Primary school pupils to get classes on sexual consent

Minister to review sex education course to ensure teaching in 'factual manner in every school’

Primary schoolchildren are to be taught about about sexual consent under a major review of sex education in schools.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has asked policymakers to review the 20-year-old curriculum on relationships and sexuality education to ensure it meets the needs of young people in Ireland today.

He has specifically asked the State’s advisory body on the curriculum to consider updating information on sexual consent at both primary and secondary level.

In addition, he wants topics such as safe use of the internet, the effect of social media on relationships and LGBT issues to be included in sexual education classes at both primary and secondary level.

“I want to ensure that the RSE [relationships and sexuality education] curriculum meets the needs of young people today, who face a range of different issues to those faced by young people in the late 1990s,” he said.

“This review will help to inform decisions regarding the content of the curriculum and how it is delivered.”

The issue of whether students are receiving adequate sexual and relationships education has been an ongoing debate, especially in some faith schools.

Every student has a right to access information about sexual health, relationships and sexuality, and this must be delivered in a factual manner in every school

While there is a requirement that all aspects of the RSE curriculum are taught, schools are entitled to adjust the programme according to their ethos or characteristic spirit.

Mr Bruton said he has asked the National Council on Curriculum and Assessment to examine what time is given to RSE, what resources are being provided and what support materials are being used.

The review will also examine how effective ongoing training is for teachers delivering these programmes.

“The RSE curriculum fulfils an important function. Every student has a right to access information about sexual health, relationships and sexuality, and this must be delivered in a factual manner in every school,” he said.

‘Modern realities’

Sex education is provided in primary and secondary schools in a number of ways. Social, personal and health education (SPHE) – which includes RSE – is a mandatory curriculum subject in all primary schools and the junior cycle.

While consent is covered as part of this curriculum at both junior and senior cycle in post-primary schools, its emphasis is considered by many to be lacking.

At primary level, it focuses on developing assertive skills and understanding the human body. This, say education sources, lays the foundation for later discussion of specific issues, such as consent, in an age-appropriate manner.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Minister for Health Simon Harris said reforms to sexual education must address "modern realities" including discussions on contraception, sexual health promotion and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

In tandem, he said, there would be a survey carried out to provide up-to-date data on sexual health and crisis pregnancy in Ireland.

A significant financial investment would also be made by the Government to launch a new sexual health and safer sex public advertising campaign, Mr Harris added.

The Citizen’s Assembly last year called for primary and secondary students to be given improved education in sexual health and relationships.

In addition, the Oireachtas committee on the 8th Amendment called for a thorough review to ensure sexual education information is provided "in an impartial and factual manner that is independent of school ethos".

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