Breathnach says parents have yet to be informed on sexuality programme


PARENTS and local parents' associations have not yet received any information about the relationships and sexuality programme which is due to be introduced in most primary schools next September, the Minister for Education has said.

Speaking in the Dail yesterday, Ms Breathnach said the programme guidelines for primary schools would be included in a special pack which will be distributed to all schools shortly. "Schools will be expected to make copies of these available to parents and parent associations, in the context of policy development in individual schools."

She emphasised that each "school community" - teachers, parents and management bodies - would have to develop their own policies in this area through consultation.

She admitted that some schools had traditionally rejected such teaching, and some schools and teachers, especially in rural areas, were "apprehensive" about the programme. She had asked that such apprehensions, as expressed by teachers at training days, should be listed.

The Minister noted that the influence of clergy on school management boards could be an obstacle. She also recognised that not everyone had the skills to be sensitive to the concerns of parents and pupils in this area.

However, she emphasised that the Department of Education had committed itself to making relationships and sexuality part of the school curriculum. Where parents had conscientious objections to the programme, it would be "up to each school community to decide how to remove children from this element of the curriculum".

The Fianna Fail education spokesman, Mr Micheal Martin, wondered about the apparent reluctance of the Department to disseminate information about the programme, noting that not even TDs had received any information to help them inform their constituents.

He asked what the procedures would be for removing children from class when their parents did not want them to take the relationships and sexuality course.

On the question of which substandard schools should be a priority for upgrading, Mr Martin expressed surprise that schools in areas where there were Labour TDs appeared to figure higher on the Department's priority list than extremely deficient schools such as those in Kilglass, Co Galway and Urbleshanny, Co Monaghan.

While strongly rejecting this, the Minister said she was looking at the kind of points based system for allocating funds to sub standard schools which was used in some other EU countries. This would "take political patronage out of it", she said.

Mr Michael Kitt asked if the 17 schools where all the planning processes had been completed would get the go ahead from the Minister. Ms Breathnach would not be drawn on individual schools, but said she would begin announcing her decisions next week.

The 17 schools where the planning processes have been completed and which are now ready to go to tender, as listed by the Department, are: two on Arranmore Island, Co Donegal; Ballindine NS, Co Mayo; Scoil Raifteri, Castlebar, Co Mayo; Rathbane NS, near Crossmolina, Co Mayo; Carrowreagh NS, Bunaniddan, Co Sligo; St Attracta's NS, Ballaghadereen, Co Roscommon; Kilglass NS, Ahascragh, Co Galway; Longwood NS, Enfield, Co Meath; Allen National School, Kilmeague, Co Kildare; Shangan achmor NS, Barrowhouse, Co Laois; Sligo School Project; Aghacasla NS, Tralee, Co Kerry; Tulloha, Kenmare, Co Kerry; North Dublin School Project; Old Borough, Swords, Co Dublin; and Gaelscoil Thomais Dafbhis, Mallow, Co Cork.