Friday 27 April 2018

All second-level students will get school lessons in sexual consent

Support for schools: Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Support for schools: Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

ALL second-level pupils are to get classes in sexual consent in the biggest shake-up of sex education in more than 20 years.

Education Minister Richard Bruton has identified consent as a priority issue for a comprehensive review of the subject.

Personal rights and negotiating sexual relationships are already covered in the sex education curriculum for second-level pupils. Now, Mr Bruton wants to ensure that there is sufficient emphasis on the importance of consent and what it actually means.

Sexual-consent workshops are a growing feature at third-level, and the minister’s move reflects a recognition that education around the issue must start earlier.

The announcement comes the week after the Belfast rape trial made consent a national issue, with calls for a broad conversation about what it means and how it is articulated.

In December, the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment pointed to an urgent need for a thorough review of sex education.

Relationships and sexuality education (RSE) has been mandatory for primary and post-primary pupils since the 1990s, but the curriculum is out of date, and sometimes it is not taught or not taught well.

Mr Bruton’s brief to curriculum advisers is to update RSE content so that it meets the needs of young people in modern Ireland, and to examine how well it is being delivered.

The minister, who announced the review at the start of his round of teacher union conferences, has written to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), giving pointers as to what he wants covered.

It will also encompass developments in contraception, healthy sexual expression, safe use of the internet, the effects of social media on relationships and self-esteem, as well as LGBTQ+ issues.

The review will cover both the primary and post-primary curriculum, and changes made will be age-appropriate.

The new review is open-ended and will look at all aspects of the curriculum, but educationalists consider it unlikely that sexual consent would be introduced until second level.

The focus at primary level is on relationships, respect and use of proper names for body parts, with senior classes learning about reproduction. For teens, it covers contraception, sexually transmitted infections and sexual orientation.

Young people today are growing up in a different cultural landscape from the 1990s, when the internet was in its infancy and social media networks had not been invented.

In terms of contraception, the 1990s curriculum was written well before the legalisation in Ireland on the morning-after pill in 2003. The emergency contraception became available without prescription in 2011.

The minister has also asked the NCCA to examine the experience and reality of RSE as delivered in schools, including the effectiveness of teacher training, supports offered by outside agencies and the level of involvement of parents.

The NCCA will seek the views of parents and students, as well as teachers and principals.

Mr Bruton emphasised the important role parents play in RSE and said a need for more effective communication from schools to parents about what is being taught had already been identified. The minister said he wanted “to ensure that the RSE curriculum meets the needs of young people today, who face a range of different issues to those faced by young people in the late 1990s”.

He added: “The RSE curriculum fulfils an important function. Every student has a right to access information about sexual health, relationships and sexuality, and this must be delivered in a factual manner in every school.”

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