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External agencies providing sex ed in schools to be regulated in recommended radical overhaul

A report launching today calls for a radical overhaul of how sex education is taught in both primary and secondary schools.

Image: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

EXTERNAL PROVIDERS OF sex education in schools should be regulated and accredited by the HSE and the Department of Education, according to a new report.

The Oireachtas Education Committee will call for a radical overhaul of how sex education is taught in both primary and secondary schools as it launches its report into the matter today. 

It calls for outside players to be accredited so as “to ensure consistency and accuracy of information to students”. 

Over the years, a number of reports have emerged of children being given misinformation during sex education seminars while in school.

In 2014, TheJournal.ie reported that one group of teenagers described how they were told by the Catholic group Pure in Heart that condoms fail one in six times. They also told TheJournal.ie that speakers from the group claimed condoms become less effective if kept in a wallet because heat melts them. 

The Catholic Youth group also taped teens at one school together by the wrist in front of their classmates as a way of demonstrating what happens when a person has multiple sexual partners.

Outsourcing 

Last year, RTÉ reported that some State schools had paid out more than €10,000 over the past two years to outsource teaching about the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) to a Catholic agency.

In addition to calling for such agencies to be monitored, all schools should teach children about gay, lesbian and transgender relationships, according to the new report on sex education in Ireland. 

Under the updated “fully inclusive” plan, both secondary and primary school children will be taught about gay, lesbian and transgender relationships “without distinction as to their heterosexual counterparts”.

The report notes that, currently, the sex education programme “constructs heterosexual intercourse as the primary definition of sex and is not inclusive of the experiences and sexual practices of those identifying as LGBTQI+”.

The updated plan of the social, personal and health education (SPHE) programme, which was first published in 1999, should also be delivered to children of a younger age, the report states. 

Religious ethos 

The committee also suggests that the law should be amended so as to ensure schools with a religious ethos cannot use it as a barrier to affect the content of what is taught, the resources that are used, and the approach that is taken. 

The report states evidence was provided to the committee which “indicated inconsistency
between content and method which could be attributed to a lack of direction as to how to deal with the ethical and moral issues that arise when teaching the Relationships and Sexuality Education programme in an ethos-led school”.

The committee also noted that due to the current programme having a “moral, ethical and spiritual dimension”, its development is influenced by the ethos of the school.

The committee, however, did find that while schools have discretion regarding the delivery the sex education programme, a significant number of schools – regardless of ethos – are teaching the full RSE programme.

In its recommendations, the cross-party group states that the curriculum should be updated “to give consideration to the significant and welcome changes that have taken place in Ireland in order to produce a gender equality-based, inclusive, holistic, creative, empowering and protective curriculum”.

Teaching in primary schools 

It adds that sex and relationship education should be given to children at primary level at an age and development level that is “appropriate”, though it does not detail what age that should be. 

Instances of homophobic and transphobic bullying should also be monitored under a mechanism so as to collect relevant data in schools, the committee’s report says. 

A specific curriculum for people with an intellectual disability should also be developed “at the earliest possibility”, with the committee adding that it should deal with sexuality and contraception. 

Separately, former education minister Richard Bruton ordered a full review of sex education in schools, separate to the committee’s report, due to the fact that certain elements of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme in schools is 20 years old.

This review in due to be published in the first half of 2019.

Speaking before Christmas about the review, Education Minister Joe McHugh said:

“It is an issue we are taking very seriously.”

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