Making history non-compulsory 'worrying for future'

History teachers express grave concern at plans under new junior cycle programme

UCD history professor Diarmaid Ferriter said plans to remove history as a compulsory subject under the new junior cycle programme were “very worrying for the future”.

Would the student "be equipped to analyse effectively the present?", he said as part of a History Teachers' Association of Ireland delegation speaking to the Oireachtas education committee today.

The Association expressed "grave concern" at the removal of their subject as compulsory under the new junior cycle programme. History "may not be offered" at junior level and "does not have to be offered under the statements of learning," Association president Gerard Hanlon said referring to the criteria to be met under the planned junior cycle programme which is to change history from 2017.

Mr Hanlon focused on statement eight which encompasses history and requires students to understands the importance of the relationship between past and current events. However the programme states that it could be covered by Chinese, Jewish studies, religious deduction and science among others, he explained.


Principal officer at the Department of Education Breda Naughton assured deputies that it would be “very difficult for schools not to teach history” because of the requirements in the statements of learning. “ We hope the majority of schools will take history as a subject,” she said .

She hoped students in the schools which currently do not offer history will have the opportunity to do a short course. Currently just 52 per cent of primary schools are obliged to provide history and geography as core subjects. However 90 per cent of young people take history at junior cycle, she said.

Prof Ferriter had heard “could, would, is expected” from the Department in relation to schools continuing to teach history at junior cycle but there was a “need to know what would happen in practice”, he said

Also speaking as part of the Association’s delegation, Caitríona Crowe of the National Archives said it was a “fundamental category error” to exclude history from being compulsory.

Mr Hanlon said history may not be offered in the current economic climate due to resources, non-replacement of teachers and timetable juggling.

“We believe there is an entitlement to history that this document does not give” Mr Hanlon said. “To provide this entitlement history needs to be taught and learned as a full subject and not relegated to a short course or a learning experience” Niamh Crowley PRO of the association said.

Assistant chief inspector Pádraig Mac Fhlannchadha said it would be “difficult to see how schools can fulfil” statement eight without giving students the “opportunity to engage in historical study”.

Mr Mac Fhlannchadha said the new junior cycle would ensure students had a broad and balanced experience and allow schools to “design programmes to meet the needs of students”.

There was criticism by several TDs and senators of the move. Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien said the Department was “getting it wrong”. There was a “cruel irony” that the downgrading of history would happen during a period of State commemorations, he said.

Independent senator Marie Louise O’Donnell urged the Department to reassess the move which “smacks of ...TV-mealed education”.

Sinn Féin TD Aonghus O’Snodaigh said history was “one of those subjects that creates the citizen not the consumer”.

Genevieve Carbery

Genevieve Carbery

Genevieve Carbery is Deputy Head of Audience at The Irish Times