Belfast Telegraph

LGBTQ+ relationships should be on sex education curriculum, review says

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has completed its review of Relationships and Sexuality Education.

Joe McHugh has vowed to consider the NCCA report (Niall Carson/PA)
Joe McHugh has vowed to consider the NCCA report (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

A review of Ireland’s sex education programme has said that teaching about LGBTQ+ relationships and consent should be included in any new curriculum.

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh announced on Wednesday that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) completed its review of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) after 18 months of research.

The NCCA was asked to look at a number of specific issues in the curriculum in primary and post-primary schools.

Many criticise Ireland’s sex education as out of date and say little has changed in the curriculum since it was put in place in 1995. The review calls it “less than ideal”.

Among the findings, the report, seen by the PA news agency, states: “For most students their experience of RSE can be summed up as too little, too late and too biological.

We live in an inclusive society and as far as I'm concerned at a personal level, whether it's LGBT+, we have to follow what society is demanding in terms of inclusion. Joe McHugh

“The dominant approach is concerned almost exclusively with the risks and dangers associated with relationships and sexuality and does not allow for discussion of the positive, healthy and enjoyable aspects.”

Some primary school parents expressed a wish for Ireland’s sex education to be more inclusive regarding LGBTQ+ relationships during the public consultation but the report states “a small number expressed equally strong opinions that it should not”.

In contrast, primary school teachers most frequently suggested that the new curriculum must include: “The impact of the internet and social media on children’s safety and self-identity; different family types; different kinds of attraction; and different sexual identities. They felt that conversations about these and other topics need to begin in primary.”

The most important topics identified by students and post-primary parents who responded online included: LGBTQ+ and sexual orientation, healthy relationships, consent followed by frequent mention of contraception, STIs, safe sex and protection.

The review recommends “a holistic approach” starting early in childhood and progressing throughout post-primary education, learning about relationships and sexuality which “recognises the social, cultural, political, religious and economic context”,  taking into account sexuality, gender, culture, ethnicity, dis/abilities, faiths and beliefs.

The minister said the ethos of schools would be protected and “central to any curriculum change” but when it was flagged that Catholic schools could refuse to teach about certain matters, he added: “We can’t tiptoe around this particular subject and the feedback overwhelmingly shows that young people’s rights are not being met.”

Asked for his opinion on teaching primary school children about LGBTQ+ relationships, Mr McHugh said that Ireland was an inclusive society and that should be reflected in schools.

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

Mr McHugh hit out at a previous disinformation campaign which saw mass text messages sent out to parents that the new curriculum would teach “early childhood masturbation”.

“I think the campaign was dangerous for scaremongering aspects that something was never realised,” Mr McHugh said.

“There’s nothing in the report that says that, there’s a complete emphasis and care and consideration to age-appropriateness.”

While the NCCA report provides government with “a road map”, no final decisions have been made on the curriculum.

The department moved to “assure mothers and fathers and teachers and students that there will be further public consultation” before any finalisation.

Mr McHugh says he will give the NCCA report full consideration before confirming any further action on RSE reform.

He is expected to ask the NCCA to draft guidelines in the new year, which will go to further public consultation.

PA

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