Fine Gael TD calls for updated sex education at primary level to be expedited

Revised curriculum at primary level due to be completed in 2025

A Fine Gael deputy has questioned whether plans to update sex education in primary schools by 2025 are being deliberately “slow-walked”.

A review of relationships and sexuality education (RSE) at primary and second level in 2019 concluded that the curriculum needs to be updated and deal with issues such as consent and LGBTQ+ matters.

Minister for Education Norma Foley confirmed last month that the updated RSE curriculum will be ready for the junior cycle from 2023, senior cycle in 2024 and primary level in 2025.

On Sunday, Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked why the reforms cannot take place sooner and questioned whether they were being “slow-walked”.

“One reason this is so important is that we know that education interventions can make a huge difference to attitudes,” she said.

“We can either drop our kids to school and wonder which of them, 20 years from now, will be the abusers and which will be the abused, like every generation before them. Our we can ask what can we positively, constructively do that gives their generation a real shot at a different set of attitudes and norms in relation to equality and consent and inclusion.”

However, Ms Foley has said the primary level RSE curriculum is being reviewed and redeveloped in line with a wider and long-standing review of the entire primary school curriculum.

Do Fine Gael get it? Una Mullally debates with Neale Richmond

Listen | 00:00

Setting out the timeline for reform, Ms Foley said recently that she is due to receive a framework document setting out the foundations upon which curriculum specifications for a range of subjects will be developed at primary level later this year.

In the meantime, she said work on the curriculum area for wellbeing — which includes RSE — is due to formally being in September this year with a draft ready for public consultation in late 2023 or early 2024.

It is expected that work on the updated curriculum will be completed in early 2025 and submitted to the Minister for approval.

“Since taking office Minister Foley has prioritised the development of the new RSE curriculum at both primary and post-primary level and has provided committed and clear timelines for their development,” a Department of Education spokeswoman said.

The curriculum is being developed through research, deliberation, consultation and engagement with the public, she added.

Curriculum objectives

In the meantime, the current curriculum at primary level — in place since 1999 — strives to foster an understanding and appreciation of all children.

“Through the curriculum objectives, children are supported to develop self-confidence and a positive sense of self, and to appreciate and respect the diversity that exists in society and to respect and appreciate human and cultural diversity,” Ms Foley said, in response to a recent parliamentary question.

“To this end, the curriculum aims to foster in the child a sense of care and respect for himself/herself and others and an appreciation of the dignity of every human being.”

She said the curriculum also places emphasis on the use of inclusive and respectful language to promote a positive school climate where all children are valued, cared for and respected.

The updated RSE curriculum at primary and second level will aim deal with issues in a “sensitive and age-appropriate way” such as the effects of the internet and social media on relationships, self-identity and self-esteem, consent and its relevance to all relationships, LGBTQ+ matters, healthy positive sexual expression and developments in contraception.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent