Northern Irish schools should push more sex education lessons on abortion and ‘gender and sexual identity’, according to an Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) report.
The Inspectorate, which is part of the Department of Education, published its report based on responses from 509 schools and 14,665 pupils aged 10 to 18 on how each school’s curriculum benefits child development.
Currently, all grant-aided schools are required to develop their own policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) but they can provide content in keeping with their own ethos and grant the right of withdrawal on an individual basis.
The Inspectorate’s report complained: “Too many schools/centres avoid completely, or cover with insufficient depth and progression, many of the more sensitive aspects of the RSE aspect of the preventative curriculum. These include teaching on: gender and sexual identity; LGBTQ+”.
It claimed that the “flexibility” given to schools to teach in accordance with their ethos creates “a risk, that some pupils in NI could leave school without a clear, unbiased knowledge and understanding of important concepts” such as “gender identity”.
The report contrasts with expanded guidance on RSE resources from the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment. In its updated guide for parents and governors, it emphasised that schools should consult parents on “the development and review of the school’s RSE Policy”.
It stated: “Parents or carers should be aware that a school’s teaching of RSE will be complementary and supportive of their role as lead educators in this sensitive area. This teaching will be delivered in the context of the school’s distinctive ethos.”
Last year, the former Northern Ireland Secretary signalled to Stormont that he would “intervene” if it fails to introduce Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) as a compulsory component to the curriculum in schools.
Shailesh Vara told the Executive it had a ‘responsibility’ to implement RSE recommendations contained in a report by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
In 2018 CEDAW claimed that RSE provision in Northern Ireland was “under-developed or non-existent” as a consequence of a “school’s discretion to implement curriculum contents according to its values”.