Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 14 November 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection
Social, Personal and Health Education Curriculum: Discussion with Comhairle na nÓg
I thank the representatives of Comhairle na nÓg for coming in and for their presentation.
I was delighted to see the emphasis on mental health. For the last several months Deputy McConalogue and I have been working on a paper on youth mental health for which we spent the summer consulting groups such as Headstrong, Jigsaw and student councils to find out what works. We found that programmes developed and run by young people are often more powerful than those delivered by teachers or parents. This is the type of initiative we need to support. Many of the suggestions made by the witnesses are in our paper and I can provide copies of it at the end of the meeting. I would love to hear their feedback on what we should prioritise. It is a huge issue but it has not been taken on by the education sector to the extent that it should have been. One in four students has a psychological problem at any given time. It is an educational issue because if people are unhappy or experiencing bullying they cannot get the education they need. The education system needs to do all it can to support students with their personal development.
It is a disgrace that some schools are not providing RSE programmes, whether because they are not regarded as a priority or because of individual teachers' sensitivities about teaching programmes. Every school should be offering their students a full relationship and sexuality education programme. LGBT issues and homophobic bullying should also be addressed as part of these programmes. Every student should be supported in feeling comfortable about his our her body image and sexual orientation. This committee should push to ensure this happens. It is ridiculous that survey after survey finds patchy implementation of a programme that should be a priority. The SPHE programme for senior cycle is still in development and needs to be put in place. I have made this point in the Seanad to the Minister for Education and Skills. Personal development is as important to young people's education as maths, science and other areas of the curriculum.
I hope we will have an opportunity to meet representatives from Comhairle na nÓg more frequently. When we discuss issues of general interest to students we should consider a procedure that would allow us to consult its national executive or at least inform it of our agenda for next year. I do not see why we cannot ask Comhairle na nÓg for its perspectives on the issues we examine. When we dealing with education and other issues that affect students it is essential that we hear the voice of those who represent students. I have not been approached by my local comhairle, although the national office has e-mailed me. I would like to hear from my local comhairle and I am sure other members think likewise.
I will conclude with an apology because the national anti-bullying coalition is currently making a presentation on bullying and I must leave because I promised I would attend that meeting. I was delighted to have an opportunity to hear the witnesses' presentation.