He has directed that these and a number of other issues be considered in detail as part of an overhaul of relationships and sexuality education (RSE).
He wants the RSE curriculum for both primary and second-level schools to be examined extensively as part of wider reviews of education. What teenagers are taught in the first three years of second level is already encompassed by the ongoing reforms of junior cycle being phased in since 2015.
Mr Bruton said some elements of what is currently taught in RSE are over 20 years old and he wants the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) to particularly evaluate the content in relation to several areas. These include:
- Consent, what it means and its importance;
- Developments in contraception;
- Healthy, positive sexual expression and relationships;
- Safe use of the internet;
- Social media and its effects on relationships and self- esteem;
- LGBTQ+ matters.
“Every student has the right to access information about sexual health, relationships and sexuality, and this must be delivered in a factual manner in every school,” the minister said.
“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.”
As well as the content, he wants the NCCA to examine how much RSE is taught, the standard of teaching, and who is giving the classes.
Although the HSE’s Crisis Pregnancy Programme has credited existing RSE provision as a significant factor in a 64% drop in teen pregnancies since the start of the decade, question marks exist about the uniformity and standard of teaching.
Mr Bruton said the NCCA should consult with teachers, students, principals, and parents about how RSE is planned and taught.
He has asked that the review establish if the entire curriculum is being taught to a high standard and the role of the classroom teacher in delivering the curriculum. The levels of support being provided by external providers, and their appropriateness will also be probed.
The departments of education and health will work with the HSE to develop better resources to help teach RSE, and the level and quality of teacher training are also to be examined.
“It is essential for the curriculum to be delivered by teachers who are fully supported and who feel comfortable teaching the curriculum and talking to their students about sexuality and relationships,” Mr Bruton said.