Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]
Josepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
I am sharing time with Deputy Carroll MacNeill, and I ask the Acting Chair to remind me to give her two minutes.
I thank all the Deputies for their contributions and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak during this debate on the Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill 2021. Given that the Bill was only introduced in the House last week, it is important to state that there has been no opportunity for the Department to consider in detail the text of the provisions or to engage with the Office of the Attorney General. I am asking for that engagement to begin now.
I reiterate the Government's position that it is not opposing this Bill and supports bringing forward of legislation where it is needed in this area. I thank Deputy Gannon for raising this important issue. The Government's amendment seeks merely to provide an opportunity for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, to bring its work to a conclusion and for consideration in that regard by the Department, with the support of others, to take place.
The Government is committed to providing students with access to factual, evidence-informed, scientific and objective relationships and sexuality education, RSE. This is reflected, as the Deputy is aware, in the commitment in the programme for Government to develop inclusive and age-appropriate RSE and social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculums across primary and post-primary levels, including an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships and making appropriate legislative changes, if necessary. Importantly, schools are required to have a policy for RSE which has been developed in consultation with teachers, parents and guardians, members of boards of management and students. It is vital that schools teach all aspects of the RSE programme, and that includes providing crucial information on family planning, sexually transmitted infections, STIs, and sexual orientation. It is also important to note that ethos should never preclude learners from acquiring knowledge about these issues. Education is about empowerment. We do not advance empowerment by denying crucial information. Relationships and sexuality education concerning the issue of consent, for example, is a critical part of efforts to prevent future sexual assaults.
The Government is taking action to provide all this information and the NCCA review process is key to achieving this aim. As already mentioned, the NCCA's post-primary development group is currently formulating a revised specification for junior cycle SPHE. A draft specification will be issued for public consultation in 2022, and that will provide students, teachers, parents and wider civil society an opportunity to give their views. On receipt of that feedback, a revised specification will be finalised in 2022 and then rolled out in schools from September 2023. Following the implementation of the revised junior cycle SPHE specification, these specifications will be redeveloped at senior cycle and then at primary level. At all levels, teaching resources will be developed that will aim to equip teachers with the confidence, competence and skills to teach the curriculum effectively. While the SPHE curriculum overall is being redeveloped across all age groups, this will take time and there is an ongoing need to support schools in providing positive, inclusive and comprehensive RSE. To support this immediate need, the NCCA has been developing online guidance to support teaching and learning in SPHE and RSE and this toolkit is now published and available to teachers.
The amendment on timing that the Government has proposed will allow this ongoing work to be significantly advanced before this Bill is next before the House, and will provide a stronger platform for engagement on this important issue. This debate has ensured that Members have had an opportunity to have their views heard. We will now reflect on the important issues raised by all the Deputies here today.