The Framework for Junior Cycle (2015) provides the underpinning for the new Junior Cycle. The Framework gives students the opportunity to develop a wider range of knowledge and skills – to equip them for further learning, for work, for responsible and active citizenship, and for healthy living. The Junior Cycle has been developed and implemented over several years, with the final phase of new subject specifications being introduced to schools from September 2019. The new subject specification for History was developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and introduced from September 2018.
When schools in Ireland implement the Framework for Junior Cycle, they have the autonomy and flexibility to design programmes within the parameters of the framework, mindful in particular of the needs of their students and their teaching resources. This allows decisions on what is offered within these programmes to be at the discretion of the school, and students to have as broad a range of options to choose from as possible.
In the Framework for Junior Cycle, all schools are expected to provide opportunities for students to achieve 24 statements of learning over the period of Junior Cycle. These statements include valuing local, national and international heritage and understanding the importance of the relationship between past and current events, the forces that drive change, and understanding the origins and impacts of social, economic and environmental aspects of the world around them.
The specification for Junior Cycle History provides a framework for students to acquire the historical skills, conceptual understanding and substantive knowledge that lead to a sense of historical consciousness, whereby students can see the world and their place in it from a historical perspective. It has been designed for a minimum of 200 hours of timetabled student engagement across the three years of Junior Cycle. The specification has three interconnected strands, each with a set or related elements: the nature of history, the history of Ireland, and the history of Europe and the wider world.
As a result of the learning outcomes approach, teachers can facilitate discussion around a wide range of periods of Irish history and culture, as well as the many other issues which might arise during the course of a class. For example, in Learning Outcome 1.3 (Junior Cycle History) students are asked to appreciate their cultural inheritance through recognising historically significant places and buildings and discussing why historical personalities, events and issues are commemorated.
The two Classroom-Based Assessments (CBAs) in the Junior Cycle specification allow students to explore topics that are interesting and relevant to their own lives. In A Life in Time, students choose a person from the past and explore why that person is historically significant, while The Past in my Place, allows students to present their findings on a study of an aspect of their home place that they consider of interest.
In October 2019, the Minister for Education announced that History should have special core status within the Framework for Junior Cycle. Further details in this regard are set out in Circular Letters 0076/2020 and 0016/2020. From September 2020, students will study English, Irish, Mathematics and History (with some exceptions in the case of students with special educational needs), along with a number of other subjects or short courses in their Junior Cycle programme.
The NCCA is also developing a short course in History for certain students with general learning difficulties/needs. Students in this category will not be required to study the subject ahead of the new short course being made available in September 2021.
Across each of the strands and strand units of the curriculum, teachers have flexibility in determining the content which is to be taught and are encouraged to expose pupils to a range of perspectives, which could include discussions on the ancient Kingdom of Mide.
The broad objectives of the primary school history curriculum (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment NCCA, 1999) state that children should develop a sense of responsibility for, and a willingness to participate in, the preservation of heritage; that children should study a range of people and events in the past in order to develop a balanced understanding of family, local, national and world history; and that children should learn about the people, events, issues and cultural experiences which have helped to shape the local community and the environment. The units selected by the school and teacher should introduce children to the lives of women, men and children from a range of social, cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds, include studies from a wide range of human experience (e.g. economic, technological, scientific, artistic, social, cultural, religious, political, etc.); and come from local, national and international contexts.
One of the strands in the history curriculum at primary level is Early People and Ancient Societies. Teachers have the autonomy to select the areas studied from a range of peoples including, for example, the Stone Age; the Bronze Age; the Celts; Early Christian Ireland; and the Vikings. In studying Early People and Ancient societies, the child should be enabled to
- become familiar with some aspects of the lives of these peoples, their origins, homelands and migrations, homes, settlements and urban developments, food and farming, clothes, work and technologies, tools and weapons, cultural or artistic achievements, language(s), myths and stories, leisure and pastimes, faith, beliefs and religious practices, burial practices, etc.
- examine critically, and become familiar with, evidence we have which tells us about these people, especially evidence of these people which may be found locally and in Ireland, where appropriate
- record the place of these peoples on appropriate timelines.
The NCCA is currently developing a draft primary school curriculum framework, from which the curriculum for each subject areas will be redeveloped, including History. The first stage of consultation is now closed, but the NCCA intends to open a second stage consultation in the school year 2021-22. During the consultation phase, submissions are accepted from schools, teachers, parents, special interest groups and general members of the public.