Stormont backs compulsory ‘inclusive’ sex ed across the Province

The Northern Ireland Assembly has called for Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) to be standardised in schools across the Province.

MLAs voted 49 to 33 in favour of a motion, pushing the Minister of Education to bring forward a plan that delivers what they described as a “compulsory, standardised, inclusive, high-quality, evidence based and age-appropriate” education.

Last year, Westminster voted to impose regulations on Northern Ireland forcing schools to teach post-primary children about abortion and contraception. But the Department of Education highlighted that schools can still provide content according to their ethos, and parents have right of withdrawal.


Speaking in the debate, Education Minister Paul Givan emphasised that there is already a “high-level minimum content” that provides schools with “flexibility to meet the needs of their pupils” in a “sensitive and contentious area”.

He criticised those supporting the motion for their “Stormont knows better” mentality, and suggested they “arrogantly assume that it should be politicians and not parents who make decisions for their children”.

Mr Givan warned: “Standardisation would therefore involve the Minister imposing a contentious approach on every school and child, regardless of the professional judgement of teachers, the ethos of the school or the views of governors, parents and children.”


Tom Elliott, an Ulster Unionist Party MLA, raised concern over how the “age-appropriateness” of content would be defined under the motion.

He added: “It must be ensured that, in RSE, children understand the difference between sex and gender. I have a concern that, all of a sudden, they may not be taught that difference. That means that there must be a clear definition of a woman and a man.”

Following the Cass Review of child gender services in England, the Northern Ireland Department of Education is reviewing “any learning that may be appropriate for Northern Ireland”.


Earlier this year, it was revealed that almost three quarters of respondents to a sex ed consultation in Northern Ireland opposed the teaching of abortion without considering ethical concerns.

In written responses, only six per cent said teaching should be exclusively scientific, with over 43 per cent writing that they believe the subject should include moral and ethical perspectives.

The consultation also revealed that 91 per cent believed that parents “should be informed about the specific nature and content” of RSE, particularly in relation to pregnancy and abortion, and 74 per cent indicated in written responses that “parents’ rights should take precedence”.

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