When schools in Ireland are implementing the new 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. I am in favour of leaving the decisions on what is offered to the discretion of the school, and of students having as broad a range of options to choose from as possible.
Because the total number of full subjects which can be done for assessment in junior cycle is ten, it is likely that schools will retain most or all of their current subjects in their junior cycle going forward.
Currently, over 90% of students choose History, although it is compulsory only in voluntary secondary schools, not much more than half our post-primary schools. Curriculum choice is important in motivating students to learn and to remain in school to completion of senior cycle. Schools across all sectors offer History. History teachers attract students to their subject through their own love and passion for History, and by engaging the natural curiosity of their students in, for example, the lives of people, the origins of the modern world and in objects and documents from the past. History is generally the 5th most popular subject in the Junior Certificate examination.
I have every confidence that, through the implementation of the Framework for Junior Cycle the place of History will be retained and given a new impetus across the junior cycle curriculum. A new specification for Junior Cycle History is being developed by the NCCA. This involved extensive consultation with key stakeholders and the public, which finished recently, during which over 200 submissions were received. The new specification will be available for implementation in all schools from September 2018.
The Leaving Certificate History syllabus attracts about 25% of the total cohort of students. The aim is to make the new specification for Junior Cycle History more attractive, so young people can see it as a realistic option, rather than focusing on learning content by heart. Many people believe that uptake in senior cycle could be improved if the junior cycle History was made more attractive, more relevant and perhaps less of a race against time.
In the new 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. Even where students do not take History as a full subject, it is to be hoped that opportunities to achieve such statements through other forms of historical study can be provided to them.
The minimum time allocated for subjects such as History will be 200 hours over the three years of junior cycle, or the equivalent of three 40-minute periods per week over three years. For many schools, this will lead to an increased time provision for History as a subject, and it will no longer be nominally linked to Geography as previously. This new minimum time stipulation for History as a subject should allow not only for a deepening of a student's historical knowledge but also of his or her ability to analyse, interpret, write and develop historical skills more thoroughly. Those very skills, and attitudes, can indeed be hugely important in ensuring that students are able to understand and interpret all forms of history, news and current affairs too.