Sharp divisions over gender identity and the use of pronouns in schools are revealed in submissions to the State’s advisory body on the curriculum which is updating how sex education is taught.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is finalising a new Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum, which will provide 100 hours of learning over the three-year Junior Cycle for 12-15 year olds. It will, from next September, address issues such as gender identity, pornography and sexual consent.
Newly disclosed submissions show several parents groups have complained about the “promotion of transgender ideology” to young students, while a number of Catholic bodies have insisted that schools must be allowed to teach any updated syllabus only in accordance with their ethos.
By contrast, many campaign and civil society groups have welcomed the focus of the draft specification on gender identity, with one arguing that use of pronouns should be specifically included and the term “biological sex” removed, as it is used to “demonise the trans community”.
A submission from the Catholic Secondary School Parents Association accused the NCCA of “seeking to promote an ideology that refuses to acknowledge basic biological facts in favour of a new gender self-identity doctrine”.
Other critics included the Irish Education Alliance, which said the “promotion of gender identity poses significant risks to the welfare of children” as highlighted with controversy over the Tavistock Clinic in the UK.
Genspect, who describe themselves as an “alliance of professionals, parent groups, trans people, detransitioners”, said the draft course promoted a “narrow-minded gender affirmative approach and assumes that everyone – students, parents and school staff – believes in the gender identity belief system”.
A number of Catholic bodies, while welcoming the move to update the curriculum, said the ethos of schools must be respected in delivering the programme.
[ Report highlights ‘challenge’ of allowing children to opt out of new sex education syllabus ]
The Association of Patrons and Trustees of Catholic Schools said Catholic school ethos must be accommodated to take account of the “constitutionally protected right of patrons to run their schools from a faith-based perspective”.
The NCCA draft syllabus drew broadly supportive submissions from a range of non-governmental organisations who said the emphasis on gender identity was “very important”.
The Transgender Equality Network of Ireland said it particularly welcomed “the mention of the spectrum of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression”. BeLonG2 Youth Services said many young people had been calling for improvements to relationships and sexuality education for years.
Foróige, the youth group, welcomed the draft but said the use of pronouns around gender identity should be included and encouraged the removal of the term “biological sex” which, it says, “is currently used to weaponise/demonise the trans community”. It says the more appropriate and inclusive term is “sex assigned at birth”.
The Children’s Rights Alliance said explicit inclusion of the concepts of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation as being “core to our human identity” was “extremely positive and vitally important to ensuring an inclusive curriculum”.