Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 23 – “History Teaching, North and South”
7th October 1996
Edmund Rice Centre, Kells, Co. Meath
Carmel Gallagher (N.I. Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment)
Errol Lemon (Principal, Brownlow College, Craigavon Co. Armagh)
Niall O’Boyle (History teacher, St. Patrick’s Classical School, Navan)
[speaking on behalf of John Dredge, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, Dublin]
Gerry O’Sullivan(History teacher, Kells Community School)
Jean Kenny(History teacher, Dundalk Grammar School)
Chaired by: Rev. Fr. Gerard Rice (President, Meath Archaeological and Historical Society)
[Editor’s note: PARTIAL REPORT ONLY – TAPES AND NOTES TO BE RE-EXAMINED]
1. Carmel Gallagher, principal officer, Ni Council for Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment, Stranmillis College, Belfast.
Carmel Gallagher said she was going to give a practical talk; to give an indication of what is taught and to what age-group; she said she taught in a school on the Falls Road, and has been at curriculum development now for the last 15 years, in 1990 she was appointed principal officer for history.
“1988 introduced the National Curriculum in Britain, and because N.I. equates their educational standards very much with Britain, in1989 they first developed 6 cross-curricular themes – two important areas in N.I: Education for mutual understanding and Cultural Heritage – these had a big influence on the history curriculum which runs from age 4 to16. It is only compulsory from 4 to 14.
Age 4 – introduction to history related to themselves; evidence that they exist; their birth cert., historical evidence in relation to themselves – birthdays; methodology in place,people and events, celebrations and cultural events, so they are getting a sense of chronology in their own lives. Also do topics the teacher might like eg. Transport, toys through time, it is very much left up to the teacher.
Up to age 11– more formal history- life in the recent past- stepping back into their parents time
Age 9- told history goes way back before parents’ time; very beginnings
Age 10- Viking times
Age 11- Victorian times
Teachers advised to develop a time line for pupils by the end of primary school.
Grammar and Secondary streams – everybody does the same; thinking behind topics at this stage is that they should gradually get conceptually more difficult – start off with the Normans.
At age 13 – step up the level of difficulty and controversy. Now into the plantations, Cromwellian period and the Williamite period – “in the North we believe that it is crucial that the children get some handle on what are the origins of our modern conflict. It is conceptually very difficult but by the time they have finished compulsory history they have got a handle on where they are. We concentrate on this period as that is what modern graffiti on the walls is about. We’ve had discussions , TV programmes , texts etc. to help us.”
“1056 to 1970 is the chronology followed in England but in N.I .we take a little skip – take patches out of it which are important … and do the period of 1800 up to 1922. Teachers have said there is only so much that can be covered in the time.
“By age 14 children have quite a grasp of major issues which have led to modern conflict.
Two textbooks sponsored by Cambridge University Press were displayed, also history books produced by teachers – “basically what they are trying to do is give all points of view and then critically analyse at end.”
“A lot of historians felt it would be great to make history compulsory up to age 16 ,but the issues are very complex, and young people are not able to cram all that in, particularly the most recent period. Curriculum Board planned that this would be done between 14 and 16 and also produced a textbook but they were let down firstly by history not becoming compulsory after 14. The textbook covered right up to the Joint Framework Document, which they hoped everyone would use, written by Protestant and a Catholic teachers ,which attempts to present very difficult issues in as balanced way as possible.
Carmel said that she thought their history teaching would be a lot more evidence-based than in the south, they rely less on huge chunks of facts and more on interpretation, with the emphasis on ” how does everyone view it” – there are quotations from leading people North and South in this textbook edited by Carmel herself . They had hoped that this was going to be the way to let young people realise that this is a very complex problem ,that there are many different points of view; but there were two major problems: one was that “we cannot force our teachers to do something, only the Dept. could do that” and they were really not willing to bite the bullet, Carmel thinks, and the second problem was that teachers were not happy – “they felt it was boring and more than that they felt they were being forced to tackle issues in this society which this society cannot tackle itself” – trying to put across troubled issues in a balanced way when they have children in the classes who are in the IRA or the UDA or whatever – their fathers in prison, parents shot, victims of sectarianism, etc. “Teachers said it was too much to ask of them”. Very difficult to deliver a balanced curriculum in a one- tradition area – pressure from staff and parents – not everyone is willing to do that.
“So they have a syllabus which has a section on Irish history and a section on World history: the curriculum board say every school must do Irish history – this is new , but they can either do the “soft option or the hard option”. The soft option is Anglo-Irish relations on the eve of the Second World War, experience of and response to the war, and post-war relationships; controversy would be about neutrality, and about relationships during the war, but Carmel herself feels this is not right and that the period that should be looked at is the period from 1965 to 1985, looking at civil rights issues. “A lot of teachers are committed to putting across the more controversial issues, its a difficult enough step so softly ‘one step at a time’ approach.”
How history is taught: “Finally – to look at how history is taught – a skills based approach – not just into teaching content, “because whose content is it ?” If it’s the content of whoever wrote the book; but history is really about interpretation – giving a chronological awareness but also that there are a range of points of view; children are led to critically view sources, give children a progression of skills in interpretation; the danger is that history may be taught in a way that reinforces prejudice and thats a worry. “But the thing is that history is on the streets, its on the walls, its on the kerbstones, its coming off the television, its in children’s’ mouths, its in their language”. Her own children at 6 and 7 are at the stage of asking “Mammy, what’s a Protestant and what’s a Catholic?”, “Why can’t these people march down the road?”
“When we see how difficult it is to answer these questions for our own children, we can appreciate the challenge facing our teachers, so I can only hope and pray that we have a professionalism up North, where teachers have developed their techniques, are committed to teaching the subject properly.
“As well as having books to help the teachers do this we have a number of other resources – television companies have been really good. So all I can say is we’re doing our best who knows – we can only hope that it can make a difference, I feel that we have a generation coming now which has been exposed to a form of balance and an attempt at understanding which our generation wasn’t exposed to, so maybe , in another generation we will see the fruits of this labour coming through.”
2. Errol Lemon, Principal, Brownlow College, Craigavon
Errol Lemon introduced himself as the “Principal of an integrated college; the only controlled integrated school in NI since 1991, where they make a very conscious effort to attract peoples from both communities.” Education in the North is by and large sectarian: less than 4% of the school-going population attend integrated schools – schools which take pupils from both Protestant and Catholic communities.
“Where we are has a big impact on our philosophy and how we teach history to the children. In our school we have children from the Garvaghy Road, and in the same class we have often children from a very loyalist estate in Lurgan,and we have to be aware that we have these children from two extremes within the school.
“Carmel talked about the importance of EMU – Education for Mutual Understanding, which has a big impact on the way history is taught. We would feel that we have the opportunity within our school to deliver a sort of internal EMU: the fact that there are Protestants and Catholics within the school day in and day out, they are together for all the subject areas, and even in the hidden curriculum of the school. Carmel would know that most of the EMU in N.I. is often delivered through cross-community conference schemes, where schools can cross the divide and get together and take on projects, etc. together. While this has value in bringing the communities together, maybe go on holiday together – and it is a very laudable attempt to break down the divisions in society – but it is limiting in that when the project is over all go back to their respective community. In our school, the children are together for 4or 5 years of their secondary education.”
Practicalities of what we actually do in the school: Brownlow History Policy. “As an integrated school we are affiliated to NICIE – Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, we undertake to live by their principles, some of which are very relevant to teaching history in a divided society.
The teaching of history in an integrated society: “there is a reference to encouraging understanding and respect and appreciation of those who differ from us, and recognising what is common to us also, as well as what divides us.
Equality of treatment of all children in our school regardless of colour, class, creed, culture, gender, or ability, and a history syllabus which directly reflects the historical roots of the two major communities within Northern Ireland….
Quote from extract of history course of school: “the subject of history provides individuals with a sense of identity, it can make the child more aware of its international and human heritage and challenges the myths of uncritical socialisation, which goes on all the time in N.I. because we are a ghetto-ised community, and you acquire the colourings of your particular habitat,whether that habitat might be predominantly Orange or predominantly Green, and that needs to be challenged all the time.
“Summary of what we are doing in a graphic way:
“We start off in Year 8 with an introductory topic – what is history? We then do our local history. Local regional and international topics the students will cover in the five years. I want to have a look at a particular topic, which is the Lurgan Riot of 1879. A lot of history teaching in the north is evidenced-based, as Carmel said, because of the difficulty in getting unbiased texts. So going back to source material partially solves that problem. Much less emphasis on rote learning – the emphasis is on interpretation and understanding; there is still room for knowledge;”
GCSE topic, year 10: Irish History of the late 20’s and 30’s. “This is something that immediately catches their interest; it has a relevance to the modern problems.
Lurgan Riot of 1879: “Home Rulers trouble with marchers; police called; two people killed; boy and home ruler (based on various local sources); children would walk to grave of boy; evidence of gravestone inscriptions; 15th Aug.1879 march; children asked to comment on whether it is a biased tombstone etc. The inquest: John Smyth; 11 jurors who refused to sign the verdict were Catholic; discussion in class; letter from MP after the inquest, etc.
“Controversial issues – but events of 100 years ago are still relevant and still remembered on streets; plaque erected 3 years ago – living history; the end result is to look at different perspectives, then children write an essay as John Smyth the day before he died; magistrate’s point of view also. Errol read from some of the essays written by 15/16 year olds – both points of view. “They learn that there are two perspectives; that history is open to interpretation, that there are two sides to the argument, that everything is not as black as white as it might seem to be.”
3. Niall O’Boyle, teacher of history in St. Patrick’s Classical School, Navan, speaking on behalf of John Dredge, National Council of Curriculum Assessment in the south [unable to attend]
He began by outlining the history of curriculum development in south;1969-programmes at 2nd level-outline of syllabus choices in old Intermediate Certificate exam. [incomplete – Tape ended! ]
4. Gerry O’ Sullivan, history teacher, Kells Community Shool: “History and the Leaving Certificate”
Gerry began by examining the aims of the Leaving Cert. programme as laid out by the Dept. of Education.
“1. Pupils should be well informed on the particular period studied. They should acquire an understanding of the main trends, issues and events in the Social, Economic, Cultural and Political context of the period.
2. They should be prepared for life and work through the application to everyday issues of the knowledge, understanding skills and attitudes acquired in the study of history. In order to achieve this, pupils must be taught the fact that historical content is important in many issues and problems, and they can apply the forms of critical thinking learned in the study of history to many situations.
3. They should be encouraged to have a greater understanding of the complexity of human behaviourand appreciate the importance of the Social, Economic,Cultural and Political factors that influence it.
4. The study of history should develop their potential as individuals and citizens to value their heritage, and understand present trends and problems. Finally the pupils should develop an enthusiasm for history, an appreciation of the nature and reliability of historical evidence, and the ability to locate historical information and to historical interpretations.
“These are very praiseworthy aims but the Leaving Cert course is academic and book orientated. It is left to the teacher to develop the specific skills.”
Choice of history course
“There are two different History Courses available to the L.C. student.
COURSE 1 RENAISSANCE CIVILISATION
deals with the history of Ireland, Britain and Europe, 1453-1625.
COURSE 2 CONTEMPORARY CIVILISATION
deals with the History of Ireland and Ireland’s relations with Britain 1868-1966, and the History of Europe (studied in a world setting) 1870-1966.
“Course 1 is not very popular, being studied by a small minority of students. Course 2 is by far the most popular so I will give a brief outline of this Course.
Course 2 content:
“This is studied as a chronological syllabus, that means we start with the early history, and finish with modern times.
“Irish History begins with the aftermath of the Fenian I.R.B. Rebellion, but I would always spend some time explaining the main events of the 19th Century prior to that, before we begin our course.
“We cover events like:
the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, and people like Gladstone, Butt, Parnell, and Davitt,
and movements like Home Rule and the Land League. These are important as Home Rule made the Irish politically more aware, and the Land League set up the system of land ownership we have today, whereby he farmers bought their holdings from the landlords.
the growth of nationalist movements
Cultural Nationalism; GAA, Gaelic League, Anglo-Irish Literary figures
Social/Economic History; Women’s Movement, Trade Unionism, Connolly and Larkin
Home Rule and Redmond
Unionist opposition to Home Rule 1886-1920. I try to make the students see how realistic the Unionist fears were. Religious fears: ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule’ was not an idle statement for them. Economic fears: Loss of Employment because of curtailing Free Trade.Compare this today with People who speak for and against Europe – are they traitors?
Losing their Identity; we look at pride in county, parish – football fever and fervour.
Militant Unionism; setting up the UVF- gun running;Curragh Mutiny
1914-18 War;Government of Ireland Act 1920, setting up the Northern State.
Militant Nationalism: ‘We study the revival of the I.R.B.-Irish Volunteers – IRA-Sinn Fein;1916 Rising and its aftermath, and how the events of 1917-21 paved the way for the Free State.
gWe study the Civil War (Pro-Treaty and Anti- Treaty Parties ), how it shaped modern politics-south of the Border,
“1867)-(1921-2) is a unit in itself for examination and Higher Level students must answer 1 question from a choice of 5 in this section.
“The second part of the Irish History deals with Cosgrave, De Valera – Neutrality- Costello, and the Inter-Party Governments, and Lemass.
Northern Ireland: “Northern Ireland is now studied on its own: Craig, Brookeborough and O’Neill. There is a strong emphasis on the poor treatment of Nationalists: gerrymandering- B Specials; sectarianism, World War 2 and the Welfare State. Unlike the Junior Cert. the L.C. Course does not deal with the modern Northern Ireland Troubles as the L.C. Course finished in 1966, just before they begin.
“1922-1966- is also a separate section for Higher Level examination. Students do 1 question out of 5.
European History 1870-1914
We study Germany under Bismarck/Kaiser Wilhelm 2 (1870-1914)
France during the 3rd Republic …… political crisis- church/state relations.
Russia- Tsars- 1917 Revolution- Lenin- Stalin
Italy and Britain.
Balkan Crisis (also relevant today) how it contributed to World War 1.
Also a separate section for L.C. Higher Exam Q1 out of 5.
The Inter War Years- Versailles Treaty- League of Nations
Wall St. Crash Economic and Political Results.
Growth of Totalitarian States – Fascism- Communism, Hitler, Mussolini- Stalin- Franco
Causes of World War 2; the War itself
Post WW 2: U.N., Cold War, NATO
Setting up of the EEC, ECSC, Treaty of Rome, E.U.
Kruschev, de Gaulle, Eisenhower, Macmillan
“British History is often neglected (even though it is on the course) as it is not as exciting as the Rise of Hitler or Stalin, and it is not as predictable on the exam paper.
Problems and attitudes
“One major problem that the discipline of History is facing is the decline in the statusof the subject. It is not seen as essential for Third level college entry, and many see it as Irrelevant in the workplace.(Only of use to a teacher or politician – as one cynical student put it). Once a Core Subject. Last year it was taken by 8348 (Higher ) and 5608 (Ord. Level) out of a total of 54000 sitting the exam.
However I must point out that in our school – Kells Community School – we are fortunate that we have three separate classes taking History in 5th year this year (over 75 students in all). This is due in no small way to our principal Mr. Potter and our Careers Teacher Mrs. O’Rourke who allow the students study the subjects they are interested in, rather than forcing them down a subject path that might be seen as more utilitarian.
“At national level however, most students go for Continental Languages, Sciences, Business and Technical Drawing. Then those that have a genuine interest in History, take that subject, but they have to share their class with many students who are only there because they have neither the ability for or never undertook the other more prestigious subjects up to Junior Cert, and so fall back on history as a last resort. These reluctant scholars of history often create discipline problems for some teachers, as they resent being in that particular class.
“The Mixed Ability Class creates a classroom/classwork management problem for the teacher, and taxes the teachers ability to keep all parties interested. Ability levels range from A in Higher Level (Junior Cert) to E or F in Ord. Level. Many teachers have to teach with two different textbooks as well as coping with varying degrees of ability within Higher and Ord Level.There is an increased workload for the teacher, (two different exam papers, corrections, etc)
“Many teachers take students in, in their own time, to practise certain skills that they feel they cannot cover adequately in the mixed class.
“Another problem is the large class size – max 30 pupils for general subjects while practical classes have only 24.
“History is a Literary Subject. The decline of interest in reading is also hitting History even amongst the most able students. History means “Story”. The History teacher must be a Storyteller for the weak students. Many of them enjoy this for a short time but boredom can set in, especially where they have a low concentration span and poor literary skills. Problems with reading and writing are going to affect their performance in class and the examination.
“The Junior cert with short questions and sources is a break from the essay format, but the weaker students still have a problem reading the questions and sources.
Audio- Visual Resources are important, but the Exam is still a written examination.
Examination: “The Course is long and entails a lot of reading and study for the serious student. However most students have to specialise in certain areas of the Exam. Teachers will also find that the examination structure dictates what they teach. Laudable aims often go out the window. As much as we would like a” Liberal Education to educate the full person “, we are also conditioned by the exam, the popularity of certain topics and their frequency on the paper will often determine how well a topic is covered.
“The Research Topic is growing in popularity. This is to be applauded, as it is encouraging students to do independent research, at local, national and international level. However there is no research topic at Ordinary Level and its absence is doing a disservice to the subject. It is also unfair on the students who have spent a lot of time doing their research, and then find that they cannot use it when they drop down to the Ordinary level. Perhaps the History Inspectorate could take a leaf from the Geog. Dept., and include Fieldwork/Research in both Higher and Ord. Level Examination.”
Failure Rate: The high failure rate in the Leaving Cert. History is a cause for concern.
Last year (1996): 11.1% failed Higher Level
21.8% failed Ord. Level
“That means they got Grade D or Lower- Less than 40%.
“We must ask ourselves – why are there such high failure rates compared with other General Subjects? Why do some subjects have a failure rate of 1% or 2% while History is 10 times higher? This will only discourage more students from taking up the subject.
Northern Ireland: how it fares in the Leaving Cert.
“There is great interest amongst the good students, probably because the Junior Cert. gives them such a good background on this part of the course. However weaker students are bored by it.
“When it comes to the examination, teachers have a great fear that students will betray their prejudices so they are warned to steer clear of the question on the North. It is not popular despite its frequency on the Paper – 4/400 on average to quote one experienced examiner, and they are often chancers who have studied nothing else.
“Perhaps the problem lies in the way the questions are phrased: ” Discuss critically the view that the Northern Ireland Parliament 1921-66 developed as a ‘Protestant parliament for a Protestant people’ “-1966 Question.
“Many people here are probably afraid to discuss such issues in case they offend somebody, or in case they say something that is Not Politically Correct.
Thank you. I welcomed this opportunity to discuss History and Education North and South–“
(c)Meath Peace Group
[editor’s note: due to problems with the audio tapes we were not able to complete this report – however the notes and tapes will be re-examined in the hope that further material can be included]