New sex-education resources for Catholic primary schools could form and shape negative views among children towards some sexualities and identities, and in some cases towards themselves, academics have warned.
A group of university staff from across the country have called for a halt to the introduction of ‘Flourish’, relationships and sexuality education (RSE) resources developed by the Irish Bishops' Conference for Catholic primary schools.
Introductory documents published earlier this year set out that while RSE in Catholic schools should affirm that every human being “is loved by God as they are”, the “Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted".
In a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Education Minister Norma Foley, the group of university staff argue that Flourish "conflates" education on relationships and sexuality with a religious perspective on the topics.
Research on RSE indicates that effective programmes should be “scientifically based, provide young people with body autonomy” and have an emphasis on human rights and gender equality, the letter adds.
The letter includes signatures from staff at University College Cork, Munster Technological University, the national College of Art and Design and NUI Galway, as well as the Committee of the LGBT+ Staff Network at UCC, University College Dublin and NUI Galway.
'Flourish' includes lessons on topics like safe internet usage, friendship, and puberty. Each lesson ends with a prayer reflection. Strands and themes for the senior classes include: “Sex is a gift from God. It belongs in committed relationships" and “Puberty is a gift from God".
The Education Act 1998 gives school patrons a legal right to design their programmes in accordance with the ethos of their schools. A major review of the RSE curriculum is underway.
When contacted for a statement, a spokesman for the Irish Bishops' Conference directed thetowards comments made by Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin in May. He described Flourish as a series of resources designed to assist teachers in following the curriculum while being respectful of a Catholic ethos.
“The resource material clearly states that any young person grappling with questions around their own gender identity or sexual orientation is be treated with the utmost care and respect. Flourish addresses the issue of family type and acknowledges that love is at the heart of family life, no matter what type of family it is.”