Northern Ireland

Prescriptive approach to relationships and sex education 'not the best approach'

What is actually taught to young people is a matter for each school based on their ethos
What is actually taught to young people is a matter for each school based on their ethos What is actually taught to young people is a matter for each school based on their ethos

FORCING schools to follow more rigid relationships and sexuality education (RSE) classes will not guarantee the subject will be taught well, an assembly committee has heard.

Schools only need to teach minimum content which is supported by further non-statutory guidance and resources.

An expert advisory panel on a gender equality strategy, appointed by the Department for Communities, found RSE was "inconsistent and insufficient".

It said age-appropriate RSE should be compulsory in schools and "inclusive of the experiences of all young people".

Schools are left to develop their own RSE policy.

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment has created guidance and material on issues including consent, healthy relationships, sexual violence, LGBTQ+ matters and contraception.

What is actually taught to young people is a matter for each school based on their ethos.

Department of Education officials yesterday provided an update to members of the assembly education committee.

Committee chairman Chris Little raised the issue of a common approach.

"Given that RSE engages understanding behaviour and consequences of a really important nature, not least sexual safety, consent and freedom from bullying, should the Department of Education adopt a more prescriptive approach for this part of the curriculum including more standardised relationship and sexuality education?" he asked.

Department official Dr Suzanne Kingon said the current approach helped support teachers to feel confident and competent and improve delivery in the classroom.

She said inspectors had reported that almost every lesson they observed was very good or better adding there was no reason to suggest children were getting a poor quality experience.

"All the evidence shows that providing mandatory content doesn't guarantee that a subject is taught well, that it improves the delivery of provision - quite the opposite actually," she said.

"All the international evidence says that curricular flexibility, giving schools the opportunity to choose topics, to deliver them at times that are suitable for the school community, actually enhances delivery. That's our approach right across the curriculum in every area of learning, and there's no real compelling evidence to say that with RSE it would be more appropriate to take a more prescriptive approach at this time.

"If you move ahead to introduce prescriptive topics and issues that school communities aren't ready for, you can actually get some very unfortunate situations as we've seen right across the UK with schools in conflict with parents and with governors."

Sinn Féin MLA Nicola Brogan shared findings of a survey carried out by the Belfast Youth Forum in January.

Half of young people surveyed said their right to RSE was not being met, while 34 per cent said they had never received a single lesson.

Of those who had been taught RSE, only 10 per cent said the information provided was useful.

"Without a modern, standardised and mandatory approach to RSE, we are letting our children down," Ms Brogan said.