Special status planned for history in junior cycle

Decision amounts to rejection of advice given by State advisory body on the curriculum

Decision means history will effectively become mandatory to study in some form for first-, second- and third-year pupils. File photograph: Alan Betson

The Minister for Education is planning to give history “special core status” in the junior cycle following a review on whether the subject should remain optional or not.

It follows claims that the subject was due to be “downgraded” under junior cycle reforms, which gave all schools a choice over whether to study history or not.

However, Joe McHugh’s decision means the subject will effectively become mandatory to study in some form for first, second and third year pupils.

The decision amounts to a rejection of the advice given by the State advisory body on the curriculum, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), which has warned that making the subject mandatory could undermine junior cycle reforms.


These reforms, which have taken years to devise and implement, are aimed at giving schools greater flexibility to meet students’ needs.

Making more subjects mandatory, policymakers have argued, limits scope for schools to deliver other subjects such as science, languages, geography and others which are not mandatory.

The move, however, will be welcomed by historians and many history teachers who have been campaigning for the subject to be made a core part of the curriculum.

History has never been a mandatory subject in secondary school and has always been optional in about half of schools. In practice, however, more than 90 per cent of pupils at junior cycle study history.

In a statement, Mr McHugh said he will request the support of the NCCA in devising a new structure for the junior cycle framework which includes history as a special core status for all schools.

‘Strong case’

“I am hugely grateful to the NCCA council and all its members for the work they have done to review the place of history in the junior cycle. The report was comprehensive and put forward a strong case,” he said.

“I have given it full consideration over the last two months, as well as taking on board the views of many people I meet on a daily basis who dedicate their lives and careers to education and to nurturing the minds of young people.”

He said our education system was “responsive and progressive enough” to allow for the junior cycle framework to be structured in such a way for history to have a special status.

“I am seeking the support of the NCCA to examine how best that can be achieved and their expertise to design a special core status for history within the new junior cycle to meet the request.”

Of the 21 subjects being offered under the new junior cycle, three of these – maths, English and Irish – are mandatory. The remaining 18 are optional.

Schools are also obliged to ensure all children take studies related to wellbeing, a new subject, and “other areas of learning” which support key skills and areas of learning.

Mr McHugh’s decision is aimed at inserting history as a special core subject alongside wellbeing, say informed sources.

Other subjects

The would make it obligatory to study the subject, but could still give schools freedom to provide a full course or potentially a new short course on history. These issues are set to be examined now by the NCCA.

Mr McHugh’s move to give special status to history may lead to calls from other subjects such as geography, science and languages to also be given special status.

Geography lecturers, for instance, argue that the importance of climate change merits its inclusion as mandatory subject, while Stem advocates say science and technology will be crucial for students in the modern workforce.

However, the Minister has resisted such calls to date.

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