Students’ experience of sex education ‘terrible’

Almost three quarters of secondary school students described their experience of sex education at school as “terrible” or “bad” in a survey published by the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU).

More than a quarter (28%) said they received no information about contraception in school, a finding described as “extremely worrying” by the ISSU.

The ISSU presented its findings at yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills.

The committee met to discuss the progress made on the Review of Relationships and Sexuality Education with a number of witnesses representing teachers, parents, and students.

Education Minister Richard Bruton asked policymakers last month to review the 20-year-old curriculum on relationships and sexuality education (RSE) so that it meets the needs of young people.

He specifically asked the State’s advisory body on the curriculum to consider updating information on sexual consent at both primary and secondary level.

ISSU welfare and equality officer, Eboni Burke, said the study found that almost 90% of students did not have RSE on a regular basis. She said the results emphasised the need for regular RSE and also suggested that most schools were in breach of the current curriculum guidelines on sexual education.

Ms Burke said the survey, based on over 780 responses received by the ISSU over two days, highlighted the need for “drastic changes” in how RSE is provided in schools. The students ranked consent ahead of sexual health, contraception, sexuality and identity.

However, 65% of students said they had not learned about consent in school and 61% said they had not learned about sexuality.

Ms Burke said it was essential that teachers were properly trained if they were to be the main RSE providers. The ISSU is also recommending that drug and alcohol awareness be included among the many changes that need to be made urgently to how RSE is taught.

There should be one RSE module for every school and the school’s patronage must not impact on the type or quality of RSE that students receive.

“We believe there should be specific lessons in relation to sexuality, relationships, consent, gender identity, RSE in the digital age, sexual health and sexually transmitted infections, contraception, mental health and drug awareness with regard to consent,” said Ms Burke.

Chief executive of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, John Hammond, said the review would include consent and developments in contraception.

Also included is the safe use of the internet and social media, particularly its effects on relationships and self-esteem.

“The review of RSE with be an extensive, complex, multi-dimensional piece of work. We recognise its contested and controversial nature and its topical relevance,” said Mr Hammond.

He said the minister’s request and review of RSE would be discussed at the NCCA’s meeting tomorrow.


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