Catholic primary schools 'still see homosexuality as a taboo subject'
Many Catholic primary schools are still treating homosexuality and gender issues as a taboo subject, a conference on bullying will hear today.
While there has been a raft of guidelines for schools on dealing with homophobia and transphobia, their focus is on anti-bullying, rather than broader education.
It can lead to a situation where, while the bullying behaviour is dealt with, the problem that underpins that behaviour goes unaddressed, according to teacher Susan Bailey.
Ms Bailey, who is speaking at a conference in Dublin City University (DCU), says the guidelines have been introduced into an education system where 90pc of schools are under the control of a church that views homosexuality and transsexuality as sinful.
So, she says, it is entirely possible for a school to deal with bullying behaviour while also allowing the beliefs that feed it to go unchallenged.
Teaching about sexuality takes place within a school's Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme and what is taught is negotiable at the level of the individual school.
The instruction from the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) to its schools is to have a clearly articulated policy for RSE, rooted in the school's Catholic ethos.
Ms Bailey says that for things to really change for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) primary pupils, the scope of the RSE programme needs to be broadened.
She says despite a recommendation in 2003 for RSE programmes to be assessed in relation to their representation of different sexual orientations, most continued to teach about sexuality exclusively in relation to heterosexual relationships.
"Other sexualities and genders remain invisible and taboo within this teaching, and such invisibility, it could be argued, often cast them as deviant and abnormal", says Ms Bailey, who teaches in Dublin and is completing a doctorate on ethical education.
She believes while guidelines were a solution to a bullying problem, they need to be seen in the context of a system where most schools saw heterosexuality as the only sexual orientation or only norm. Ms Bailey says rather than viewing transphobic and homophobic bullying as the educational problem that needs to be dealt with, the transphobia and homophobia that underpins this behaviour needs to be addressed.
The same conference heard warnings about sexting among Irish teens, following which forensic psychologist, Dr Maureen Griffin, said the worrying phenomenon had become so accepted that Irish schoolchildren now saw it as a normal aspect of flirting or dating.
Dr Griffin has researched child sexting trends in Ireland and visited hundreds of schools to highlight the dangers of certain social media interaction. She found sexting was now commonplace among second-level students, and had even spread to primary school children here.
"It's a part of normal life for them now. Some students have said to me it's a part of flirting, which is quite scary. This is the new thing, if you like somebody that's just what you do," said Dr Griffin, who carries out social media workshops in schools.
"Secondary schoolchildren will openly admit it is an issue; they mightn't admit that they themselves send these images but they all know somebody who has sent it or they have all received one at some stage. It's something we need to educate them on. Education is key here," she said.