11 December, 2019 – Ministers McHugh and Mitchell O’Connor welcome final report of National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on Review of Relationships and Sexuality Education

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today (Wednesday 11 December 2019) confirmed the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has completed its review of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE).

The report was compiled by the NCCA following 18 months of research and consultation, including with young people, parents, teachers, focus groups, organisations, Comhairlí na nÓg and a general public consultation.

The NCCA was asked to look at a number of specific issues in respect of RSE and the curriculum in primary and post primary schools.

Among the issues being considered were the importance of consent and what it means, along with developments in relation to contraception and at healthy, positive, sexual expression and relationships, safe use of the internet, social media and the effect that these have on relationships and self-esteem, and LGBTQ+ matters.

Minister McHugh said: “I want to thank the NCCA for the professional, thorough and transparent manner in which the review of Relationships and Sexuality Education has been carried out.

“RSE is a vital and sensitive area of education. A fundamental tenet of our education system is that we focus on the whole person. And one of the most important responsibilities we have to our young people is preparing them for life and ensuring that they are safe, respectful of each other and themselves and understand the importance of healthy relationships.

“While the NCCA report provides us with a roadmap for the future direction of RSE, no final decisions have been made. And it is also important to assure mothers, fathers and guardians, teachers and students that there will be further public consultation before we get to the point of finalising changes to RSE curriculum.”

“Our entire focus is on preparing young people for adult life, on emphasising the importance of respect, on understanding consent and helping young people to develop and mature in a positive light.”

Minister McHugh will give the NCCA report full consideration before confirming any further actions on RSE reform. The Minister will bring his recommendations to Cabinet.

The Minister added: “Whatever future actions are decided, the paramount importance is that RSE is taught, as the NCCA has advised, in a manner that is appropriate for a child’s age and development, with sensitivity to the diversity of needs and readiness.”

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “I also welcome the publication of this report. It is imperative that RSE is taught in an age-appropriate manner throughout the education cycle of every pupil.

“In April I launched the Framework for Consent in Higher Education Institutions: Safe, Respectful, Supportive and Positive – Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions.

“As the Minister responsible for Higher Education, I was responding to the need for clear guidelines on our campuses. It goes without saying all our institutions of learning, whether they be primary or post-primary schools or higher education institutions, should always be places of respect and inclusion.

“At third level, institutions have a duty of care to their students and staff, and a responsibility to foster a campus culture that is clear in the condemnation of unwanted and unacceptable behaviours. It is unthinkable that students arrive in a higher education environment and are only then learning about consent and sexual relationships. Education is not only concerned with the pursuit of academic excellence. It must also be about creating a positive student experience empowering individuals to foster a culture of respect, dignity and integrity.”

ENDS

Notes for Editors

The NCCCA report is available here

The NCCA advises the Department and Minister in relation to the curriculum to be taught in our schools.

In April 2018, the NCCA was requested to review RSE, both the content of the curriculum and how it is taught in schools.

The review arose from an ancillary recommendation of the Citizen’s Assembly on the 8th Amendment which stated:

“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 NCCA review involved extensive consultation between June 2018 and October 2019.

This included: 

  • 7,891 parental responses in the first phase of consultation; including 3,300 National Parents Council Primary and 553 National Parents Council post-primary responses (the remainder of responses were directly sent to the NCCA)
  • Engagement with 512 young people, 1,333 teachers, via online responses in the first phase of consultation;
  • A further 5,100 responses received online during the second phase of consultation between July and October 2019;
  • Focus groups with over 600 children and young people, teachers, parents and school leaders within school settings
  • Participation by over 190 individuals from 131 organisations at two symposia on RSE in November 2018 and September 2019
  • Meetings with 63 organisations and individuals
  • 225 written submissions from groups and individuals 
  • Consultation event with 77 young people from Comhairlí na nÓg.

The NCCA published a draft report of its findings in July 2019. It was open to public consultation from July to October 2019, through the NCCA’s website or by email.

The NCCA has statutory responsibility to advise the Minister on the contents of curriculum.

As part of the review the NCCA considered a report compiled and published by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills on Relationships and Sexuality Education. 

Indicative Timelines

Key recommendations from the NCCA and an indicative timeline for their implementation are set out below.

A number of recommendations are subject to interagency collaboration and the development of the necessary technological supports and infrastructure.

In addition, the schedule for curriculum development in this area is subject to wider curriculum processes such as Primary Review and Redevelopment and Senior Cycle Review.

  • In the short term the NCCA will begin work on interim guidelines to support the teaching of SPHE/RSE in schools.
  • Work on a single online access point for RSE resources will also begin in the New Year. The NCCA will also develop a set of overarching guidelines to inform the development of future SPHE/RSE resources.
  • The NCCA will examine opportunities for SPHE/RSE within the Junior Cycle Wellbeing area of learning, beginning in Q1 2020.
  • The NCCA will also begin work in 2020 on redeveloping the overall SPHE/RSE curriculum in schools. This extensive piece of work will involve wide public consultation with all stakeholders.

Other recommendations in the report in relation to Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) regarding SPHE and RSE will be reviewed by the Department with a view to putting enhanced supports in place.