Thursday, 29 April 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I thank Deputy Shortall for raising this important matter. The programme for Government is explicit on this and states that the Government will develop inclusive and age-appropriate curricula for RSE and social, personal and health education, SPHE, across primary and post-primary schools, including an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships. That is the Government's policy and position, and it is what we expect to be upheld in publicly funded schools.
As things stand, all schools have to have an RSE policy and that has to be developed in consultation with school management, parents, teachers and students, as appropriate. A school's programme for RSE is developed and taught in the context of the school's RSE policy. The ethos of the school should never preclude learners from acquiring knowledge about the issues involved, but may influence how the content is treated.
Access to sexual and health education is an important right for students and is a mandatory part of the curriculum in all primary and post-primary schools for junior cycle. RSE is required at all levels from primary through senior cycle and the Department has set out the content for each of these programmes in SPHE syllabuses and guidelines. The primary level SPHE curriculum currently used in schools was published in 1999. Its purpose is to foster the personal development, health and well-being of the individual child to help him or her to create and maintain supportive relationships and to enable children to make safe and healthy decisions now and into the future. All schools are required to have an RSE policy that is developed in consultation with the school community, including management, parents, teachers and students, as appropriate. A school's programme for RSE is developed and taught in the context of its RSE policy. It is important to note that the ethos of the school should never preclude learners from acquiring knowledge about the issues, but ethos may influence how it is treated, as I have said.
In April 2018, a review of RSE in schools was announced. The report was published by the NCCA on 11 December 2019. The NCCA was asked to look at a number of specific issues regarding RSE and the curriculum, developments in respect of contraception, healthy, positive sexual expression and relationships, safe use of the Internet and social media, relationships and self-esteem and also LBGTQ+ matters. The immediate focus of the work was on creating support materials for teachers to support effective teaching and learning linked to the current curriculum. This work is progressing well and the first section of the toolkit, a portal repository of teaching and learning resources linked to the primary SPHE curriculum, the SPHE junior certificate short course and the SPHE framework, has been published and the second section is due to be published at the end of April. In tandem with the development of the online toolkit, preparation for redeveloping the SPHE curriculum has begun, with an initial focus on the junior cycle.