McHugh softens stance on amount of time schools must study history

Minister for Education previously said history must be taught for same duration as English, maths and Irish

Minister for Education Joe McHugh appears to have rowed back from plans to oblige schools to spend as much time studying history in the Junior Cycle as they do on other core subjects such as maths, English and Irish.

Earlier this month, Mr McHugh announced he would remove the optional status of the subject in the new Junior Cycle and give it “special core status”.

He told the Dáil at the time he wanted “a minimum of 240 hours” during Junior Cycle for the subject, the same as for other compulsory subjects such as maths, English and Irish.

This is an increase from about 200 hours and would mean that many schools would have to take time from other subjects to accommodate history.


However, speaking to reporters at the annual conference National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) in Kilkenny, he said he did not want to be specific on how many hours the subject should receive.

“I’m going to stay away from the numerics, and stay out of this piece… I don’t think making any public pronouncements on this will help things,” he said,

“They do need the space and time and certainly my belief is the NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) and my officials have the capacity and competency to do that. I made the decision and am going to stay out of the implementation.”

‘Tread carefully’

Earlier, Kieran Golden, NAPD president, told the conference that Junior Cycle reforms have given schools flexibility to meet students' needs and strengths.

However, he said the decision to make history compulsory will have implications for this and he urged Mr McHugh to “tread carefully”.

Mr Golden said his observations were 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 pointed 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 said.

Mr McHugh said he has received very positive feedback over his decision to give history special core status.

“It was a resounding message today of the importance of giving it [history[ core status. That was the first step on this journey.

“What we have to do now is allow the NCCA, in conjunction with the schools figure out a way of making this work. My job as a politician was to make the decision.

“It was a decision based on extensive consultation, and also speaking to principals, and speaking to schools that would have to provide for this provision …

“I’m confident that the NCCA and my own officials will find a way of doing this. I’m conscious of as well that I’ve made this decision, I want to back off and give the space and time to do that.”

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