Saturday, May 15, 2010

Irish Times: Dearth of secondary school sex education highlighted


Sat, May 15, 2010

SOME 74 per cent of Irish secondary school pupils received no sex education classes last year, according to a survey published yesterday.

The survey, which found poor implementation of the Department of Education’s sex education programme at senior cycle, “will not make for pleasant reading for policymakers”, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Barry Andrews said .

The Life Skills Matter – Not Just Points survey, carried out by national youth parliament Dáil na nÓg, measured the implementation of the department’s Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme and the related Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme in schools around the country.

The survey found that implementation of “sex education” declines dramatically as the child goes through post-primary school.

Students in first, second and third years are entitled to SPHE, of which RSE is a key component, but there is no dedicated SPHE programme for the senior cycle.

While schools are obliged to continue teaching sex education in senior cycle and all schools should have an RSE policy, the study found that 74 per cent of senior cycle students had no sex education classes in 2009. This compared with 88 per cent of junior-cycle students who had SPHE classes in the same year.

RSE was not timetabled as a class in 85 per cent of respondents’ schools.

Speaking at the publication of the survey in the Department of Health, Mr Andrews said the “core finding” was that inadequate timetabling meant “there simply wasn’t a delivery” of sex education at the senior cycle. He said the report could inform whole school evaluations by the Department of Education.

Alluding to one comment contained in the report where a respondent was critical of the involvement of religious groups in sex education and the claim that “they ridiculed homosexuality”, Mr Andrews said this was “not tolerable in any school, no matter what the religious ethos”.

However, he insisted that a school was entitled to have a religious ethos and if a parent chose to send their child to a school with such an ethos then that had to be respected.

“The balance is a very difficult one to achieve,” he added.

The report found that in 32 per cent of the schools surveyed, sex education was being taught as part of religion class. One-fifth of guest speakers who addressed schools on RSE came from religious groups, according to the survey.

It also found that the most emphasised theme in the sex education syllabus was “healthy relationships”, while the least emphasised theme was “understanding sexual orientation”. It is up to each school’s board of management to decide on teaching priorities in accordance with departmental policy and its own ethos.

The main recommendations include a call to make RSE classes mandatory at senior cycle and for the curriculum to cover a greater range of topics about relationships and sexuality.


“We had a very good system up until the Junior Cert, especially because we had teachers who took it seriously. And then the fact that it’s completely gone in fifth and sixth year is a big hit.”

Andrew McGahon, 5th year student, Co Louth

“The focus of the education system in Ireland is on the points system. Without points and the Leaving Cert you go nowhere, and I think it’s important to be less focused on that in the future.

“In terms of RSE and SPHE being so important, it includes things that no other subject can teach you on certain life issues. The report states how much young people want to be taught subjects like this. Seventy-six per cent say that they want to be taught RSE or SPHE in schools.

“The only downside of it in our school is that it was taught through religion. Religion is about your spirituality and your moral decisions. I just don’t see how the relevant factual information of RSE can be taught through religion when it has absolutely no relevance and can only but be biased.”

Ciara Ahern, 6th year student, Tipperary

“What we want is for the parents of tomorrow to be educated so they can help their kids with life skills.”

Shane Doocey, 5th year student, Cork

“The atmosphere of the class completely changes. It’s more relaxed. The children are more open to discussing personal issues with me. From a pastoral point of view you get to recognise if they are having difficulties in their lives.

“I think it’s very important that they have certain teachers that theyre able to go up to and talk to and be open with.”

SPHE teacher Carina McEvoy, Clonkeen College, Blackrock

© 2010 The Irish Times