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Delay to revised sex education curriculum under attack

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill demands urgency from minister to roll out new lessons in primary schools 


TD Jennifer Carroll McNeill. Photo: Collins Photo Agency

TD Jennifer Carroll McNeill. Photo: Collins Photo Agency

TD Jennifer Carroll McNeill. Photo: Collins Photo Agency

A new sex education curriculum for primary schools will not be ready for at least three years, Education Minister Norma Foley has said.

Long-awaited reforms may not be implemented until after the Government leaves office, Ms Foley said in a parliamentary answer last month. 

Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill has heavily criticised the delays in overhauling Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and claimed it could be five years before a new curriculum is rolled out in primary schools.

Ms Foley told Ms Carroll MacNeill in a parliamentary answer last month that work on the curriculum, which is being carried out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCAA), would be completed in early 2025 before being given to the minister. The next election must be held in or before March 2025.

“A primary curriculum framework that only comes back to the minister in 2025 means no roll-out until when — 2027? That means that any kid born already can be certain not to have it ready for their entry into junior infants,” Ms Carroll MacNeill told the Sunday Independent.

“I think we need more urgency than that. I hope the third strategy publication will put a fire under the department in delivering this. I don’t know what else will.”

Ms Carroll MacNeill said a change in the approach to sex education for young boys and girls is needed. It emerged this year she was the victim of harassment by an internet troll who sent her sexually explicit videos and inappropriate texts.

The reform of RSE was announced as part of the strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence unveiled by the Government this week.

“Five years from now is simply too much,” Ms Carroll MacNeill said.

“If we learnt anything in the last two years, it’s the urgency of making decisions to ensure good decisions are made and change is quickly progressed.”

There has been long-running tension between the Fine Gael TD and the Fianna Fáil minister over the issue.

In May they clashed at an Oireachtas committee hearing over concerns that a school’s ethos could play a role in how RSE is taught.

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The Department of Education said Ms Foley has prioritised the development of the RSE curriculum since taking office. It said a new framework will be given to the minister later this year, followed by the establishment of a development group by the NCCA to work on the “specification for the curricular area and corresponding subjects”.

It added: “This advice will be developed through research, deliberation, consultation, and engagement with networks.

“The development group is due to commence development on updated primary specifications in Q4 2022, with a draft estimated to be available for public consultation in Q1 2024.

“It is expected that the work of the development group will be completed in early 2025. Upon completion, the curriculum specifications will be furnished to the minister who is committed to delivering it thereafter.”

Ms Carroll MacNeill has also questioned why curricula for primary and secondary education are being developed separately and not in tandem.

The department said a new RSE curriculum for the junior cycle will be rolled out in schools in September next year and work on the senior cycle is now under way with a draft curriculum to be made available for public consultation in the third quarter of next year.

“It is important that the NCCA is given appropriate time to develop the new curricula consultation and that it is afforded time for constructive engagement and consultation,” the department added.

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