A new sex education programme for Catholic primary schools which describes sex and puberty as a “gift from God” has been released.
Flourish, a relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme, has been developed by the Irish Bishops’ Conference for junior infants to sixth class.
The resources are available for use in Catholic primary schools, which account for about 90 per cent of all national schools, but are not mandatory, say sources involved with it.
An introduction to the programme says that when discussing LGBT issues, the “Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted”.
The programme for senior classes states that “puberty is a gift from God. We are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him”; while a lesson on safety and protection advises senior infant children to say the “Angel of God” prayer.
The new programme comes ahead of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s (NCCA) updated syllabus for relationships and sexuality education. This updated course will apply to all primary schools, however schools are entitled to deliver these programmes according to their ethos.
Mick Barry, a Solidarity TD, said he would question how the programme qualified as appropriate sex education.
“Religion shouldn’t have influence on relationships and sexuality education in schools,” he said.
Mr Barry said his party’s draft legislation on “objective sex education” would guarantee factual relationships and sexuality education across all schools, if enacted.
Atheist Ireland said many non-religious families would have no option but to send their children to publicly-funded national schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church delivering this programme.
“Why on earth would non-religious parents want their children taught moral and social values based on the supposed teachings of a god? There is no balancing of rights here, but the tightening of control to ensure that the Catholic Church can continue to evangelise and indoctrinate,” it said, in a statement.
However, the Irish Bishops’ Conference said all teaching in Catholic primary schools in areas relating to the church’s teaching is done in an invitational way using approaches outlined by the curriculum. It said the biological aspects of the Flourish programme were entirely in line with the NCCA curriculum. The programme will be amended, if necessary, when the council’s review of relationships and sexuality education is completed.
The Department of Education said all schools were required to have a relationships and sexuality education policy that is developed in consultation with the school community, including school management, parents, teachers and students as appropriate.
It said it was important to note that the “ethos of the school should never preclude learners from acquiring the knowledge about the issues, but ethos may influence how that content is treated”.
A document accompanying the Flourish programme states that there is no such thing as an “ethos free” approach to relationships and sexuality education since it must be rooted in a particular value system.
It says the Catholic school must consider these topics within “a moral framework that reflects the teachings of the Church”.
“The RSE programme in the Catholic school must not promote shame, but rather seek to affirm that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and is loved by God as they are,” it states.
“The same moral obligation to respect and treat our bodies with dignity applies to people of all sexual orientation. However, the Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted.”