Teachers unhappy at slow progress of sex education programme


Teacher and parent bodies have expressed concern at the slow implementation of the Relationships and Sexuality Education programme in schools. The National Parents Council (Primary) said parents are not getting the information and support they require.

Mr John White, deputy secretary of ASTI, the secondary teachers' union, said there was now a "skeletal" staff of two people running the programme, compared to over 40 at its height earlier this year.

The national co-ordinator of the NPC (Primary), Ms Fionnuala Kilfeather, said she was "very disappointed" at the lack of commitment to "this last vital step in introducing RSE to schools". She said "not enough support is being made available to parents, who are above all the primary educators in this area".

A Department of Education spokesman said the RSE training programme, which had provided three days' training to nearly 22,000 teachers, had ended in the summer. He said around 30 trainers were still available part-time to give evening courses to parents on an area basis.

The view of the Minister, Mr Martin, is that people should be "brought along" with a sensitive subject like RSE rather than alienated by being pressured into implementing it by a set deadline. He said there had been a successful information day for chairpersons of primary school boards of management last month, and the Department would be publishing a newsletter early next term explaining what supports are available.

While acknowledging that large numbers of teachers had been trained, Mr White asked who would train new teachers in RSE, and in the forthcoming Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) syllabus of which it is a part. A draft SPHE syllabus for 12- to 15-year-olds is currently being circulated.

Mr White said half-a-dozen full-time trainers should be retained to train teachers and advise schools in RSE. A similar number would be needed, he went on, when the SPHE programme is introduced.

Each education centre is currently organising area-wide meetings for parents to hear about RSE. However, there have been poor attendances at some of these, with parents apparently reluctant to discuss sex education in such a public forum.

"People feel safer discussing such things in their own school community," said one Dublin parent. "Many schools will veer away from having a parents' information night because they are afraid to tell the parents about RSE themselves and don't have a trainer on call to do it," said one trainer.

Under the RSE guidelines each school has to set up a `policy group' to formulate an RSE policy in line with the school's ethos; this would have equal numbers of management, teachers and parents' representatives on it. A term after this process was meant to begin, most parents are still completely in the dark about it.

Meanwhile, the draft Social Personal and Health Education curriculum at Junior Cert level has been circulated for consultation by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. It will be a non-examination subject taught for the equivalent of one period a week. However, it is unlikely to be introduced before 1999 or 2000.

For 12- to 13-year-olds, it will cover issues like bullying; learning how to organise work at home and school; passive, assertive and aggressive communication; body care, healthy eating and exercise; making friends; sexual changes in adolescence; smoking and drug and alcohol abuse.