We have been invited by CEIST to facilitate a meeting between National Director for Catechetics to the Irish Bishops’ Conference Kate Liffey and a group of senior students from a Co-ed school. She is carrying out research on students opinions of what they feel should be included on RSE programme at 2nd level. She will inform the NCCA who are designing the course for all 2nd level schools. This is just part of the process. Please read following information:
Background to RSE Review for CEIST meeting
In April 2018, the then Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD, asked the NCCA to undertake a major review of RSE in schools. The Minister asked that the review should include:
- The Curriculum for RSE
- Support materials for the delivery of RSE in schools
- The delivery of the curriculum to students; including the issue of CPD currently available to teachers in the area of RSE
Specifically the NCCA’s review will encompass the aspects of RSE listed below. It should be noted that many of the issues listed below are not covered at all in previous curriculum documents for either Primary or Post Primary schools. They are:
- 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
It should also be noted that the review of RSE will inform wider reviews currently taking place in the NCCA e.g. at Primary, the review of the primary curriculum in terms of time and structure and at second level, the review of the senior cycle. It might also be noted that much of the work that the NCCA has undertaken in the area of Wellbeing at Junior Cycle will also inform this review.
The 3 dimensions of the NCCA review are:
- Drawing on studies/research; this will run to November 2018
- Learning from key leaders, organisations and initiatives
- Working with schools
To facilitate wider engagements, a number of consultative events are being planned, the first of which was held in November 2018. It is envisaged that these events and the wider process will help identify key questions that need to be addressed in the context of the comprehensive review called for.
An important aspect of this review is Student Voice. In addition to engaging with children and young people in school settings, the team are collaborating with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to facilitate consultation with Comhairlí na nÓg on the topic of RSE.
The timeline for the review is as follows:
- Research and learning (Autumn 2018)
o Key international and Irish research
o A suite of research to support meetings and discussions
- Working with Key leaders (Autumn 2018 – Spring 2019)
o Learning from key organisations and partners in provision of RSE through bilateral and round table meetings
o RSE consultation symposium events in November 2018 and March 2019
- Engaging with schools: (December 2018 – January 2019)
o Working with several schools across sectors and contexts
o Meetings pupils, parents, management and teachers
o Providing online consultation tools
NCCA and RSE
The Role of Parents is centrally important
Parents/guardians are the first educators of their children. This role obviously continues to be centrally important once children begin school and throughout their whole education. In the area of RSE this is also, and indeed even more particularly, the case. It is therefore somewhat surprising to see the lack of a much more thorough engagement with the question of the rights of parents within the Research Paper underpinning the NCCA’s current review work. This deficit is acknowledged by the authors themselves (NCCA, 2018, p. 5).
In the document, Going Forward Together; An Introduction for Parents to Relationships and Sexuality Education, the DES states clearly to parents,
As a parent, you are the first teacher of your child. You hand on values and attitudes to each new generation of children. (DES, 1997, p.3)
It is vital that this NCCA review attends to and respects this fundamental principle.
A child’s right to Social, Personal and Health Education was enshrined in law in the Education Act, 1998. Section 9 requires that every school shall use its available resources,
to promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students and to provide health education for them, in consultation with their parents and having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school.
The White Paper on Education, Charting our Education Future (DES, 1995), which preceded the Education Act, sets out the role of schools in promoting the social, personal and health education of students. One of the helpful perspectives outlined in the White Paper is that the provision of a relationships and sexuality education programme beginning at the early stages of primary education and continued as appropriate to all levels of secondary students would “involve close co-operation with parents, support and complement the work of the home and in keeping with the ethos of the school." (p.173)
The central importance of the parents’ perspective is also reflected in the Department of Education and Skills Guidelines for RSE for Primary and Post Primary schools (DES, 1997). Here RSE provision is very helpfully described as a “partnership between home and school”.
Indeed, since the introduction of RSE, as part of SPHE, in the mid-nineteen nineties, the NCCA and the Department for Education and Skills has consistently pointed out that schools and parents should work together to ensure the best outcome for children and young people in the area of RSE. In Post Primary Schools, for example, Section 4 of the Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools requires schools to have an agreed policy for RSE worked out in partnership with parents and a suitable RSE programme that reflects that policy in place for all students at both junior and senior cycle.
Department of Education and Skills Circulars to Boards of Management and Principals of Primary and Post Primary schools (e.g. M4/95, M20/96, M22/00 and M11/03) all emphasize the importance of the voice of parents in the area of RSE. More recently, Circular 0043/2018 stresses again the importance of parental engagement in the area of RSE this time in terms of the proper use of external facilitators in supplementing, complementing and supporting a planned comprehensive approach to wellbeing promotion.
This parent and child centred approach is a sensible approach to RSE. There is also a rich educational rationale for this close partnership between home and school in the area of RSE as outlined by the DES in the Interim Curriculum Guidelines for RSE for Primary Schools(DES, 1996),
The involvement of parents and teachers in a genuinely collaborative process will be essential for the success of the RSE programme and can have many practical benefits. (p.50)
These benefits, the document goes on to say, include, “consistency of language and approach that ensure that the messages children receive about sexuality and relationships are clear and unambiguous”. The document stresses that by working together, “teachers and parents will gain a fuller understanding of each other’s concerns; mutual trust and respect will be deepened and the school climate for RSE will be enhanced” (p. 51). Such a collaborative approach needs to be properly supported across all schools to ensure the best possible outcome in terms of RSE provision for children and young people.
Further insight into the why of parental involvement in the work of RSE done in schools (and indeed in all areas of a child’s education) is provided by the White Paper which suggests that because parents bring to the children's education “the unique expertise derived from intimate knowledge of the child's development, of her/his child's particular needs and interests and of circumstances outside the school, the parental role confers on them the right to active participation in their child's education” (p.11). This right is enshrined in Article 42.1 of the Constitution.
Not surprisingly then, recent research (Catherine Conlon’s research () quoted by Morgan, Keating and Collins (NCCA, 2018), p. 39) supports parental involvement as an important feature of the current Irish RSE programme and suggests that this feature should be retained and strengthened in any future iterations. It is to be hoped that any future curricular provision and practical supports in terms of training for teachers (and arguably for parents) that might emerge in the area of RSE will continue to recognise the primacy of the parents’ voice in this important area of their children’s education if that ideal of partnership between home and school is to be realised. Over and above curricular provision and supports, the early promise of the NCCA’s work in the area of RSE in terms of the close collaboration between parents and teachers may also need to be looked at again and supported anew.
For Catholic schools we recognise that all families are integral to an education that animates and transforms us towards love. The family is the place where “we first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures.” Our family teach us, as Pope Francis tells us in Laudato Si, his Encyclical on care of our Common Home,
how to ask without demanding, to say ‘thank you’ as an expression of genuine gratitude for what has been given, to control our aggressivity and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm (213).
It makes sense then that there is, to echo the Department’s own recommendation, as seamless a connection as possible between home and family in the area of RSE as part of SPHE.
The parent’s voice is obviously going to continue to be very important. Archbishop Eamonn Martin (Key note address to JMB/AMCSS 31st Annual Conference, May, 2018) stressed the importance of the family context by saying that “the family remains for children and young people the privileged place of encounter and growth – parents are the first teachers, the home is the first “school of humanity””. Parents, he said, “turn to you (Catholic schools), as trusted fellow pilgrims, to accompany them and their daughters or sons” and they “rely” on the school’s “wisdom and experience”. This, of course, reflects the very essence of partnership suggested by the DES and NCCA documents cited above and needs to be retained and further supported if the rights of parents are to be respected.