Catholic schools body says new legislation on sex education 'imposes abortion ideology on schools'
An influential Catholic schools body says that new legislation on sex education "imposes abortion ideology on schools".
In a strongly worded statement, the Catholic Schools' Trustee Service (CSTS) said it is "very concerned" about changes to relationship and sexuality education (RSE) in schools, which it claims "directly undermines the rights of parents".
Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said earlier this year he was updating the requirements for RSE in the Northern Ireland curriculum.
The regulations will make “age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion” a compulsory component of the curriculum for students.
A public consultation was later launched by the Department of Education and is due to close on November 24.
Urging parents to take part in the consultation, the CSTS has raised concerns that the new legislation will "impose on schools a particular ideological view of abortion and the prevention of early pregnancy".
It says that the expectation that schools should "become engaged in the delivery of an allegedly neutral curriculum which highlights access to abortion shows no understanding of the foundational principles of Catholic education”.
- Protestant churches express 'deep concern' over changes to sex education in schools
- NASUWT conference to hear calls for improved education and training in schools in NI to tackle misogyny and violence
- Lords committee criticism of new relationships and sexuality education policy
The CSTS said it believes the legislation "places significant new responsibilities on boards of governors and principals".
It added that it "challenges the rights of trustees to promote a faith-based education within the largest education sector in Northern Ireland".
Bishop Donal McKeown, chairperson of CSTS, said: "Our vision of education asserts the rights of parents and carers to have their children educated in accordance with their ethical, religious and philosophical convictions.
"This legislation has created significant concern in that it potentially imposes a specific ideological view of abortion and the prevention of early pregnancy which directly challenges the rights of Catholic schools to offer a faith-based worldview on such matters.
"There is no ethically neutral or value free approach to the question of when human life begins.
"The expectation that schools should become engaged in the delivery of an allegedly neutral curriculum which highlights access to abortion shows no understanding of the foundational principles of Catholic education."
Bishop McKeown also said that "a healthy discussion of sexuality has to be part of a curriculum that promotes mental health and well-being".
"That is exactly what a faith-based relationships education programme seeks to do," he said.
The Department of Education said the legislative change introduced by the secretary of state "requires education in respect of sexual and reproductive health and rights, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion to be comprehensive, age-appropriate and scientifically accurate".
This applies to Key stages 3 and 4 at post-primary only; it does not apply to primary.
"There is no wider change to the content or teaching of RSE. The regulations do not prohibit teachers from discussing with their pupils moral and ethical considerations surrounding these issues," a spokesman said.
“The department will be issuing guidance to schools which will address the sharing of their RSE policy and taught RSE programme, including the requirement to consult with parents and young people."
A NIO spokesperson said: "The UK government is committed to delivering on its statutory duty to provide access to age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights to adolescents in Northern Ireland.
“The government recognises that some parents may wish to teach their child about sex education or make alternative arrangements for sex education to be provided in line with their religious background, or their belief about the age that their child/children should access sex education.
“In recognition of this, the regulations laid by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland earlier this year also place a duty on the Department of Education to introduce regulations to ensure that a pupil may be withdrawn from education on sexual and reproductive health and rights or elements of that education, at the request of a parent.
"This follows the approach taken in England and Scotland.”