Sex education in Ireland’s schools could soon be overhauled

Ireland’s National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is reviewing the current state of sex education in Ireland

Sex education in Ireland could be set to endure some major changes in the wake of a review being conducted by Ireland’s National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) that spoke with students, parents, teachers, and other educational stakeholders.

Ireland’s sex education scheme for schools was only introduced in the mid-1990s and the official documentation published in 1998 that advises teachers on how to approach the topic in junior cycle at second level “seems from another era,” according to The Irish Times.

It reads in part: “Sex is a gift, a most sacred act, and full sexual intimacy belongs in a totally adult relationship where there is equal trust, respect, acceptance, and understanding for both partners – as in marriage.”

“The sexual act is hugely significant and has emotional ramifications way beyond the scope of teenagers at school. The message is to keep things light, keep things friendly, keep things fun and enjoy being young!”

In 2018, NCCA was tasked by then Minister of Education Richard Bruton with reviewing the current state of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in Irish schools “to ensure that it is fit for purpose and meets the needs of young people today in modern Ireland.”

Minister Bruton specifically asked for the following areas to be considered: Consent, what it means and its importance; Developments in contraception; Healthy, positive sexual expression, and relationships; Safe use of the internet; Social media and its effects on relationships and self-esteem; LGBTQ+ matters.

NCCA conducted focus groups with students, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders and now says: “The review of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) took place between June 2018 and March 2019. It was successful in gathering the views of a wide range of stakeholders, demonstrating the level of interest in this aspect of education. We are now engaging in consultation to ensure the findings and related draft advice is reflective of the needs of students, schools, and parents.”

After publishing its preliminary report in July, NCCA says it welcomes people to consider the preliminary findings and submit their views via an online survey or a written submission by October 25.

Opposition to sexual education in Irish schools

Some people have taken issue with the age of students when RSE may be introduced. For instance, the report includes recommendations from stakeholders to include the following subjects in a revised curriculum for primary schools: lessons on consent, safe use of phone / internet, different family structures including LGBT families, love and attraction including same-sex attraction, and gender identity.

In response to the preliminary findings, a spokesperson for the Co Donegal-based A Parents Right told the Donegal Daily: “We believe that these texts are wholly incompatible with the stated aim of ensuring the new curriculum is age-appropriate for all students, much less appropriate for children who have special education needs.”

One councillor in Co Donegal is concerned that there is no greater oversight of the online submissions and that people may be responding more than once.

Cllr Michael McBride told Donegal Daily of his personal fears that children at creches (Irish preschools) may be included under the new regulations and he has called for a full disclosure of plans from the Irish Department of Education.

He is also fearful that an agenda is being put forward to allow preschool-aged children to be part of this new program.