Some Northern Ireland schools teach "homosexuality is wrong", report suggests

A damning report has found that schools in Northern Ireland indirectly contribute to "societal victim-blaming and slut-shaming".

A report on the teaching of the RSE curriculum in Northern Ireland schools has delivered damning findings. The image shows the back of four teenagers wearing white shirts and school bags.
Image: via Shutterstock

According to a new report by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), almost two-thirds of post-primary schools promote abstinence in their sex education policies.

The research identified that “many schools use language that shames and stigmatises young people”, particularly in matters relating to sex and sexuality.

A total of 149 post-primary schools across Northern Ireland responded to the NIHRC investigation (accounting for approximately three-quarters of the overall number), with 124 of them submitting their RSE policies for review.

The research identified that the majority of policies submitted to the investigation “still promoted the value of the ‘sanctity of marriage'”, referencing terms such as “permanent committed sexual relationship” and “married love”.

Troublingly, some of the RSE policies also condemned the use of certain safe-sex practices, stating, “they will present the Catholic teaching that ‘the use of any artificial means of preventing procreation is not acceptable’.”

Furthermore, the report found that “Some schools even outline their beliefs that “homosexuality” is wrong”.

It continued, “For example, one writes that ‘the belief that homosexual acts are against the nature and purpose of human relationships will be presented to pupils’.”

As well as failing LGBTQ+ pupils, the investigation found most schools were not providing “age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on access to abortion services”.

The report suggested, “Most schools also contributed to this association of shame with sexual activity, by attributing specific moral values and personal characteristics to those who engaged (or did not engage) in sexual behaviour.”


It also stated, “Some schools actively contributed to the shame and stigma surrounding unplanned pregnancy and abortion, by making statements such as ‘abortion is not a means of contraception and those who knowingly engage in casual sex must bear the consequences of their actions’.”

Although the NIHRC recognised that a significant majority of schools taught pupils about contraception, it suggested that it was difficult to know if this information was accurate. The commission recommended that in order for RSE to be taught in “an objective and non-judgemental manner”, schools should be monitored more closely.

It advised that this monitoring should include “detailed assessments of the content and delivery of lesson plans”.

In one of its most critical statements, the report said that most schools “indirectly contribute to the societal victim-blaming and slut-shaming of women and girls.”

This was based on the premise that schools tended to focus on how young people could stop themselves from becoming victims of sexual abuse or violence instead of challenging the behaviours of perpetrators.

The NIHRC provided 13 recommendations for reforming the RSE curriculum, describing the case for reform as “compelling”.

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