Sunday 17 February 2019

Proposals on school ethos and sex education not a 'them versus us' clash with religious patrons, TD claims

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

PROPOSALS to remove school ethos as a barrier to the objective delivery of sex education are not intended as a “them versus us” clash with religious patrons.

Rather it is about putting children’s wellbeing “front and centre and at the heart of education”, according to Green Party TD and former teacher Catherine Martin.

She was speaking after the publication of a report proposing a radical shake up of sex education in schools.

The Oireachtas Education Committee has made a series of recommendations on reforms to the way Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is taught.

Green Party TD Catherine Martin Photo: Photocall Ireland/RollingNews.ie
Green Party TD Catherine Martin Photo: Photocall Ireland/RollingNews.ie

They include:

  • Changing the law to remove the role of ethos as a barrier to the objective and factual delivery of RSE.
  • Updating the programme to be fully inclusive of LGBTQI+ relationships and experiences including sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • The teaching of the negative impact of pornography.
  • A proposal that reproductive health care would form an integral and fundamental part of sex education.

Members of the committee confirmed that the intention is that abortion would be included in classroom discussions on reproductive healthcare along with contraception and other issues.

Committee chairperson, Fianna Fáil TD Fiona O’Loughlin said: “One of the things make sure curriculum would help avoid crisis pregnancies…. That’s a really important thing.

“Reproductive health would look at all areas including contraception, including consent and I would understand that abortion would come into that also.”

Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan said: “We need to make a space for young people to discuss these issues. If you’re avoiding words like abortion or if you’re avoiding topics then I think you do a disservice to young people.”

Independent.ie asked committee members if they expected resistance from religious patrons of schools to their recommendations on ethos and the proposal that sex education would include issues like abortion.

Ms O’Loughlin said the proposed changes wouldn’t happen overnight and would require collaboration. She also said that the committee learned that some of the best sex education was in Catholic schools.

She said her party has called for education minister Joe McHugh to set up a forum with school patrons where they could “look at charting a way forward to try to do the best possible curriculum for the young people that we all represent and that we all care for.”

Fellow Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne said the forum’s work would take a maximum of 12 weeks and after that legislation would be amended “to fulfil the committee’s recommendation in relation to the conflict between ethos and the teaching of sex education."

Ms Martin said: “what we’re trying to achieve, is not a them versus us. This is about the children in our education system and this is about putting their well-being front and centre and at the heart of education and that’s really what needs to happen.”

A Department of Education spokesperson said the minister, Mr McHugh is “always open to meeting representative bodies on a variety of issues”, when asked about Fianna Fáil’s suggestion that he set up a forum on sex education.

A statement said that a National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) review of RSE is ongoing and is examining content and support materials.

Areas it is examining include consent; developments in contraception; healthy, positive sexual expression and relationships; safe use of the internet; social media and its effects on relationships; and LGBTQ+ matters.

“The Department encourages patrons to use this as an opportunity to give their opinions on RSE,” it added and pointed out that January 31 is the deadline for submissions.

It said that work is now commencing with approximately 20 primary and post-primary schools to gauge opinions and experiences of RSE and this aspect of the review will help to inform recommendations in relation to curriculum gaps, implementation barriers and enablers and support needs.

The NCCA report is due to be delivered by the summer.

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