The Oireachtas Education Committee have published a report calling for an overhaul of Relationships and Sexual Education in Irish schools, describing the current system, in place since 1999, as “not fit for purpose”.
The report suggests that that the curriculum must change in order to reflect recent social changes in the country. Any new curriculum, it says, must not allow for the ethoses of individual schools to impact the way sex education is taught. The report instead recommends that outside groups, regulated by the Department of Education, should be brought into schools, to ensure accurate and uniform information is delivered to students.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is currently in the process of reviewing the curriculum. However, the Education Committee’s report has stated that the 1988 Education Act will need to be amended in the Oireachtas due to the fact that “the NCCA has no legal power over how the curriculum is delivered by school patron bodies with their own religious ethos”. The majority of schools in Ireland are operated by the Catholic Church.
The report suggests that sex education should be delivered at an earlier age. The committee has advised primary schools to fully implement the Stay Safe programme which is designed to educate children about sexual abuse but is not currently taught across all primary schools. The Stay Safe programme is taught as part of the Social and Personal Health Education curriculum which the report recommends now be implemented from a younger age.
The Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) supports the provision of sex education from an earlier age, noting that students’ unions across the country emphasise sexual health guidance in an effort to “catch-up” on information students do not receive before attending third level.
The report expresses concern that the current system does not meet the needs of LGBT+ students. The committee recommends that an updated programme for sex education must not treat heterosexual intercourse as the primary definition of sex, but must be inclusive of LGBT+ relationships and experiences, “including sexual orientation, gender identity and spectrums thereof”.
The report further suggests that more attention should be given to the sexual education of students with intellectual disabilities. Disability organisations told the committee during hearings prior to the publishing of the the report that students with intellectual disabilities are at a higher risk of sexual violence, but must not be treated as “eternal children, devoid of sexuality”.
The committee also recommends that the issues of consent and reproductive health should have a more central prominence within a new curriculum that would also address the topics of the potential negative effects of porn, transphobic and homophobic bullying, and information around abortion.
Researchers in the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway) are currently developing “active consent” workshops which are to be rolled out to second-level students from Transition Year upwards.