03 April, 2018 - Minister Bruton starts major update of Relationships and Sexuality Education

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD, today (Tuesday 3rd April) announced a major review of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in schools. The review will cover both the content of the RSE curriculum and support materials, as well as the delivery of the curriculum to students.

The Minister stated that some elements of the current RSE curriculum were twenty years old and that it was now time to carry out a major review of the curriculum to ensure that it is fit for purpose and meets the needs of young people today in modern Ireland.

In relation to the content of the curriculum, the Minister has today written to the National Council on Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) to ask that they specifically consider a number of areas in conducting its evaluation, in particular. 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.

The Minister has also asked the NCCA to examine the experience and reality of RSE as delivered in schools. This will provide an opportunity for teachers, students, principals and parents to be consulted about RSE in their particular contexts:

  • How the RSE curriculum is planned, how it is taught and how parents are involved;
  • That the entire curriculum is being taught in schools to a high standard;
  • The role of the classroom teacher in teaching the curriculum and the appropriate level of supports which are currently being provided by external providers;
  • What time is given to it, what resources are being provided, and what support materials are being used;
  • How effective is the continuing professional development opportunities which are currently provided by the Department and other bodies to RSE teachers. It is important that teachers are fully supported and feel comfortable teaching the curriculum and talking to their students about sexuality and relationships.

These reviews by the NCCA will inform the ongoing overall work being carried out by the NCCA to reform the primary and senior cycle curriculum.

The Department of Education and Skills will collaborate with the Department of Health and the HSE in the development of enhanced resources to assist the teaching of RSE in schools, and of research on RSE being conducted in schools by the HSE and the Crisis Pregnancy Programme.

Emphasising the important role played by parents in relation to RSE the Minister also said that there needs to be more effective communication between schools and parents regarding the teaching of RSE in schools. This follows a recommendation in the Chief Inspector’s Report 2013 – 2016. The Minister has said that information regarding the teaching of RSE in schools should be reflected in the Parents and Students Charter, which each school will be required to publish and operate once the Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill 2016 is enacted later this year.

Speaking ahead of the ASTI annual Conference, Minister Bruton said:

“Today I am announcing a review of Relationships and Sexuality Education in schools. It is important that we review this area of learning to make sure that we are adequately providing information to students regarding sexuality and relationships through the curriculum. I have asked the NCCA to consider the experience and reality of RSE as delivered in schools, the supports and professional development opportunities provided for teachers.  

“The RSE curriculum fulfils an important function. Every student has a right to access information about sexual health, relationships and sexuality, and this must be delivered in a factual manner in every school. This review will help to inform decisions regarding the content of the curriculum and how it is delivered. 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.

“This review will also look at the effectiveness of the continuing professional development opportunities which are currently provided to RSE teachers. 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.”

“Through the Parent and Student Charter schools will have to set information for parents regarding RSE. Better communication between parents and schools is a key commitment in the Action Plan for Education, which aims to make the Irish education and training service the best in Europe. Better communication on RSE was a key recommendation in the Chief Inspector’s Report which was published earlier this year.

“In reviewing how RSE is provided in our schools, the views of all of the education partners, recent research outcomes, societal and cultural changes, and existing policies and teaching materials will be considered.”

Notes to editor

Social, personal and health education, SPHE, which includes relationships and sexuality education (RSE) is a mandatory curriculum subject in all primary schools and the junior cycle. RSE is required at all levels, from primary through to senior cycle. The Department of Education and Skills has set out the content of each of the programmes in the SPHE and RSE syllabuses and guidelines.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment launched its Report on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution in December 2017, which considered the First Report and Recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on the Eighth Amendment. As well as dealing with the substantive issue of the 8th amendment, one of five ancillary recommendations was that ‘Improvements should be made in sexual health and relationship education, including the areas of contraception and consent, in primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations involved in education and interactions with young people’.

The Joint Committee considered this recommendation and itself recommended ‘a thorough review of sexual health and relationship education, including the areas of contraception and consent, in primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations involved in education and interactions with young people. Sufficient time must be provided in the school’s curriculum for such education and it should be taught by suitably qualified personnel. The information should be provided in an impartial and factual manner that is independent of school ethos’.