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Suggestions children aged 4 would be taught about masturbation called out as 'dangerous scaremongering'

The minister said the ethos of the school is central to any curriculum and will be protected.

The NCCA report provides a roadmap for future changes, but the minister said no final decisions on the change to the curriculum has been decided yet.
The NCCA report provides a roadmap for future changes, but the minister said no final decisions on the change to the curriculum has been decided yet.

A DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN against changes to the sex education programme has been called out as “dangerous scaremongering” by Education Minister Joe McHugh. 

The minister received the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) review of Relationships and Sexual Education (RSE) earlier today. 

The NCCA advises the Department of Education on what curriculum should be taught in schools.

Following 18 months of research and consultation with young people, parents, teachers focus groups, organisations, schools and the general public, the minister said the message is clear that we must “equip young people with the proper information”.

The new sex education guidelines for schools will be rolled out next September and will deal with issues around consent and the risks around pornography. The minister will instruct the NCCA to begin drafting curriculums for each stage of development next year.

Factually inaccurate claims have been made that children aged 0-4 could potentially be taught about masturbation if changes to the sex education curriculum are made. 

The minister said disinformation campaigns spreading such information were dangerous. 

“That was disinformation and, ultimately, it was fake news for highlighting those scaremongering aspects,” he said. 

He added that the inaccurate claims weren’t helpful, and said that careful consideration around age appropriateness would be given. 

“Whatever future actions are decided, the paramount importance is that RSE is taught in a manner that is appropriate for a child’s age and development, with sensitivity to the diversity of needs and readiness.”

McHugh said feedback from young people in the report is that in the primary school sector, there should be a “certain introduction to this very sensitive conversation” around sex education, but that it would be a very different to the conversations that would take place at a later stage in secondary school.

The minister said he understood that there are parents out there that do have fears about how this subject matter will be dealt with, and some parents do not want it included on the curriculum. 

“Parents are the primary educators when it comes to this issue and around relationship building, and also the whole area of ensuring that we have the capacity to equip our young people for their later lives,” he said.

I’m a parent, and I can talk on behalf of me as a parent. I still have an uncomfortableness around this conversation at home. Parents are saying the same, so we need to have a support system that helps us with language, that helps us through these conversations, and that means, putting at the heart of it, I think self-respect and relationships.

Speaking about the report, he said young people are calling for teachers to be more open and sensitive to sex education, and ultimately they want teachers who don’t judge them. 

He added that his department is “very anxious to ensure that the ethos of the school is central to any curriculum”.

“The ethos will be protected. Every school ethos, you know, has a different approach to this. But we want to embed in this that it is not a directive that every school has to follow a certain specific analysis of how we treat this subject,” he said.

When asked if he is concerned if LGBT issues will not be dealt with in some religious schools, the minister said: 

“They will be protected, but it’s important to point out that even recently one of the bishops articulated very, very clearly that this has to form part of the curriculum so there’s no ambiguity in that regard.

What I would call for here for is for all stakeholders to use their voice and then in a mature way, respond to the express wishes of young people. Young people feel that they’re not equipped to have these conversations, they’re not equipped to deal with the possible embarrassment and sensitivity around this.

He added: 

“We live in an inclusive society and as far as I’m concerned on a personal level, whether it’s LGBT, we have to ensure that we follow what society is demanding, as well in terms of that inclusion we’ve had a referendum in relation to same-sex marriage. We’re moving in a direction that is inclusive and not segregating people.”

“We can’t tiptoe around this particular subject,” he said, adding that young people are driving the agenda on what they feel they need from their educators.

“And at the moment the feedback from the NCCA report is overwhelmingly saying that young people’s needs and rights are not being met,” said the minister. 

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said that last June she launched a consent programme for third level students, but from her conversations with them it was clear that it was much too late.

She said consent framework needed to be established, but added that students emphasised it should be rolled out at primary and secondary school level.

You can read the review, including submissions made by young people, teachers, schools and the general public here.

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