History and geography in schools

Sir, – The Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland (IAI) welcomes the conferring of “special core status” to history at junior cycle by Minister for Education Joe McHugh. This will allow for the continued education and awareness of younger generations about the origins and development of Irish and international heritage.

The securing of history as a core subject at junior cycle does much to guarantee an ongoing appreciation of Irish and world heritage.

This decision supports many of the Government’s goals and aspirations relating to communities and their history, as set out in strategic development plans, such as Heritage Ireland 2030 and Investing in our Culture, Language & Heritage 2018-2027. These strategic plans can only be of value if the greater community appreciates the role of the heritage behind them, which engagement at a young age ensures.

Heritage Ireland 2030 begins with the statement that “as Ireland grows there is an opportunity and a need to rethink how we care for heritage so that it can be protected, celebrated and enjoyed now and long into the future”. With history as a basic building block of this goal, the Government is taking a positive step towards achieving these objectives.


Under Project Ireland 2040, the Government promises to “allow greater cultural participation by citizens all across Ireland through increasing the capacity of the entire cultural sector”. An early introduction through the subject of history can lead young people into a later career. Many people working in the cultural sector today studied history as a second-level subject. To ensure uptake of careers – historians, archaeologists, museologists, among others – by secondary students today and in coming years, history is key. It plays a significant role in encouraging people to consider and develop professions related to history, archaeology, heritage and tourism. – Yours, etc,


Institute of Archaeologists

of Ireland,

Merrion Square,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Minister for Education Joe McHugh proposes to break the long-standing association that existed between geography and history as joint core subjects in secondary schools by giving history but not geography special status in the junior cycle. This would drive a wedge between these allied disciplines, with unfortunate consequences.

On the RTÉ Ryan Tubridy Show, the Minister indicated that a major influence in his decision was the interest in history of some young people to whom he spoke.

Did he ask them about geography? If he looked at a much larger and more valid sample, he would see that almost twice as many students take geography as do history in the Leaving Certificate. Thus that argument for giving history special status would be twice as strong for geography! The interest of young people in issues such as climate change, the environment, sustainability, planning, globalisation, multiculturalism, etc, has been very clearly demonstrated. Geography is the only subject which deals comprehensively with matters such as these.

Students see that geography is of vital relevance to their lives and to the world today and in the future. Almost every issue that arises in the media has a geographical dimension and the study of geography greatly promotes interest in and understanding of these matters.

Geography has essential educational value in that it is the only truly integrating bridging subject bringing together the sciences and the humanities. It deals with the relationships between people and their physical and human environments. It teaches students to think with an informed holistic perspective and this is so important in the modern world.

To give special status to history and not to subjects such as geography and science in the Irish educational system would provide huge fodder for the perspective which sees Ireland as obsessed with the past instead of the present and future. I understand that the Minister has met with representatives of the history teachers and he has spoken much about that subject but he has not related to geography or acknowledged its status. He did not respond to at least some submissions made to him on behalf of geography. Is it acceptable that Mr McHugh should impose a measure relating to this one subject that would have detrimental impacts on the future of Irish education and life against the clear advice of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and without going to Cabinet? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – Carl O’Brien in his article “Give me a crash course in Junior Cert history” (October 5th) states that, “Making more subjects [like junior cycle history] mandatory, policymakers have argued, limits scope for schools to deliver other subjects such as science, languages, geography and others that are not mandatory.”

It’s a truly baffling logic. The fact that junior cycle geography has been recently downgraded from a core (almost mandatory) subject to an optional one is far more likely to limit a school’s ability to deliver it! Geography is unfortunately set to disappear from many schools because schools are been encourgaed to drop it in favour of short courses. History is not to blame. It’s the initial reforms!

Furthermore, as Carl O'Brien himself reported ("Teachers say junior-cycle science curriculum being 'dumbed down'", June 3rd) , it would appear obvious that most science teachers are more concerned about the changes to the junior cycle science curriculum than the ability of schools to offer it.

Reading recent reports and letters on the new junior cycle, one could mistakenly be lead to believe that the initial reforms are not the source of all the trouble. – Yours, etc,


Precision Revision,

Northwest Business Park,


Dublin 15.