Official advice on status of history in junior cycle delayed until next month

Optional status of history in new reforms has drawn heavy criticism

Minister for Education Joe McHugh declined to say whether he will follow the NCCA’s advice when he is given it. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Education Joe McHugh declined to say whether he will follow the NCCA’s advice when he is given it. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Official advice to the Minister for Education on whether history should be compulsory for junior cycle students has been delayed until next month.

The State’s advisory body on the school curriculum met on Thursday to discuss the issue but its 25-person council has deferred a decision.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh last year sought a review on whether history should be an optional subject in the junior cycle following concerns that some students might never learn about key moments in national history.

A draft report produced by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is understood to advise that making the subject compulsory could damage junior cycle reforms.

Speaking to reporters in Killarney on Thursday, Mr McHugh declined to say whether he will follow the advice when he is given it.

“I’ve never been in this position before, it’s a new position for me, but I’ll certainly read their analysis of why they’ve reached a certain conclusion,” he said.

“One thing I’ve learned – as someone who’s involved in politics for 25 years – is you develop an ear for the ground. I’ve never come across an issue like this which has remained so consistent on a daily basis – it’s not just coming from education stakeholders.”

Personal view

Mr McHugh said his personal view remained steadfast that there is a “unique role for history in the junior cycle curriculum”.

He acknowledged that history has only every been compulsory in just over half of secondary schools.

President Michael D Higgins is among those who have called for history to be made compulsory, while Prof Diarmaid Ferriter of University College Dublin said treating it as an optional subject was a “serious mistake”.

It is understood that a draft NCCA report states that any change to the status of history would have wider implications for the junior cycle framework as a whole.

These reforms – which set out what young people’s educational experience should look like in the first three years of secondary school – followed years of consultation and research.

They followed research which highlighted poor levels of engagement among some cohorts of students and a desire among schools to have greater flexibility to meet pupils’ needs within an “overcrowded” curriculum.

The resulting reforms seek to provide greater autonomy for schools, as well as striking a balance between acquiring knowledge and learning skills to critically interrogate knowledge.

Critics, however, say the reforms in some cases are leading to a “dumbing down” of subjects.