This status will have an impact on the other subject specifications, short courses and other areas of learning in the JCPA [Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement].

“We need to tread carefully, and any decisions made need to be measured and considered fully, with the broader principles and key skills of the JCPA very much in mind.”

Exemptions for Irish

Mr Golden is also due to raise concerns over new rules that place the responsibility on principals to award exemptions for the study of Irish .

Under the rules introduced by Mr McHugh earlier this year, Irish remains compulsory in schools, and opt-outs will continue to be made available for pupils with learning difficulties.

However, pupils will no longer need psychological assessments to secure an exemption from studying Irish.

Instead, principals will give opt-outs based on standardised tests that determine if students are eligible for an opt-out.

Mr Golden will say that in some cases due to media coverage, there is a strong belief by some parents and teachers that principals can sort out an exemption “with a wave of their magic wand”.

He will also warn that the wording of the new rules that says students who secure Irish opt-outs “may” be allowed to substitute it with another subjects is a “huge ask and in many cases is not possible”.

Mr Golden will say it would have been helpful to qualify this wording by making it clear that it is “subject to available resources”.

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals conference will also hear that teacher supply continues to be one of the biggest concerns for principals.

It says there are some schools who opened last month without a full complement of staff despite advertising and re-advertising posts.

The organisation has written a submission to Department of Education outlining possible solutions to the problem.

They include moving Junior and Leaving Cert oral and aural exams outside of school time and making it easier to hire teachers with EU qualifications.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent