How this project was compiled
Round table talks at the Dáil na nÓg ‘Let’s Talk About Mental Health’ National Youth Parliament in Croke Park last year. Photograph: Chris Bellew
This extensive investigation into Relationships and Sexuality Education in Irish schools was made possible by the support of the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund. It was written by Peter McGuire and Louise Holden was consultant.
Research began with an extensive analysis of the academic literature and policy documents on the topic, which includes but is not limited to a 2007 report by researchers from the Children’s Research Centre at Trinity College, a 2010 study by UNICEF Ireland on adolescent experiences of sexual health and behaviour in Ireland and, perhaps most crucially, the 2010 Dáil na nÓg report Life Skills Matter: Not Just Points, which was compiled and written by young people themselves.
At all stages of the research, and in keeping with the spirit of the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund, the key focus remained on the actual experiences of young people through their own eyes, as opposed to how their experience is interpreted by parents, teachers, or organisations.
As part of the research, we canvassed the views of 14 current students, as well as six people under the age of 25, about their experiences of relationships and sexuality education.
One person was contacted through the youth website SpunOut.ie. Four were approached at random at a Dáil na nÓg event, while four were contacted through the Dáil na nÓg press office. One was contacted through the Young Social Innovators programme, one was sourced through personal contacts. Two were sourced through social media, and one was the President of the Irish Secondary School Union (ISSU).
The people under the age of 25 included two student union representatives, three people who had provided information for the website SpunOut.ie, and one person sourced through social media.
Prominent anti-abortion organisations including Life Pregnancy Care and Youth Defence were asked to suggest young people to contribute opinions, but this offer was not taken up.
The Department of Education and Skills
Circulars and guidelines from the Department of Education and Skills also informed this research, particularly Circular 0023/2010, which advised schools to only use external agencies for RSE with caution, and Circular 0037/2010, which reminded schools of their obligations as regards RSE. The SPHE Subject Inspection Report, published last November, also informed this work, while each of the 63 inspection reports that formed the data set for the DES’s overall inspection report were individually examined.
Freedom of Information
The Irish Times submitted three Freedom of Information request to the DES. One of these requested information on complaints made to the DES or any organisation under its aegis about whether there was any follow-up or sanction on schools which had breached its guidelines on cautious use of external agencies in the RSE and SPHE programmes. The DES conducted a thorough search and found that it had not followed up on or sanctioned any schools that had breached its guidelines.
The second request asked if any complaints had been made to the DES about the activities of any external agencies in schools, including but not limited to the Irish Family Planning Association, Youth Defence, CURA, and Belong2; the request referenced many other agencies. The DES said it had received no complaints.