Broad welcome for school sex education review

Teachers unions and groups working with young people have welcomed Education Minister Richard Bruton’s plans for a review of sex education in schools.

However, teachers have warned that any review must be accompanied by an overhaul of the way in which schools are funded and supported to provide the programme.

John Boyle, president of the Irish National Teacher Organisation, which represents primary school teachers, said a review of the programme was timely after 20 years.

“It certainly needs a shake-up in the way it’s supported in terms of the lack of resources for it and the lack of teacher training,” he said. “There’s a significant dearth of official support for teacher training in the area.”

Mr Boyle said one of the challenges facing schools was the variety of view among parents but he said it was not insurmountable.

“Schools need time and space to be able to work through those issues so that they can arrive at a common position that everyone can support,” he said. “It’s challenging but it can be done if the Department puts the resources and the time into it.

“There is a lot of good practice out there already and some of those could be used as models of good practice to assist others.”

The Teachers Union of Ireland also welcomed the review and echoed the call for greater resources for secondary schools.

“Particularly in the need for continuing personal development for teachers,” said David Duffy, education and research officer. “Sometimes programmes like this throw up very sensitive matters and teachers need to be adequately trained.”

However, he was not in favour of a system of dedicated sex education teachers.

“I’d be reluctant to move away from the model where the school can decide who they feel is the best person to deliver the programme, whether that be a small group of teachers who teach a large number of classes or a teacher who teaches just one class because they know that class particularly well,” he said. “There needs to be flexibility.”

Mr Duffy also called for a review of the teaching materials available on the subject. They currently come from a variety of sources and he said quality control needed to be guaranteed.

The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland said the existing programme was “robust”, but added: “It is also important that emerging issues — such as the issue of consent — can be addressed at school level.

“Such a review must be accompanied by additional resources so that schools can offer appropriate levels of guidance counselling and can appoint year heads to support pastoral care. This will help to ensure that a whole-school approach can be taken to student wellbeing.”

Internet safety charity CyberSafeIreland urged the review to pay particular attention to the issue of consent and the impact of social media.

“The world has dramatically changed in the 20 years since the last curriculum review and it is essential that it be updated to reflect this changed reality and provide the tools children need to navigate through their online and offline lives in a safe, smart and responsible way,” said CEO Alex Cooney.

Ian Power of youth organisation SpunOut.ie said: “I very much welcome this review and commitment to ensure consistency in the provision of factual sex education in all schools.”

Catholic think-tank the Iona Institute also welcomed the review but director David Quinn said that if it did not challenge what he called “hook-up culture”, it will have failed.

The bodies representing Catholic primary and secondary schools both said they hoped to contribute to the review but would rather not comment until details of how it would be carried out are available.

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