History is to be given a "special core status" at Junior Cycle, following a review into the secondary school subject.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has requested the new status after the review recommended the subject be kept optional.

Under the new Junior Cycle Framework, History became an optional subject, which led to controversy over the perceived "downgrading" of its importance.

Last November, the minister asked for the review to be conducted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, an advisory body.

Minister McHugh said he has requested the development of a Young Historians' Competition, and is looking for support from education partners to establish it, along with a range of other initiatives, to promote History at primary and post-primary level.

"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," said Minister McHugh.

"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.

"My view is that our education system is responsive and progressive enough to allow for the Junior Cycle Framework to be structured in such a way for History to have a special core 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."

He said there is no grey area regarding his decision, saying every student in the Junior Cycle will study the subject.

Asked about going against the advice from the NCCA, he said ultimately such matters are decided by ministers.

A new version of the subject was introduced to schools in September 2018, as part of the rollout of the Junior Cycle Framework.

Before introduction of the new framework, History was a mandatory subject in around half of post-primary schools, although around nine out of ten students across post-primary took the History examination at Junior Cycle.

Of the 21 subjects being offered under the framework, three of these, Mathematics, English and Irish, are mandatory, with the other 18 being optional.

"The optional nature of History in the Junior Cycle Framework was due to be reviewed two years from now but I am not prepared to risk a fall in the number of students studying History in that time," said Minister McHugh.

"The Junior Cycle Framework focuses on core learning as opposed to core subjects. It is my view, after long consideration, that History is central to that."