New Leaving Cert sex education curriculum to include LGBTQ+ identities

The new relationships and sexuality sections adopt a more modern curriculum that is inclusive of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, religious beliefs, social classes and abilities.

Students in blue uniforms sit at desks; new LGBTQ+ inclusive leaving cert curriculum will begin in September 2024
Image: Twitter @StMarysDerryTD

For the first time, the Irish Leaving Cert will include sex education classes for all second-level senior students, and the sex education module will fully integrate LGBTQ+ identities, relationships and families into the curriculum.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has been evaluating the Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) sections since 2018. A draft of the new proposed syllabus was released today, July 12, and pending an additional review period is set to be released in September 2024.

Previously, topics about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities were stand-alone lessons separate from the broader sexual education curriculum. The new lessons adopt a more modern approach that is inclusive of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, religious beliefs, social classes and abilities.

The NCCA asserts that: “…the learning outcomes should be taught in a way that LGBTQ+ identities, relationships and families are fully integrated and reflected in teaching and learning, as opposed to being addressed within stand-alone lessons.”

Lessons about LGBTQ+ identities will integrate principles of equality, human rights and responsibilities. Pupils will also learn how to be a good ally to those experiencing discrimination or inequality.

The sexual activity curriculum will be taught in the context of care, respect, consent, intimacy and mutual pleasure. Pupils will learn about communicating feelings, respecting boundaries, and strategies for challenging harmful attitudes about gender.

The new programme includes a more holistic understanding of gender which is described as socially and culturally constructed roles, characteristics, and behaviours that differ across contexts and over time. In the new draft senior cycle syllabus, gender identity is described as a person’s “felt internal and individual experience…which may or may not correspond with the sex registered at birth”.

LGBTQ+ identities, gender, and sexuality are only a portion of the curriculum. Students will also learn about factors influencing their physical, social, emotional and mental health, including strategies to regulate and manage unhealthy thoughts and emotions.

The relationship portion includes information about how to identify healthy versus unhealthy relationships as well as tools for recognising signs of an abusive relationship. Additional topics include equality, consent, and domestic and gender-based violence.

A background study found little resistance to the new curriculum and most students, teachers and parents supported the introduction of the subject, particularly as a break from more traditional exam subjects.

The LGBTQ+ content will not be examined as a Leaving Cert subject, and parents with children under the age of 18, may request that their child opt out of the course.

A new junior cycle curriculum which integrates Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) will be introduced this September, and it will dedicate roughly one hour per week to teaching the subject. A new SPHE curriculum for primary pupils is also in development.

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