That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to guarantee the right of students to receive factual and objective relationships and sexuality education without regard to the characteristic spirit of the school.
The provision of relationships and sexuality education in our schools is not adequate. There is not sufficient education around issues of consent and respect of others. Our young LGBTQ students feel excluded and isolated in our schools. We need to have factual, objective and impartial sex education in schools that caters for the needs and rights of our young people. Our Bill addresses these issues.
The need for this Bill has been driven by young people themselves. Every time we are out campaigning for women's rights, for LGBTQ rights and for repeal of the eighth amendment, this issue is raised with us by school students and former school students. Solidarity and Socialist Party members who are school students are active on this issue and it is a major talking point amongst young people.
Relationships and sexuality education, RSE, in Ireland is at odds with where society is now. We have an education system that is still stuck in another era while students, parents and teachers have moved on. We have young people far more aware and far more open about relationships and sexuality. There has been an awakening in awareness of consent and sexual harassment and a desire to end it reflected in the MeToo movement. Right now, across Ireland there are protests against how rape victims are treated in the legal system.
We have a young generation that embraces full equality for LGBTQ people and sees the need to have their lives represented in schools and in education. Young people were the driving force behind the Yes vote for marriage equality and are now the driving force behind the movement for repeal of the eighth amendment.
Young people, teachers and parents are faced with an education system that, unfortunately, puts the ethos of schools, largely religious based, ahead of the needs of young people. The Education Act 1998 makes the school boards accountable to the patron on these matters and the Minister is required to consider school ethos when setting the curriculum for subjects. The Department requires that issues such as contraception, LGBTQ people and STIs are covered in RSE but there is no requirement for this to be done in a factual and objective manner, and often it is done from a particular religious point of view.
Over the past weeks, Solidarity has been receiving messages from school students outlining their experiences in sex education today, some of which are horrifying. In many schools, LGBTQ people are not mentioned. In other schools, questions about contraception are not answered. In other schools, the so-called "gatekeeper's model" is taught where girls are warned about sexual activity and boys get no real education on consent.
Teachers tell us that they feel the chilling effect of the Education Act 1998 where teachers must uphold ethos. Following us moving the Employment Equality Bill in 2015, the then Government brought forward some changes on the position of teachers but the chilling effect is still there for teachers, given the position of ethos.
There are also good examples of sex education in schools but this is largely due to the personal initiative of teachers or principals rather than being an obligation across the board in all schools. We need to have clear standards across all schools where young people get an objective and factual sex education.
I will briefly outline the provisions of the Bill, which is simple but would have a major impact if passed. It would remove school ethos from relationships and sexuality education. It would require the RSE curriculum not to be gender normative, which will benefit all students, in particular, trans and inter-sex students. It would require RSE to cover all the various sexualities, which would mean that all young people would hear about more than heterosexual sexuality. It would require RSE to cover different genders so that young people know that not everyone is either male or female, that there are non-binary and gender fluid people in society and, of course, in our schools.
It would require that contraception would also be taught in a factual and objective way - this is a key recommendation from the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and an important part of our health and education service - and that options for those with crisis pregnancies would also be covered in an objective and factual way to counter some of the misinformation there is currently in some schools.
Our Bill also explicitly recognises the rights of young people to sex education because often the rights of religious organisations get prioritised over their right to an education.
Solidarity has been enthused by the support this Bill has received from school students, students' unions, LGBTQ organisations and women's organisations. Young people are driving this Bill. I appeal to them to get behind the Bill, which will have its Second Stage debate on 18 April.