Post-primary teachers are being invited to sign up for a new course to help them better deliver classes in sex education to teens.
It comes amid moves to address serious shortcomings in the delivery of relationship and sexuality education (RSE) in schools.
Not only is the existing curriculum being updated, but making teachers more comfortable with and confident in teaching the subject is also seen as crucial.
Post-primary students previously complained that the sex education they received in school was "too little, too late and too biological".
A major overhaul of the subject has been underway since 2018, the first in over 20 years, and changes will be introduced from next September, for junior cycle students initially,
The more modern curriculum will embrace issues such as consent, the effects of the internet and social media on relationships and LGBTQ matters.
Dublin City University (DCU) has been selected to run a one-year post-graduate course in Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and RSE to upskill existing teachers..
It is the first specialist teacher professional development programme of its kind at post-primary level in Ireland.
The Department of Education is funding the course, so teachers will not have to pay any fees. Schools will also be funded for substitute cover to replace those attending the course.
Another obstacle to the delivery of SPHE/RSE has been the low value placed on it by some schools when compared with subjects for which students can gain CAO points in the Leaving Cert.
Teachers have described it as a “Cinderella” subject and, in some schools, senior cycle students have little or no RSE education.
While the broader SPHE course is compulsory for primary and junior cycle classes, it is not compulsory at senior cycle, except for Leaving Cert Applied (LCA) students. A recent review by Department of Education inspectors found four in five Leaving Cert students were not getting classes in SPHE.
The RSE component of SPHE is mandatory all the way through to senior cycle and schools are supposed to provide a minimum of six lessons a year across all classes, but a 2018 survey found that half were not doing so for Leaving Cert pupils, and many others were offering only one or two classes.
The NCCA said consideration needs to be given to whether SPHE should be a mandatory for Leaving Cert pupils and this will form part of upcoming discussions on the wider reform of senior cycle.
Education Minister Norma Foley acknowledged that role of the SPHE/RSE teacher was complex, with a range of sensitive topics addressed in the classroom.
She said the DCU course would provide a pathway for progression for post-primary teachers interested in developing their skills in SPHE/RSE and would build capacity and leadership within the profession n relation to an important area.
“Teachers need ongoing, appropriate teacher professional development to support them in this important work. In addition, curricular changes at both junior and senior cycle level are imminent.” she said.
She encouraged any teacher of RSE/SPHE who was eligible to avail of this opportunity.
Dr Catherine Maunsell, Professor of Psychology and Education, DCU Institute of Education said the programme marked “a significant milestone in becoming a specialist teacher at post-primary level in this area”.
The first cohort of students will start January and, depending on demand, further intakes to the programme will be offered in the future.