Concerns over new Relationship and Sexuality Education for Catholic primary schools

New RSE guidance from CPSMA says "puberty is a gift from God" and the "Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted.”

A group of children in a classroom

Concerns have been raised over the publication of Flourish, the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association’s (CPSMA) new guidance for Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) in Catholic primary schools.

The new guidance was formed over a number of years through the Council for Catechetics of the Irish Bishops Conference, with the support of CPSMA, and engagement from principals, chairs of boards of management, teachers, and parents. 

In the programme it says that “Sex is a gift from God… Puberty is a gift from God. We are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him.” While it does acknowledge LGBTQ+ families, which is a positive step, it does not give any guidance, support or education on LGBTQ+ people and says that “the Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted.”

“This is an improvement, but the bar was on the floor,” says Bella FitzPatrick, the executive director of ShoutOut, an organisation that provides LGBTQ+ Educational Programmes in schools. It “still does not prepare young people for the reality that the world has diversity of identities, and ultimately if your education doesn’t reflect the real world then it is not good education.”

The CPSMA provides advice and support for Chairpersons and Principals of Boards of Management in over 2,800 schools and negotiates on behalf of these schools with the Department of Education and Skills and other education partners.

Atheist Ireland released a statement saying: “It is clear from this that the Bishops are aware that minorities both religious and nonreligious have no option but to send their children to publicly funded national schools under the patronage of the Catholic church. They see this as an opportunity to indoctrinate children from minority backgrounds.”

There was also backlash online. “Our RSE curriculum needs to be state designed to ensure pupils have all the information they need at the appropriate age to be safe and aware,” Trina Golden, principal of Owenabue Educate Together National School, said on Twitter.

“Can this really be in keeping with parental wishes Norma Foley? The state can choose to instruct schools on RSE, according to the European Convention on Human Rights. Why not?” wrote Colm O’Connor, principal of Cork Educate Together Secondary School. “This isn’t (only) about non-religious parents. Recent referenda suggest that the vast majority of parents of all beliefs, favour an open, inclusive society. Norma Foley must explain how parents’ views can gain legal influence in faith-run schools.”

Labour Senator Annie Hoey, who is openly bisexual and the party’s Spokesperson for Higher Education, Science and Research, told GCN that she would like to see a citizen’s assembly on education and a national conversation. She said that “the teaching of what is an accepted relationship or the teaching of what is an accepted body or a teaching of what is acceptable to do with your body” has knock-on consequences and we need to talk “about what the future of education looks like and how do we want that to be shaped and if and where do we see a role for religion in that.”

A Department of Education spokesperson told GCN: “All schools are required to have an RSE policy that is developed in consultation with the school community, including school management, parents, teachers and students as appropriate. The school’s programme for Relationship and Sexuality Education is developed and taught in the context of the school’s RSE policy.  It is important to note that the ethos of the school should never preclude learners from acquiring the knowledge about the issues, but ethos may influence how that content is treated.”

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is currently working on updating the Relationship and Sexuality Education curriculum in Irish schools after a report on the issue was published in 2020, which among other things said that LGBTQ+ matters needed to be addressed. However, Section 15-2(b) of the Education Act 1998 obliges Boards of Management to uphold the ethos of the Patron.

This could lead to difficulties in implementing changes to the RSE programme. The Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018 introduced by Solidarity-People before Profit seeks to guarantee the right of students to receive factual and objective relationships and sexuality education without regard to the characteristic spirit of the school, but it is stuck in the preliminary stages of the Dáil.

© 2021 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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