33% of parents unaware of sex ed content

More than one in three parents do not know what their children are learning in sex education classes, they have told school inspectors.

The revelation comes as Education Minister Richard Bruton announces a major review of relationship and sexuality education (RSE) in primary and second-level schools, which will focus on consent, contraception, and other issues.

However, he also wants information about the teaching of RSE in schools to be reflected in the parents and students charter that he said every school will be legally required to publish later this year.

The need to improve communication about RSE policies to parents was recommended by Department of Education chief inspector Harold Hislop’s recent report on issues highlighted from his staff’s work in schools from 2013 to 2016.

While communication generally with parents requires improvement, RSE emerged as an area in which it is particularly poor.

One in four parents of children in mainstream schools said they do not know the RSE policy, and another 12% (one in eight) said they have not been informed about it. “This indicates that there is a need for management to effectively communicate the details of this policy to parents,” Mr Hislop’s report read.

The review ordered by the minister is to form part of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s recently-initiated reviews of primary education and senior cycle at second-level. As well as the content of the RSE curriculum, the council is to examine how sex education is taught, whether the entire curriculum is being delivered to a high standard, and if teachers have proper training and supports to talk to students about sexuality and relationships.

Some elements of RSE have not been updated in 20 years, and the minister believes the review will help inform decisions about the content of the curriculum and how it is taught.

“I want to ensure that the RSE 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.

A Solidarity private members’ bill to be debated in the Dáil later this month will seek to remove provisions from education law that could allow schools to restrict or change what is taught in RSE because of their religious ethos.

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