Consent classes are to be rolled out to secondary schools and sports clubs across the country.
Last year, the number of students attending the Smart Consent workshops on college campuses skyrocketed by more than 600%, due in part to a number of high-profile rape cases.
Following that success, it will now be introduced in secondary schools.
Pádraig MacNeela and Siobhán O’Higgins, from NUIG’s School of Psychology, part of a team that developed the workshops, said the programme has been adapted to suit the age profile of school students.
“We’ve started to redevelop workshops and test them out in schools, working with parents being on board and being the allies you want them to be,” said Mr MacNeela.
“It’ll be the same type of [conversation] approach that has been happening in colleges, except there is a full redesign of materials to speak to school age, so far it seems to be a good fit.”
The programme will be launched in schools in early 2020. However, several schools have already had the workshop.
“We’ve worked with five or six schools so far, piloting the programme, where we have gone in to talk about consent,” said Ms O’Higgins.
“It’s allowed us to see if this format, the workshop type programme, will work.
“We’ve been to schools in Limerick, Dublin, and Galway. We worked with parents first, it was actually the parents who wanted this in the schools and then the schools said they wanted it too.”
Sex education in schools is currently taught under the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme, however it varies widely from school to school.
A spokesperson from the Department of Education and Skills explained that each school can implement learning based on their own ethos.
Some students have said that, as a result of this rule, they received very little sex education, and if they did it was very scientific and failed to touch on issues such as consent.
Ms O’Higgins said that, on this basis, they will have to be strategic about what schools receive the new workshop in 2020.
There is no point going in and talking about consent in a school who haven’t had good RSE, with students who don’t understand their own bodies. Talking about consent like that is just adding on top of the confusion.
Ms O’Higgins said the area of consent is also very confusing for parents.
“Parents are afraid to talk to their children,” she said. “It’s very difficult now to be a parent. I do a bit of a workshop on consent with parents and we ask: ‘Was it consent?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘No?’ Sometimes it’s not always clear.”
So far, more than 4,000 college students have taken the voluntary workshop since it was launched in 2015.
All sexual orientations and gender identities are included, as is the role of alcohol and drugs in consent.
The organisers say they now plan to work with various networks and groups to reach young people aged between 16 and 24 years old through third level, second level and sports clubs too.
Caroline West, a lecturer and researcher in sexuality studies at DCU, had facilitated these workshops at third level and welcomes the news that they will be rolled out to even younger ages.
“As someone who’s facilitated this class at third level I sometimes feel it’s too late,” she said. “We need to talk to a younger age. People are already having sex before they come to university and assaults have already occurred. If we have the conversation earlier, then consent is normalised.”
She said consent does not just relate to sex but how we treat others, and if we do so with respect.
Ms West also emphasised the importance of making the conversation age-appropriate.
A review of relationships and sexuality education is underway. A draft report has been completed and it is open for public consultation until October 2019.