School ethos hampering sex education, SF Senator claims

Fintan Warfield says many pupils are not taught about safe sex, consent and relevant health information

Senator Fintan Warfield said many teachers had expressed their fears about the narrow confines of the syllabus.  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

Senator Fintan Warfield said many teachers had expressed their fears about the narrow confines of the syllabus. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

 

Many students are not receiving an adequate sex education because of their schools’ ethos, Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield has claimed.

He told the Seanad a report from the University of Limerick’s school of sociology had highlighted the fact that an ethos-based school could derogate from certain aspects of the curriculum to uphold the school’s characteristic spirit.

“In practical terms, this means that many pupils across the State are not taught and informed how to have safe sex, the boundaries of consent, relevant health information on how to have healthy relationships because of their sexuality or gender identity,” he added.

Mr Warfield said this served to cement the stigma and isolation a young person felt during his or her formative years, when sexuality or gender identity was not perceived as a norm, or moral, as dictated by the school’s ethos.

He said an LGBTIreland report found most young people surveyed discovered their sexual orientation or gender identity for themselves at an average age of 12.

“Many of the same young people, who may have their first sexual experience before leaving secondary school, are forced to attempt to piece together an informed, but potentially distorted, view of relationships and sexuality form heteronormative teachings in the hope of staying safe,” he added.

Narrow syllabus

Mr Warfield said many teachers had expressed their fears about the narrow confines of the syllabus.

Minister of State for Health Catherine Byrne, on behalf of Minister for Education Richard Bruton, said the programme for government was committed to developing an LGBT youth strategy.

This would encompass education, youth services, mental health and other issues, she added.

Ms Byrne said an oversight committee, chaired by Irish Times journalist Una Mullally, was drawing up proposals. She understood the committee had held a number of meetings and conducted a series of public consultation events.

Mr Warfield said as long as an ethos-based school could choose aspects of its curriculum to uphold its characteristics there would be real trouble.

“When LGBT young people realise we are LGBT we often spend five to 10 years in the closet,’’ he added.