Review of Relationships and Sexuality Education: Discussion (Resumed)

As I mentioned earlier, we will skip Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, in deference to those who have been waiting for us. I ask members to stay behind when we have finished with our witnesses to take them. I apologise to the the witnesses for having delayed them. I have been Chairman of this committee for only two years but I believe this rarely happens, and we hope it will not happen again. We normally have good attendance at the committee. I thank the members who attended and Senator Paul Daly for stepping in.

The purpose of this part of the meeting is to resume the committee's review of relationships and sexuality education, RSE. This is the third of three sessions. We are gathering evidence on RSE in Ireland. We have gathered compelling evidence regarding what is happening and not happening in our education system in this regard, acknowledging that it has been 20 years since a programme was put in place and, with the advent of social media, etc., that many concerns are not being addressed. There is also a lack of consistency in how RSE is taught in our schools and at third level. We are also cognisant that the responsibility should not just fall on schools or educational organisations, and there is also a responsibility on parents and communities. It is a question of how we can all work together and make recommendations in this regard. We want to improve the curriculum to give our young people the skills they need, particularly in the areas of consent and contraception.

Our witnesses will provide a good variety of opinions, views and experience that will certainly help to influence the report we intend to compile and issue after all these engagements. I welcome Dr. Clíona Saidléar, executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland; Mr. Niall Behan, chief executive of the Irish Family Planning Association; Ms Jane Donnelly, human rights officer, Atheist Ireland; Dr. Aoife Neary, lecturer in sociology of education at University of Limerick, UL; Dr. Debbie Ging, associate professor of media studies at Dublin City University, DCU; Dr. Aidan Seery, senior tutor with the school of education at Trinity College Dublin; Ms Sarah Haslam, who is the training, learning and development manager with Foróige; and Ms Orla McGowan, programme manager for education, HSE. I acknowledge that Mr. Michael Nugent, Ms Avril Hickey and Ms Helen Deely are in the Public Gallery.

The format of this part of the meeting is that I will invite the witnesses to make brief opening statements, three minutes maximum, which will be followed by an engagement with the members of the committee. As we have a significant number of witnesses, which is important in their sharing the different views and experience they have, I ask them to respect the three-minute rule in so far as possible.

I draw the attention of the witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the Chair to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. I must direct them also that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given, and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also advise them that the opening statements they make to the committee may be available on the committee's website after this meeting, as will the submissions they kindly forwarded.

I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I call Dr. Clíona Saidléar to make her opening statement.

Dr. Clíona Saidléar

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee. We are delighted to be here. We have been engaged on this issue for some time and we have been convinced that it needs Government-level engagement and intervention. Rape Crisis Network Ireland is a specialist information and resource centre on sexual violence. We are owned and governed by our member rape crisis centres and we develop policies, responses, reactions and strategies in this area.

The focus on sexual health education is often drawn to this issue based on public debate arising out of sexual violence crimes and our sense that we could do more to prevent them. We rightly ask questions about the messages about sex and sexual relationships to which our children are exposed in our culture and the messages they receive from the sources we hope set standards of behaviour that are safe, supportive and empowering, such as from parents, schools and trusted authorities.

The questions include how should we support everyday respectful, safe and healthy sexual behaviour and whether we have fully engaged our institutions and structures to ensure our children and young people share in and contribute to evolving positive values on sexual behaviour and expectations? Curriculum content is one aspect to address, but it is vital we understand that excellence here will be ineffective in the absence of a holistic response which ensures the institutional context and care responses also support positive sexually healthy relationships. I really want to focus on matters relating to that area but I am also happy to talk about curriculum content.

Historically the State has been resistant and ambiguous towards sexual autonomy and liberation. This has resulted in silences, paralysis and gaps, not least in sexual education in the schools system. We suggest that the ambiguity with which we have treated sex education has been baked into our institutions and bureaucratic structures and it is our view that those need to be addressed if we are to serve our children adequately in this matter. Rather than one location that holds the strategic lead on this matter there are currently four Departments and at least six strategies and policies that have a role in shaping sexual health education. Each of these strategies has a role in ensuring children and young people have access to the education and supports they need to prepare them to make healthy decisions about their sex lives. It is doubtful to us that there is any one statutory location that has the full picture or oversight in the area of sexual health education, which risks leaving the Department of Education and Skills with a lack of insight into the capacities and resources it has to hand and clarity of objective in curriculum and policy development and implementation. For example members may find it surprising to hear that the relationship and sexuality education, RSE is under review at the moment. Rape Crisis Network Ireland, RCNI, submitted seven modules to the RSE review in 2015. However, this is not happening within the Department of Education and Skills and the National Council for Curriculum and Advancement, NCAA. Instead, it is happening in the HSE under the crisis pregnancy programme, within the B4UDecide programme. The HSE, of course, is working in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills.

We would bring to members' attention another difficulty in the multitude of overseeing bodies. When looking across the national strategies which the Department of Education and Skills is subject to in various manners it is clear that actions in the area of sexual health education consent, harm and violence prevention use the word "prevention" to mean different things. It has become standardised internationally to differentiate between primary and secondary prevention, not least because the two require very different capacities and activities. Primary prevention is a whole of population approach that seeks, through generalised intervention, to stop the issue from arising in the first place. Secondary intervention seeks to respond to harm, to identify it early and respond. This distinction is not consistently embedded across Government activities in this area. It is our experience that these failures to distinguish uniformly across Government creates gaps and inefficiencies at best and actions that nullify the effectiveness of each other at worst. An example is the Department of Education and Skills's action plan on bullying, which establishes whole-of-school guidance on bullying prevention, that is, primary prevention. It is an excellent resource but it seems to have abandoned addressing sexual harassment, although it continued to address cybersexual harassment, on the basis that sexual crime is dealt with by Children First. However, Children First is almost entirely about secondary prevention activities, not about primary prevention. This leaves schools with no national primary prevention action plan outside of curriculum content regarding sexual harassment, notwithstanding some excellent generalised whole-of-school school ethos and values programmes. Instead, we find ourselves waiting for children to be at risk of harm before we intervene under Children First.

Clarity and agreement at all policy levels as to what level of prevention they are engaging in is essential. We are asking for a joined-up approach. We need a national strategy. Failing that, consideration should be given to a sort of national review of the policy landscape in this area.

I ask that everyone present ensures that his or her phone is turned to flight mode or turned off, because they interfere with the recording and cause difficulty for the parliamentary reporters.

Mr. Niall Behan

I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it this afternoon. The Irish Family Planning Association, IFPA, welcomes the review of relationship and sexuality education undertaken by the joint committee. The IFPA is probably best known for its medical clinics and counselling centres but over many years we have been delivering sexuality education to young people, parents, teachers, youth workers and carers, among other groups. We currently provide a range of programmes, mainly to parenting groups through our Speakeasy programme, which is funded by the crisis pregnancy programme of the HSE. The other programmes we have run have generally been funded through once-off initiatives. They have been short-term projects with which we have been able to do some innovative things but we have always faced difficulties in our attempts to mainstream those projects. We have learned a lot from those projects.

As a reproductive healthcare provider we see in our clinics and counselling centres the impact of poor quality sexuality education at first hand. We see it every day. We see it in our pregnancy counselling centres with unintended pregnancies, in our clinics with sexually transmitted infections, and in our training workshops in the lack of understanding of the issues involved. The profound gender inequality present in the issues we see really sticks out for us. Women and girls largely bear the burden of inadequate sexuality education and are exposed to some of the risks I have mentioned already. For these reasons we are deeply concerned about the public health impact of inadequate, inconsistent and poor quality sexuality education, particularly in schools in Ireland.

As a reproductive healthcare providers we see in our clinics and counselling centres the impact of poor quality sexuality education first hand. We see it every day in our pregnancy counselling centres with unintended pregnancies, in our clinics with sexually transmitted infections, and in our training workshops with a lack of understanding of the issues involved. The profound gender inequality in the issues we see really sticks out for us. Women and girls largely bear the burden of inadequate sexuality education, and are exposed to some of the risks I have mentioned already. For these reasons we are deeply concerned about the public health impact of inadequate, inconsistent and poor quality sexuality education, particularly in schools in Ireland.

We have identified four areas for the committee that we believe should be focused on. The first area is the RSE curriculum and the need to broaden it. There seems to be a consensus that high-quality, comprehensive sexuality education facilitates the development of accurate and age-appropriate knowledge and attitudes and promotes positive values. It is seen as a good thing. It respects human rights, gender equality and diversity, and provides an important opportunity to reach young people with accurate information before they become sexually active, as well as offering a structured environment in which to learn. Real education only really happens if it is genuinely comprehensive, and we have some concerns that the RSE programme is not genuinely comprehensive. We believe the content of the RSE curriculum must be revised to reflect international best practice, particularly in terms of contraceptive use, sexually transmitted infections, information around abortion, sexuality orientation, pornography, consent, psycho-sexual issues and gender equality.

The second area that could be focused on is the status of sexuality education. It is very low at the moment; it does not have the status other subjects have. In many schools it is not a priority. Too often we see RSE as a subject to be left to the newest member of staff, and is usually squeezed in at the end of the school year. For some schools it is a box-ticking exercise, while for others it really is delivered properly. We believe there is a need for specialist knowledge and skills in RSE for teachers. The reason for its low status is that it is not considered as a criterion for recruitment or promotion. Many teachers would avoid the subject if possible. Teachers have already spoken about the discomfort they experience around the teaching of RSE.

The third area that could be improved is around capacity building for teachers and parents. Finally, we believe the Department of Education and Skills must take the lead in making sure that the RSE programme is monitored and evaluated properly and that quality assurance is integrated into the structures.

Ms Jane Donnelly

I thank the members of the committee for asking me to speak today. I want to make four main recommendations on behalf of Atheist Ireland. Our first recommendation is that the recent referendum changes everything. As legislators, members can no longer assume that even most Roman Catholic parents want Catholic sex education for their children. Also, even if most parents in a particular area wanted Catholic sex education in the only local publicly funded school, that is still not a reason to deny the rights of the rest of the school community to objective sex education. We have moved beyond the time for fine-tuning the religious discrimination and privilege in our schools. We now need to move towards a secular, human rights-based school system that treats everybody equally.

Our second recommendation is that Atheist Ireland supports: mandatory provision of sexual and reproductive health education for adolescent girls and boys, as recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016; a single consistent curriculum for relationships and sexuality education across all schools, as recommended by the Ombudsman for Children in 2016; and scientifically objective, standardised, age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, as recommended by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2017. The Minister for Education and Skills recently acknowledged in the Dáil that young people have the right to get such factual information about sexual matters.

Our third recommendation is that having factual content is not enough, if that content is delivered through the religious ethos of a school patron body. The content must be delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner that avoids indoctrination outside of optional religion classes, as recommended by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in 2015, while ensuring a neutral studying environment, including in denominational schools outside of optional religious instruction classes, as raised with Ireland by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2014.

To do this the law will need to be amended because the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has no legal power over how the curriculum is delivered by school patron bodies with their own religious ethos. We ask the Oireachtas to amend sections 9(d), 15(2)(b) and 30(2)(b) of the Education Act, which have been identified as problems by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in 2017.

Our fourth recommendation is that Atheist Ireland supports Solidarity’s Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill, which broadly proposes the approach that we recommend. Our written submission includes more details and I am happy to answer any questions.

I call Dr. Aoife Neary, associate professor of media studies at DCU.

Dr. Aoife Neary

I am a lecturer in sociology of education at the University of Limerick.

I beg your pardon. I read out the details for Dr. Ging.

Dr. Aoife Neary

I am grateful for the opportunity to appear before the committee. For almost a decade, I have been doing research in the area of gender and sexuality in education, funded by several awards from the Irish Research Council. The following is a summary of the changes I proposed in my written submission related to RSE content, teaching methods and structures.

On content changes, first, there an urgent need for comprehensive RSE that responds to the lived realities of children and young people’s lives – what Renold and McGeeney call a "living curriculum" that assesses and meets the needs of children and young people at that stage in their lives. Second, there is a necessity to uncover the deep silences that have surrounded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities in RSE. Third, I propose a move from sexuality as isolated and individualised towards critical consideration of sexuality as intersectional and caught up in broader power relations and cultural norms.

I propose the following changes to teaching methods. First, we need to move from the overemphasis on risk to creating safe and ethical teaching and learning spaces that facilitate open and frank dialogue among children, parents and school staff. Second, I propose that children and young people be more heavily involved in the co-construction of RSE. Creative, arts-based methods have huge potential here. Third, I suggest a critical approach to RSE that would avoid assumptions about young people or their lives, avoid tokenistic inclusion and be at peace with not having all the answers in advance.

Finally, the structural changes I propose are as follows. First, we must take account of how fears around childhood innocence act as a barrier in ways that do not account for the capabilities of children or the wants of parents. To be effective, comprehensive RSE must begin in early years, from as young as three, in partnership with parents.

Second, we know that many teachers and principals lack knowledge about and are uncomfortable with RSE. Therefore, a comprehensive system of in-service training as well as new RSE specialist pathways in initial teacher education will be crucial here.

Third, uncertainties around religious ethos continue to constrain RSE. There is an urgent need for clarity on how religious-run primary and post-primary schools can meet the RSE needs of all children equally.

Fourth, there is a necessity to ensure that there is strong RSE leadership in schools to steer a whole-school, spiral, sustained and meaningful approach to RSE in partnership with relevant local organisations.

Finally, on an ongoing basis, RSE should be informed, supported and evaluated by an RSE research, practice and education network that includes representation from key education stakeholders and expertise spanning the various topics encompassed by RSE.

I suggest that the recent developments in RSE in Wales and the recommendations made by the expert panel outlined in Renold and McGeeney’s 2017 report should serve as an exemplary signpost for changes to RSE in Ireland. Many of their recommendations are echoed across my written submission.

I am sure UL would never have forgiven us if we had transferred Dr. Neary to DCU by mistake. I now call Dr. Ging, who is associate professor of media studies at DCU.

Dr. Debbie Ging

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak here today. I am also a member of the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre and of the Institute for Future Media and Journalism, both based at DCU. My research is primarily concerned with issues relating to gender, sexuality and social media. I am particularly interested in the topic of sex and sexuality education as it relates to the Internet and social media, as well as pornography.

I was a co-investigator on the Government-commissioned report on the sexualisation and commercialisation of children in Ireland and principal investigator on a recent study about LGBT inclusion in post-primary schools.

I will give a summary of my written submission. I draw on existing research and literature in Ireland and elsewhere to identify the key problems have been identified with the Irish RSE curriculum and its delivery. These are as follows. The programme focuses largely on the avoidance of pregnancy and STIs. The programme constructs heterosexual intercourse as the primary definition of sex. The programme is not inclusive of LGBTQ students’ experiences and sexual practices. The programme does not deal sufficiently with consent, although the senior cycle materials do contain a very good section on consent that was certainly progressive for its time. The programme does not explicitly acknowledge sexism and inequality. The programme does not deal with the role of the Internet, social media, mobile phones or pornography. The programme does not start with young people’s lived experiences. As noted by Maycock, Kitching and Morgan in their 2007 review, significant problems have been observed with the delivery of the programme.

This last problem is the most significant and the one that presents the biggest challenge to improving RSE in our schools, not just in terms of time and expense but also in terms of impressing upon school boards of management that comprehensive RSE is a human right and not something that can be selectively addressed.

The international literature recommends that an overall shift in focus is required toward a rights and gender equality-based, inclusive, holistic, creative, empowering and protective RSE curriculum. This again draws from Renold and McGeeney's research and recommendations in Wales. This should be underpinned by key principles of sexual literacy and sexual citizenship. This is of crucial importance, particularly in the digital context, because it shifts the emphasis away from risk, shame and self-censorship to rights, responsibility and self-empowerment.

The 2017 European Network of Ombudspersons for Children position statement on comprehensive relationship and sexuality education, states that all children and young people have the right to high-quality, holistic and inclusive education about sexuality and relationships. A recent synthesis and review of international research on the views of children and young people suggests that high-quality RSE starts early; is adaptable and needs-led; offers a spiral curriculum; collaborates with external providers; is of sufficient duration; is engaging and participatory; and creates a safe, respectful and confidential learning environment.

To this end, I have suggested that the Irish relationship and sexuality education, RSE, programme should consider adapting the core principles underpinning the recent recommendations made on the future of the sex and relationships education curriculum in Wales. These are rights and gender equity; creative and curious; empowering and transformative; experience-near and co-produced; holistic; inclusive; protective and preventative. My more specific recommendations are for an RSE programme that moves beyond abstinence and pregnancy prevention to embrace issues of consent, negotiation and the dynamic, evolving nature of sexuality. This summarises the points I made in my written submission and I am happy to expand on them and respond to questions.

I thank Dr. Ging. I invite Dr. Aidan Seery, senior tutor in the school of education, Trinity College Dublin.

Dr. Aidan Seery

For the purposes of clarity, I am the senior tutor in Trinity College Dublin. There is no senior tutor in the school of education.

I beg Dr. Seery's pardon. I had that wrong.

Dr. Aidan Seery

I thank the Chairman and the committee members for the invitation to address the committee today. I am appearing in the place of Ms Patricia Murphy who presented the proposals to the committee. Ms Murphy is currently out of the country.

By way of introduction and some explanation of my own credentials, I am the college representative in the partnership project with TCD students' union on sexual consent workshops that have run for the past two years in TCD. I have chaired the steering group for the project since its inception. I have no specific content knowledge but I have, at least, some background.

The committee has received a submission from Ms Murphy on the provision of sexual consent workshops and training for personnel in higher education institutions. This proposal is based on our experiences of conducting workshops for the past two years in Trinity College Dublin and, more specifically, in the college accommodation facility of Trinity Hall in Dartry, which houses approximately 1,000 new college entrants each year.

As a result of our experiences, the outcome of the immediate evaluation of students and facilitators involved in the project and the institutional reflection and assessment over the past two years, we believe we have gained sufficient knowledge to be useful for the committee in its deliberations and add to the evidential basis for the proposals it will make.

In summary, the proposal envisages that annual sexual consent workshops be provided for identified groups in all colleges in the State, with supplementary online materials and videos available for whole college communities. The proposal also suggests that bystander training workshops be provided on how to intervene safely when non-consensual activity is being observed. The proposal envisages that first responder training be provided for specific identified individuals who are likely to be the first persons contacted about instances of non-consensual sexual activities, for example, tutors, students' union representatives, college societies, club presidents and officials.

That is a summary of the proposals and I will be pleased to discuss any further points.

I thank Dr. Seery. I invite Ms Sarah Haslam who is the training, learning and development manager with Foróige.

Ms Sarah Haslam

I thank the committee for giving me this opportunity to present on behalf of Foróige on our work in the area of relationships and sexuality education. Non-formal education provided by youth work organisations is distinct from formal education but is complementary to it. We believe youth work in general, especially Foróige, can offer the education system decades of expertise in enabling and equipping young people to develop the skills, confidence and knowledge to develop healthy relationships. It can also offer a comprehensive evidence based relationships and sexuality programme, namely, Foróige’s REAL U programme, which could be delivered in schools through an existing and ever growing network of skilled and trained facilitators.

The multitude of strategies, policies and initiatives in recent decades has resulted in a sense of confusion, with Government, schools and many community and voluntary organisations unsure of the best way to meet the needs of our young people to best support them to develop health and positive relationships in their lives. This lack of clarity, combined with our extensive experience in non-formal education and feedback from young people about their dissatisfaction with sex education in schools, were the reasons we identified the need to develop this comprehensive programme.

The initial design of the REAL U programme was conducted by Foróige’s best practice unit in 2012. The curriculum design process started with an extensive review of national policy and strategy, and of best practice and what works nationally and internationally. Foróige liaised with the expertise of organisations such as the HSE crisis pregnancy programme, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, BeLonG To and the Marie Keating Foundation to ensure the programme meets the wide-ranging needs of young people, and to ensure it provides a comprehensive and holistic approach to RSE.

The REAL U programme is more than just a sex education programme. It is a personal development programme that equips young people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to develop healthy relationships, make responsible decisions on their sexual health and ultimately delay the onset of early sexual activity. The programme is holistic in its approach to RSE and includes modules on gender and sexuality; emotional well-being; understanding boundaries; contraception and sexually transmitted infections, including a practical condom demonstration on correct use; sexual violence and the law; deciphering media messages; and understanding pornography.

In 2014, the programme underwent an extensive evaluation by the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway. Among the key findings from the evaluation were that the programme was effective in engaging young people, responding to their needs and impacting on their knowledge and attitudes in the area of RSE. Young people said they would recommend this programme to other young people because they felt the programme was relevant, insightful and they felt better informed and more aware of the consequences of their actions. The research also identified statistically significant effects in young people's attitude to members of the LGBTI+ community, and 100% of those who trained in facilitating the programme said it was effective in meeting its outcomes.

With the support of the HSE crisis pregnancy programme, to date Foróige has trained more than 1,100 professionals from organisations and disciplines, including youth organisations, the HSE, ISPCC, the school completion programme, Tusla, residential care centres, family resource centres and those who work with young people and adults with intellectual disabilities. These trained facilitators of the REAL U programme run the programme with young people and service users nationwide and evaluations of the facilitator training and the programme have been consistently overwhelmingly positive. Foróige’s REAL U programme has been called the gold standard in RSE in Ireland. As such, we currently cannot meet demand for the REAL U facilitator training and the waiting list stands at more than 200.

We believe the REAL U programme meets the needs of modern Irish young people. It has been extensively and rigorously tested, evaluated and proven to do so. If we wait for a new programme to be written and teachers to be recruited and trained, we will fail a large number of young people by further delaying their needs being met. In recent months, we received a tenfold increase in the number of school teachers contacting us about the programme. We currently cannot meet this need. The REAL U programme offers everything the Government announced it wishes to have as part of the reform of the RSE curriculum. The programme is ready to go and ready to be rolled out in schools. While it has been written for young people rather than schools, we are willing to meet the Department of Education and Skills to discuss how the programme can be adapted for the school context. We recommend that the Government invest in large-scale training of youth services and community organisations to deliver the REAL U programme in all schools while the schools ready themselves to deliver it.

Foróige's REAL U programme is the gold standard in RSE. Young people, now and in future, deserve to have access to the programme. We are ready and willing to work together to make that a reality.

I thank Ms Haslam. Our final stakeholder this afternoon is Ms Orla McGowan, programme manager with the Health Service Executive.

Ms Orla McGowan

I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it today. The Health Service Executive welcomes the review of RSE being undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA. I have worked in this area for 12 years and I and my colleague have made a detailed written submission to the committee. I will outline the main points of the submission and our thoughts on the review of RSE. I will also respond to any questions committee members may have.

RSE is a strategic focus of the HSE sexual health and crisis pregnancy programme. As outlined in our submission, we have commissioned a range of research studies and developed a range of resource materials and training for parents, teachers and youth workers in partnership with a number of different organisations, including the Department of Education and Skills, the Professional Development Service for Teachers, the National Youth Council of Ireland, Foróige, Tusla, the National Parents Council and the Irish Family Planning Association.

Overall, the evidence indicates that young people are more likely to receive sex education now than in the past and they are more likely to say that it was helpful to them. Young people who felt that they had good quality relationships and sexuality education were more likely to use contraception at first sex. Contraceptive use among young people in Ireland is very high, with approximately 80% of young people reporting use of contraception, and there as been a decline of 66% in the number of births to teenagers since 2001, and a 75% decline in the numbers of teenagers accessing abortion services since 2001.

While these findings are positive, we acknowledge that there is more to relationships in sexuality education than preventing crisis pregnancy. Sexuality education should emphasise the importance of supporting young people to understand themselves and develop healthy relationships with others. Students should be facilitated to explore and question how our society understands gender, power and sexual expression in an age-appropriate way. Several research reports have indicated that teachers find relationships and sexuality education, RSE, challenging to teach and require more professional development to improve their confidence and competence levels. It is our view that any revised curriculum on its own will not be sufficient to change practice unless it is supported by a comprehensive and potentially accredited continuing professional development, CPD, programme for teachers in social, personal and health education, SPHE, and RSE.

SPHE is the only subject at post-primary level where there is no accredited professional qualification and this contributes to the lack of status of the subject in some schools. We note and welcome that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, review will include advice on implementation of the curriculum in schools.

Another barrier to consider is that while RSE is taught within the context of SPHE from primary level to junior cycle, SPHE is still optional at senior cycle. This means that schools are required to teach six classes of RSE per year at senior cycle, but are not required to teach it within the context of SPHE. This makes RSE more difficult to timetable and more difficult to teach because the teachers might not have the opportunity to build up a relationship with the class on other health education topics before addressing RSE. Surveys and inspection reports by the Department of Education and Skills have consistently found that RSE implementation decreases significantly in senior cycle. This is a concern because 16 to 18 year olds may be starting romantic relationships and dealing with break ups during their senior cycle years.

The committee may be interested to know that ourselves and the Department of Education and Skills have commissioned Dublin City University, DCU, to undertake a piece of research on RSE in post-primary schools to develop a more nuanced understanding of how the RSE programme is implemented. Students, parents and teachers have been interviewed. The findings are due at the end of the year and I understand they will contribute to the NCCA review. I thank the committee.

I thank Ms McGowan. I wish to clarify that the process we are undertaking is separate from the NCCA review and we will be making our own independent findings and recommendations to the Minister and to the Department. We are interested in any extra papers or research the witnesses feel would be useful to our committee. We go to all the members for questions and comments and we will give the witnesses the opportunity to come back in. If there is any further information the witnesses would like to send on to us following the meeting, send this on to the clerk, Mr. Guidon, and he will ensure that all the members receive same. That will certainly add to the report when we have the opportunity to sit down and review it.

I thank all the witnesses for their experiences, wisdom and thoughts. There are some very clear lines of agreement among everybody in terms of the gaps of knowledge and the capacity building we need among our teachers and among the community at large. There were some very practical suggestions, which I believe will be very helpful.

I will now ask the members for their questions. Deputy Thomas Byrne is going to another committee meeting at 5 p.m.

Yes, and I apologise for that in advance. I am aware the Chairman is due to go to it as well but I will give her apologies.

Yes, give my apologies.

I found many of the contributions fascinating and I have a number of quick questions. A huge range of information and food for thought was provided. Dr. Seery outlined the sexual consent workshops in Trinity College. Is there a similar programme in the University of Limerick and DCU?

Dr. Debbie Ging


Does it exist in the University of Limerick?

Dr. Aoife Neary

Not that I am aware of.

Students have told me it is a fantastic resource.

Many people raise similar issues. It is the general experience that teachers, for whatever reason, are uncomfortable teaching this subject. They do not like it, they are not trained and there is not enough time in the day. The Irish Family Planning Association and Foróige, among others, deliver their own modules or their own support. Would an answer to this be to provide funding to outside groups, such as these groups, subject to being suitably quality controlled, to provide more of what they already do? We have teachers who do not like doing this and who do not feel equipped. The NCCA, with all due respect to it, takes forever to deal with this and it does not react quickly to changes, etc. The curriculum that is there is 20 years old. The NCCA has to deal with leaving certificate and junior certificate reform, etc. Would that be a way to do this? I am sure the witnesses will say they would be delighted. Perhaps some of those who are not involved in Foróige or the Family Planning Association might give their views on that? Would that be something that could help in the short term?

I would like to ask Dr. Ging about phones. I have a bee in my bonnet about phones and want to ban them, or smart phones at any rate, in schools up to junior certificate level. Will she expand on where she thinks mobile phones come into this particular curriculum because she mentioned it? The current programme does not deal with mobile phones. Could she give a brief outline? I do not need detailed answers. I already got "Yes" and "No" answers to my first questions.

Would Dr. Ging like to take that particular question?

Dr. Debbie Ging

Mobile phones are just part of the general gamut of technologies so my concerns would be more about content rather than whether or not schools decide to ban them. I have not given that a huge amount of thought. It is more about how they are being used in terms of sexting and the policy of the school or the RSE programme is with regard to sexting. That opens up a whole other range of questions about sexual rights as opposed to blocking or censorship that need to be explored there.

The Irish Family Planning Association and Foróige would be only too delighted if we gave them extra funding but it would be interesting to hear other views on that point.

Dr. Debbie Ging

One of the issues that has to be taken into account on outsourcing and working with external agencies is that a key recommendation in all the international research is a whole-of-school approach. It is really important that any kind of outsourcing would not work against that. A whole-of-school approach requires that everybody in the school is cognisant of the RSE approach, is familiar with the programme and is familiar with the principles at the core of the programme. There is a danger that it is threatened if teachers feel they are off the hook and that they do not need to engage. A whole-of-school approach requires everybody to be on board with those principles.

I thank Dr. Ging. I will let Dr. Neary to come in on this. There will be an opportunity to respond to many other questions but as Deputy Byrne must go, I wanted to give him the opportunity to ask his questions.

Dr. Clíona Saidléar

On Deputy Byrne's first question on consent workshops at third level, we commissioned a piece of research with NUIG on consent, young adults, alcohol, in particular, and behaviours around that. Out of that arose a set of programmes called Smart Consent. These have been rolled out from NUIG and they are in Trinity College as well. UCC is also very active in this area and we are part of a network called the Respect network which is an all-Ireland network of NGOs, the institutions and academics in this area. What we are looking at is the whole-of-school approach for the university.

We are looking at curriculum content and delivery in respect of prevention. We are also looking at the policy of how the institution responds and how it creates a zero tolerance campus which is a safe place to learn. The third aspect, then, is relevant support for those who have been hurt.

Does that include institutes of technology as well?

Dr. Clíona Saidléar

It is an ever expanding network.

Dr. Aoife Neary

I echo the point on outsourcing and the whole school approach. The Pound et al study that reviewed best practice internationally in ten countries over a 25-year period cautioned against over-reliance on external organisations. The tendency was for it, potentially, to result in one-off sessions which are problematic.

I thank Dr. Neary. I am going to some of the questions and then I am going to let in Ms Haslam and Ms McGowan. I call Deputy O'Sullivan and then Deputy Naughton.

Apologies but we have to go because of two committee meetings clashing.

I thank Senator Byrne.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. As the Chair said, there are some common threads. One is that the curriculum needs to be broadened and made more accurate, according to what some people have said. The other issue arising is the delivery of the curriculum, the status of teachers and the need to upskill. I think it was Ms McGowan who said there is no accredited qualification for teachers.

Ms Orla McGowan

That is correct.

That is clearly a deficit that we need to address. The real crux, though, is who delivers it. We have just had the issue of whether it should be external people. The three people here who deliver from the outside have good, positive, objective programmes. We do not, however, want to leave out schools. It needs to be inclusive because part of the problem is that it is very good in some schools - whether it is delivered from outside sources or internally - but not good at all in other schools. The committee wants to ensure that whatever is proposed is comprehensive and includes good, objective, well delivered programmes to all schools.

That brings me to the question of ethos. We did not have many references to ethos in the presentations today, with the exception of Ms Donnelly and Dr. Neary. We did in previous sessions. One of the problems, currently, is that much sex education is presented through the prism of the school's ethos. I do not know who would like to answer this but should that change fundamentally? Should we say that there is an objective curriculum, it is factually based and it is presented the same way in all schools irrespective of patronage etc? That is one of the crux issues.

I will follow on with regard to the teaching of factual information on sexual education and relationships. I take the point that a huge part of it is about our relationships with one another, as well as the biology of it. I come from a teaching background and many teachers are uncomfortable with it, as are many adults who are not teachers. It can be a difficult topic for parents to discuss with their own children. Proper training in teacher training colleges, leadership within the school and an open dialogue among staff makes it much easier for teachers. Continuous professional development, CPD, courses are critical. They exist for every other subject and this should not be excluded.

I was struck by Rape Crisis Network Ireland's explanation that four Departments and at least six strategies and policies have a role in shaping sexual health education. Notwithstanding all the consultation alluded to - with young people involved in the structure, as well as all the different key agencies - should the lead be taken by one Department? I refer to making sure that we have a comprehensive curriculum for RSE. How can we also get around the teaching of factual sex education despite the ethos of the school? Religion could be a separate class - where the ethos of the school, whatever it is, could be taught - but sex education would involve the facts and giving young people all the information they need on all of the issues. I open that up to anyone who wants to deal with it.

I thank Deputy Naughton. I call Ms Haslam first and then Ms McGowan.

Ms Sarah Haslam

I will address Deputy Thomas Byrne's comments at the start on reviewing and updating the curriculum. Our RSE programme was developed in 2012. We have already had to update it and it is going to need another update. That is how quickly things are changing and that is how behind I think we are. As for the comment on whether we all would love more funding, of course we all would. That is not, however, why we are here and not what we are advocating for. We are advocating for quality, comprehensive, holistic relationship and sexuality education for young people. It is already happening in the youth work sector and has been for years. We have had the resources to be able to base the work we are doing on evidence and allow others access to it and not just those within Foróige. They say, repeatedly, that it is quality education.

Teachers have a role to play. It is a partnership. RSE education does not just begin and finish in schools. A bank of professionals are already doing this who can go into schools and do it now - should that investment be there - while teachers are getting themselves ready. It should not be a case where a teacher or non-teacher is shoved into doing this. It is correct to say that this is not for everybody. The teachers who are willing to do it, however - those who have come to us and said that they are willing, ready and able - should be resourced and supported.

It is a different type of learning. It is negotiated learning - while there are facts, young people also have to be allowed the opportunity to learn for themselves and to develop a skill set around positive relationships. I think it is really about a partnership approach and not just a case of us seeking funding. While my CEO would tell me that I should be saying it, the expertise and resources exist. The investment should be in sharing that among the informal and the formal sector. The members were correct on what they said on ethos. It should be an objective programme. All young people within schools should have access to the same programme, the same quality of education and the same quality of teaching or facilitation.

Ms Orla McGowan

I would also like to respond to the question of outsiders doing RSE training. It is important to note that the Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST, an agency funded by the Department of Education and Skills, already does RSE training for teachers. I understand that several hundred teachers are trained each year at primary and post-primary level. We have worked with it on the development of two different resources specifically for schools. Those are the Talking Relationships, Understanding Sexuality Teaching Resource, TRUST, for the senior cycle and B4UDecide for junior cycle. B4UDecide is being updated at present. It is important to acknowledge that there is already a support service doing this work and training many teachers. That is not the big problem.

The problem is that there is a revolving door of teachers attending training because the teachers are moved. They might teach SPHE one year, then it is changed and they are not teaching SPHE the following year. Teachers are not being given the opportunity to build on professional experience and to develop professionally in this area. In an ideal world, teachers would go to ten days of training and that would be accredited. Those teachers would build up professional expertise and then would be a resource within the school. That would make it less likely that the principal will move them on or chop and change the team. I understand that there are issues with contracts and changes are needed on occasion. The main point, however, is that the issue is not that we do not have people who can train in RSE. We do have people who can do that - the pedagogues here are doing it - but it is just one day and not being built upon year on year. As I mentioned in my opening statement, the answer is an accredited programme in SPHE and RSE.

When we are at that stage we would, as always, be working in partnership with the people who have expertise in this area, in addition to the Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST.

In response to the question on ethos, a research study was conducted a number of years ago by Paula Mayock, Karl Kitching and Mark Morgan on RSE implementation at post-primary level involving nine schools. One school was picked out as an excellent example of RSE delivery. It was a single sex boys' Catholic school, which shows that it is possible to have good RSE taught in schools that have a Catholic ethos. I am not saying it happens all of the time but it would be wrong not to acknowledge that many teachers and principals are teaching comprehensive RSE even though they are in Catholic schools.

Ms Jane Donnelly is next.

Ms Jane Donnelly

I would like to respond to the ethos issue. All children have a right to objective sex education. Article 42.3.2°. of the Constitution requires that children receive "a certain minimum education" including moral, intellectual and social. Sexual education fits in under the social heading. The Constitution does not say anything about religious or Catholic sex education. One could say that the State is failing in its duty to provide objective sex education to most pupils because in most schools the sex education provided is Catholic.

Furthermore, the Catholic Church has issued guidelines on RSE. Most schools do not tell parents that the sex education provided to pupils is Catholic. Catholic sex education is being integrated into the State's RSE curriculum. The church in its guidelines states that because RSE is an integral part of both the religious education curriculum and the SPHE curriculum, schools are not required to ask parents to sign a permission slip to allow their child to attend lessons in the sensitive area of sex education. Minority, non-religious and Catholic parents who do not want their children to receive Catholic sex education are not being told that this is happening. They do not know that their children are getting Catholic sex education which is integrated into the State course.

There are two issues at play here. The first is the fact that children have a right to objective sex education and we believe that the State is failing in its duty to provide same. The second is the fact that parents do not know that they can opt out of Catholic sex education for their children, which is what is being taught in schools.

Mr. Niall Behan is next.

Mr. Niall Behan

I wish to respond to two questions, the first of which was on the role of outside facilitators. We agree with what a number of speakers have said on the matter of a whole-school approach and that RSE should be based in schools. That said, our role could be around complementing that process, helping with resources or with particular aspects of delivering the programme. Problems arise when the outside facilitators become the deliverers of the whole RSE programme and it becomes a box-ticking exercise.

The question of ethos can be quite complex. Ethos ties into the teachers' discomfort with the content of programme. There is a worry about the ethos of the school and about whether, for example, a teacher should be talking about contraception. That is part of what gives the RSE programme its low status. The UK authorities tried to improve the status of RSE a number of years ago by making involvement in it a requirement for promotion to school principal. That brought more teachers into the RSE programme there and encouraged them to stick with it.

Our next contributor is Dr. Aoife Neary.

Dr. Aoife Neary

There are two central issues with religious ethos, the first being clarity. There is a need for clarity around exactly how a comprehensive RSE programme can happen in religious-run primary and post-primary schools. I also agree that access to comprehensive RSE is a human right for children.

The other issue, which draws on research by Mary Lou Rasmussen in the Australian context, is the fact that we cannot divorce religion from sexuality. There are many children who are religious, who have religious affiliations or cultural affiliations intermingled with religion and RSE needs to address those issues. There is a requirement for a space where there is open and healthy conversation around providing all of the facts - the comprehensive RSE programme - while also acknowledging the tensions between religion and sexuality. Obviously, it will require very experienced teachers who have the ability to create a safe, ethical, open and respectful space in RSE classrooms for that to happen. It does a disservice to people who are religious to talk about sexuality as somehow separate from that because sexuality is core to humanness.

I will go back to members now. Deputy Funchion is first.

I thank the Chair. I acknowledge the work done by the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, RCNI. I have dealt with many people who have used the services of rape crisis centres which has made a very positive impact on their lives.

I agree with a lot of what Dr. Neary and Dr. Ging have said about the need for more inclusion of children and young people themselves. Often we do not realise the extent to which young people are clued in. I also agree that parents should be included more. They are included in almost every other aspects of their child's education. They receive emails, texts and so on about what is going on generally, but when it comes to RSE, it is often a question of a brief mention or a booklet being given at a parent-teacher meeting.

The key questions for me are around what is being delivered in schools, how it is being delivered and who is overseeing the delivery of RSE. It is the lack of oversight that has led to the delivery of RSE being so ad hoc. Some schools and teachers are very good while others are very uncomfortable and not so good. While I take on board the points made about avoiding outsourcing, which I would not generally favour, perhaps there is a role for a combined approach involving, for example, teachers and the Irish Family Planning Association. Perhaps we need to think about providing some external support for teachers so that it is not just them in the classroom, because clearly for some, it is an uncomfortable topic. What needs to be done so that RSE delivery is not so uncomfortable for teachers? What can we do to ensure that they do not shy away from it? The teachers who are good at it are comfortable with it and we need to ensure that this is the case for all teachers.

I agree that RSE must be delivered by schools. While RSE also requires the involvement of parents and families, it must be provided at school and in every class. At the moment, it only seems to be provided to older classes, and for some children, unfortunately, that is too late. What would the witnesses do if they had the opportunity to engage directly with teachers? What changes would they make?

Deputy Catherine Martin is next. I explained to the witnesses that the Deputy was unable to attend for the earlier part of this meeting.

Yes, I had to chair a meeting. I thank the Chairman for explaining that to our guests. I read the written submissions in advance of the meeting and managed to catch the end of Ms McGowan's presentation. What I found quite striking was the fact that SPHE is the only post-primary subject for which there is no professional, accredited qualification. That is quite shocking and it certainly explains why teachers would feel uncomfortable. It seems unfair to both students and teachers alike and it also goes some way to explaining the difficulties around RSE timetabling. It has become a difficulty for principals, in truth. They are faced with trying to squash it in and selecting a poor, unfortunate teacher to teach it. That is the way it is treated in schools, which is shocking given its importance for our children.

It is appalling. On the issue of ethos, I do not know how to reconcile the delivery of relationships and sexuality education in line with the ethos of the school with a circular being issued to schools instructing them to ensure RSE is objective and does not withhold or censor. There is a little confusion for school management.

My question for Dr. Debbie Ging relates to the research that has been done. She said the Department of Education and Skills and HSE have commissioned the survey. Is the survey related purely to the experience of the teachers, parents and students with how RSE is taught in schools or has it been widened to ascertain young people's thoughts, experiences, knowledge and what they feel is needed with regard to relationships, sexuality and consent?

A question for all the witnesses relates to age appropriate material. How do we determine what is age appropriate so that we the age right and do not deliver RSE too early or late? How is that ascertained or determined? Do some schools have an RSE policy in place while others do not? How does that work? Why do some schools have a policy while others do not? After a whole-school evaluation of management, leadership and learning, or MLL as it is known, has been completed, do inspectors comment on the merits of the school's RSE policy or ask why it does not have an RSE policy in place? Has the Department highlighted this in any way? Do we know what the position is regarding feedback from inspections? It seems bizarre not to have a policy on RSE.

Ms Orla McGowan

I thank Deputy Martin for her comments and questions. On the status of social, personal and health education, SPHE, in schools, the Deputy is right that it is sometimes a headache for principals with regard to timetabling. The well-being curriculum that is coming on track in junior cycle will increase the status of SPHE and RSE in schools. It will take a few years for that to embed. With this RSE review, there are positive things on the horizon.

With regard to ethos, I agree that the current approach does not make much sense. It is not clear how a teacher will be able to teach about inclusivity and respect for diversity, and at the same time adhere to a Catholic ethos. I might not have made that point clear earlier but ethos should not come into relationships and sexuality education.

With regard to the Deputy's questions on RSE policy, all schools are required by the Department to have an RSE policy. The most recent study, the Lifeskills Survey 2015, showed that approximately 90% of schools have a policy, 8% are working on one and 2% have no policy in place. It is one of the areas the inspectorate will examine when carrying out inspections on RSE.

The Deputy also asked about the research study. She may have been referring to the study we commissioned. It is a study of the views of students, principals, teachers and parents about RSE delivery in their school. We designed it like that because we were hearing so many mixed reports about RSE in schools. On the one hand, we had large numbers of teachers attending training and we had developed new resources that were evaluating really well. However, on the other hand, young people were still saying they were not getting RSE. We want to find out what is going on and why teachers think they are providing RSE whereas young people say they are not getting it. What is missing? We hope the report will shed some light on that issue for us.

Does the study focus solely on the delivery of RSE without ascertaining the experience or knowledge of relationships or sexuality among young people?

Ms Orla McGowan

No. It asks a general question and is open-ended, rather than structured. As it is open-ended, young people can talk about whatever they think needs to be included.

I will come back to Deputy Funchion's questions about what is being delivered. The teaching relationships, understanding sexuality teaching, TRUST, resource at senior cycle is being delivered. Approximately 70% of schools are using this approach, which was developed in 2009 and requires an update. This is the resource the Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST, currently uses in its training in RSE. At junior cycle, it is B4UDecide, which is supported by a website,, and approximately 66% of schools report that they use B4UDecide. We have not yet developed materials at primary level. We have the "Busy Bodies" booklet which is for fifth and sixth class, with a DVD to accompany it, and we have recently published guidance for parents on talking to their young child about relationships, sexuality and growing up, with a little booklet for younger children called "Tom's Power Flower" that goes into the very basics of the human body and how babies are made.

I thank Ms McGowan. If she has electronic copies of those, it might be useful to send them to members. That would be appreciated.

Ms Orla McGowan

Yes, I can do that.

Ms Sarah Haslam

I will reply to Deputies Funchion and Martin. The first comment was about parents. Relationships and sexuality education does not start and end in school. Parents should be supported in this. In our experience, before we start any of our programmes, we arrange an information night for parents where they are given many of the resources. When they leave those meetings, they have comprehensive knowledge of what we will cover in our programme and they are supported throughout the programme. They should be able to have these conversations at home. They know they are started and developed by us but they can continue to have them at home. Parents need to be supported and involved in this.

With regard to the comment on teachers and teachers being unsure or unwilling, when teachers come to us and want to use our programme, it is striking that they have heard, believe and know that this is a comprehensive programme that has been tried and tested. They feel confident within that. If I am given a curriculum that is really good, that everybody else says is really good and has gone through rigorous testing and evaluation, that will support me. Another response that we receive from teachers is that they want to receive ongoing feedback from us. We have a training department. In addition to providing training, we also offer continuous support through newsletters, telephone calls and other types of support. That is really important. There is an issue if there is no continuing professional development, CPD, or adequate training. What is required is training plus follow-up and continued support.

On age appropriate content, the programme that we have is for young people aged 12 to 18 years. It is divided into core modules, of which there are six, and every participant in the programme does the core modules. We train our facilitators to be able to identify particular needs as the programme starts and finishes. They choose a number of elective modules based on the needs, the age and the awareness of the young people in question. This approach, where we have a core programme and a number of elective modules that can be facilitated afterwards, ensures that core learning, development and outcomes are achieved for all young people who participate.

Dr. Debbie Ging

I think Ms McGowan answered Deputy Martin's question. I am not leading the research. My colleague, Dr. Mel Duffy, in the school of nursing, is leading it. It brings up a really important question about research. We are seeing that much of the research on delivery of the programme is piecemeal and out of date. Having bits and pieces of research, regardless of their quality or importance, is not sufficiently comprehensive. A starting point would be to commission national level, large-scale research that addresses young people's perceptions and experiences of RSE, their needs, where they are and what they are doing sexually, and what their perceptions of the programme are.

Otherwise I do not think we are ever going to get to what is age appropriate or what is actually going on. How do we start with a student-led programme unless we actually know what is happening on some sort of reliable, representative scale? That is probably a better starting point than trying to join up a lot of different pieces of research. It is small funding; it is very good research but the funding and therefore the scale is not adequate.

In response to Deputy Funchion's question as to what teachers should do, one of the recommendations made by the Welsh RSE review was to make it mandatory to appoint an RSE lead in every school in the country. That recommendation has now been adopted. If there are external bodies, that person can act as a liaison with them and he or she is also ultimately responsible for the ethos within the school. That would be a core development.

Dr. Clíona Saidléar

I want to pull together some threads, starting with Deputy Funchion's question about teachers. What is coming through is that there is something about the specialisation and professionalisation of this role in terms of sexual health. We know from our work that there are transferable and generalisable, mainstreamable tools that we can give teachers. However, as Ms Haslam has said, we renew and review the content of that curriculum very regularly. We talk about ethos and objective in very particular ways in this debate but one thing we really need to grapple with is that once we get beyond a certain basic level of facts, we are dealing with culture. We are engaging with and asking questions of culture and therefore we have to keep up to date with that, in terms of being led by the children's needs and their lived realities. To do that, we need someone in place who has a specialisation and is supported within a structure. I am inclining more towards the Department of Education and Skills having a set of professionals in this area who have standing, status and support and who are able to carry out that continual review because they are all the time upskilling and learning from the children they are engaging with. We really have to be aware that we are dealing with culture here and with equipping and upskilling children to get through the ever-changing challenges they are facing.

The rape crisis centres were mentioned. In terms of infrastructure, there is no funding stream for the 16 rape crisis centres around the country to draw on to do the primary prevention work in schools. A lot of them find ways to do it but they do not have any funding. Rape Crisis Network Ireland has no funding to do this work or this thinking. The bank of personnel and the resources must be there. There must be some part of government that is watchful, mindful and responsible for this and that has cross-departmental, whole-of-government capacity and authority. In the absence of these things, I wonder about what falls through the cracks. We end up developing a set of tools that go out of date and nobody is keeping an eye on the situation.

On the question of uncomfortableness around this issue, sexual violence prevention has had a hard time getting onto the sexual health agenda and curriculum. One of the reasons, which we address head on, for example in the REAL U programme, is that there is confusion about role. We have to ask ourselves why we do not have a sexual harassment policy for our schools. It is a glaring gap that nobody is asking about. There are lots of reasons for this, one of which is that we move into the criminal sphere very quickly when we talk about sexual violence. That is why I emphasised primary and secondary prevention. If we are to build up a bank of professionals around primary prevention, this educational piece, we will need to be very clear to them that they are not investigators, that the child protection and children first aspects of the responsibility of the schools happens elsewhere and they are not going to be doing that work as well. We need to distinguish those two roles very clearly.

I invite Ms Jane Donnelly to respond and then I will go back to the remaining questioners.

Ms Jane Donnelly

The circular letter on sex education from the Department is contradictory. I have noted that. It is very disappointing that something like that would come from the Department of Education and Skills. While the schools' policies on sex education are not all published, parents have sometimes sent them to us and we seek them out. Sometimes they are clear that Catholic sex education is being taught and that is fine, we know what that is. Other times they quote from the Department's circular letter and talk about objective sex education yet go on in the policy to talk about Catholic sex education. If what is coming from the Department is contradictory and the school's policy is also contradictory, how do we expect parents to understand that?

Policy needs to be clear. What are our children being taught with regards to sex education in school? Even in the Education Act, ethos is not defined. As to what does that mean, it means different things to different people and different schools. Parents do not know what to expect. We are getting contradictory messages from the Department of Education and Skills. The policies are not clear. We need facts. We need to know what our children are being taught and that is all we are asking. If needs be we can opt our children out of the classes. If they are religious-run sex education classes, there needs to be a process to say we are opting them out. What they do when they opt out is another thing but we need practical and clear information.

The presentations gave a rich picture of the problems that exist in RSE. There seems to unanimous agreement that they are there. Mr. Niall Behan raised a really important point about the gender aspect of the impact of inadequate sex education, which falls disproportionately on women. Would he or other witnesses expand on this gendered impact element? Other anecdotal evidence suggests there is a gendered difference in how sex education is delivered. Boys get one form of sex education that, anecdotally, seems to be less in terms of fewer minutes per year or whatever, and which includes very little in terms of consent. Young women probably get more minutes although it is still completely inadequate in terms of time and the gatekeeper model, whereby it is their role not to have improper or unsafe sex, is put on them in particular.

Dr. Aoife Neary raised a really interesting point about the idea of childhood innocence, which is something we hear about a lot around this topic, particularly when we get into the idea of age appropriateness and the idea that sex education can start from as young as three. People say we should not be taking away childhood innocence. It reflects the fact that a section of society sees sexuality as something from which young people should be shielded and as a negative as opposed to its being part of humanity and part of who we are. Could Dr. Neary unpack that a little? What does age-appropriate RSE look like for children at three, five and seven years? Could she demystify this and take away the fears that people have about it?

We got a really good picture of how religious ethos interacts with the curriculum.

A curriculum can be the best in the world on paper but something can then happen. There can either be a board of a school or a principal directing that a certain bit will not really be taught and when another bit is taught, account will be taken of the religious ethos of the school, which can cause direct interference or which can interfere indirectly as the perception of religious ethos or pressure leads to teachers shying away from really going there, even if the curriculum exists on paper. That arose when representatives from the teacher unions came before us. The major issue, as touched on by Ms Donnelly, is that there is a legislative basis for the confusion and contradictory messages of the Department of Education and Skills. The legislative basis is the Education Act 1998, with the reference to having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school. It is quite fundamental and I am interested in the opinions of the witnesses on this. We cannot have progressive, modern, sex-positive RSE without dealing with that. One must deal with that by amending the Education Act. I encourage the committee to try to find time to take the next Stage of the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018, one purpose of which is precisely to do that.

It has been incredibly interesting listening to everybody. Listening to what has been mentioned by Deputy Paul Murphy, the same thought had struck me that in some of the evidence we heard at our second meeting, the lowest amount of sex education was in single-sex male schools. One of the witnesses spoke correctly about the gender issue and the impact on girls and young women. However, if we call males the "perpetrators" in that position, and if they are not getting the appropriate education they are, to a certain extent, victims as well. We need to ensure that both young men and women get the appropriate sex education in the proper way, with clarity and the appropriate facts.

Dr. Saidléar and Ms McGowan spoke about B4UDecide, which seems to be a really good resource. They, and particularly Dr. Saidléar, highlighted that there are a significant number of resources and networks that are available for teachers and schools but there seems to be an issue with schools taking that on board. There is a space for co-ordination that absolutely needs to happen. I would imagine there is a role for all of those within a new model of RSE. If much of the work has been done, we do not need to reinvent the wheel but rather ensure it comes together and is coherent.

Mr. Seery spoke about the use of student facilitators with appropriate roles, and that is a really good model. Is it something that would be effective at post-primary level in terms of peer support? There is also the issue of choosing young people for it, as it is a very important role in itself. It might be helpful and supportive for younger students, particularly with the idea of gender equality officers. I mentioned at a meeting before how I was struck by a Comhairle na nÓg workshop that I attended. There was a real concern among young people in post-primary school about the lack of support they felt was evident for those who are identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual, LGBT. It is something we could do much with. Foróige's Relationships Explored and Life Uncovered, REAL U, programme has absolutely been noted as a gold standard. It has been mentioned at some of our other meetings as well. Have schools ever asked for Foróige to come in and deliver that? The group has an existing network of trained facilitators and this would be important for us.

This is an ongoing debate about internal versus external approaches and there should be a mix of both. When there are experts in the area, as outlined by Dr. Saidléar, we need those people with an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience in dealing with specific situations. We all know that sometimes some young people will open up more or take more from somebody they may not see again. They feel more free about it. Equally, it is vital that there would be a support mechanism within every school. It is the notion of having somebody whose responsibility is to ensure a robust RSE policy is delivered. They should have that adequate training - the ten-day training mentioned by Ms McGowan - and ensure that there is a holistic view in the school. The teacher should have that as an absolute responsibility within middle management. There is an issue relating to inspection or vetting of external people coming to schools. It is important in the context of setting a policy.

I could go on for a while but I will not. I will go to Ms Haslam and Dr. Neary first as they indicated a wish to speak at the end of the previous contributions.

Dr. Aoife Neary

To respond to Deputy Funchion, who brought up evaluation, it is key and it brings legitimacy. Recommendation No. 9 of the Informing the Future of the Sex and Relationships Education Curriculum in Wales report is the inspection of RSE in a very formal way as part of an inspectorate's work. It should come in tandem with research support and the evaluation aspect of a network that would take in the spiral notion of the curriculum and continuing professional development and training, which should happen in a meaningful way.

Deputy Paul Murphy asked about age appropriateness. A number of international studies mention age appropriateness, including Pound et al., as I mentioned. That was a review of RSE in ten different countries across 25 years that mentions the spiral curriculum needing to happen from early years, which is a significant finding. It would be from age three onwards. Professor Emma Reynold's work in the UK explores how children are not too young in a primary school context to engage with the concepts of RSE, gender and sexuality and so on. In the US context, Ryan et al. and Martino and Cummin-Potvin's work illustrates how primary age children from as young as four can make sense of and question structures of disadvantage and privilege related to gender and sexuality in an age appropriate way, of course, and in partnership with parents. Robinson and Davies have, in an Australian context, work relating to early childhood and caution against this notion of age appropriateness policing us and we should not make assumptions about what is age appropriateness but rather speak with children and young people and find out where they are. It is a notion of the living curriculum. Another aspect is the fear that this might be for parents at this age. The problem with just being educated by parents is that the most vulnerable in our society will not get the same education for RSE. For a fair and equal system, it should be comprehensively across the board and across all primary schools.

Renold speaks about consent as something that can be talked about from early years, such as three onwards, and taking in concepts of refusal, language and communication. The three year old might say "I do not like that". We can start with such simple language. Similarly, with LGBT identities, the INTO LGBT teacher group introduced a resource called "Different Families, Same Love", and it again has age-appropriate language usable from four onwards which mentions love, mammy and mammy, mammy and daddy, daddy and daddy, and the variety of family forms, including mammy on her own, daddy on his own and others that could be evident. It makes it very real and possible from early ages and there is nothing to be frightened about.

I welcome Deputy Paul Murphy's comment about amending the Education Act 1998. From an LGBT perspective, amending section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act 1998 would remove chill factor for teachers in respect of being recruited and dismissed. In a study I did on primary schools to explore homophobia and transphobia, we found that teachers are afraid to approach these topics because they are afraid of the reaction of parents and that in some way it is contrary to the ethos of the school. That ambiguity needs to be cleared up and the amendment of the Education Act would be an excellent place to start from that perspective.

Ms Sarah Haslam

I would like to make two points in response to Deputy Paul Murphy, the first of which is about gender. We do not agree with splitting the curriculum in terms of gender. Our curriculum is for all genders and everybody participates in all aspects of it. One of the core modules of this programme relates to gender and sexuality, which we sought advice on from BeLonG To, and we continue to work with it to update that. It is one of the key modules in this programme that has seen significant effects statistically in terms of young people's attitudes towards members of the LGBTI+ community.

I echo what Dr. Aoife Neary said on age and taking away innocence. A spiral curriculum is what we would recommend and that key pieces of learning must start early and continue to be repeated and built on as young people age.

The Chairman asked if we have been asked about this by teachers. They are beating down our door seeking this curriculum but we face two barriers in that regard. First, we cannot replace the educational curriculum; we cannot come in and replace what is provided. We are seeking to be the named as the curriculum. The second barrier is the cut in our core funding. We had a 33% cut in our core funding of which only 7.5% has been restored. That has impacted on our resources and on young people accessing the programme. This year, we have 200 people waiting on a list to be trained to facilitate this programme.

Coming back to what Dr. Saidléar said, if we continue to research, talk and write curricula from the beginning, we are failing our young people now. There are curricula available. We are an example of one that has been tested robustly. It is our job to work with young people and to ensure our curriculum and programmes meet the needs of young people. Young people are constantly inputting into this curriculum, which is the reason we have to continue to update it.

There is no point reinventing the wheel. We are calling for this to be the named curriculum and for the Government to invest in, and fund schools, to allow them access the current network of trained and skilled professionals to come into schools and to train teachers who are in a position to cover this curriculum to the standard to which we train them, and be supported by us on an ongoing basis.

Ms Orla McGowan

I would like to respond to Deputy Paul Murphy's question on the area of childhood innocence. We did some research with parents of four to nine year old children on talking to young children about growing up, relationships and sexuality to support us and they raised the issues of giving them too much information, childhood innocence and so on. However, the overwhelming response from parents was that they wanted to do a better job than their own parents in this area. They believed it was important that their children received RSE but they were stuck regarding the language, what they should say, when they should say it, how not to say too much while providing enough information and so on.

In terms of the response to that, when a parent asks how they should teach a three year old about RSE, we tell them that they are doing it. Whether they think they are doing it, if they are in a relationship with their children, they are giving them information on how they should feel about their body, what it is to be a boy or a girl and naming their feelings. By the time the children are four they will be asked where babies come from and, therefore, all those areas constitute RSE at the age of three, for example, as Deputy Murphy mentioned.

At the age of seven, it is still the same education. The children might get some information in the school curriculum but young people ask questions long before the topic is dealt with in the school. That might be appropriate because children develop at different rates and the primary responsibility for RSE is with parents. Parents are asked these questions constantly. A seven year old might be curious about the different types of love. They might ask, "Who do you love more? Me, Daddy or Granny?" Those are the types of questions they will ask and when parents respond to those questions, they are talking to the children about different types of love. Questions might arise from school. For example, children might ask the reason another student has two mums or two dads, and the parent will answer that. That is RSE. We talk about privacy and nudity in terms of who is and is not allowed see them without clothes. There are also general messages about children having a positive body image.

International guidance on age appropriate sexuality education developed by the World Health Organization, WHO, is available but the main point is that parents are doing it anyway. It is just a question of how they are doing it.

Ms Jane Donnelly

Regarding Deputy Paul Murphy's question on the ethos, I agree the Education Act needs to be amended but there has not been an amendment to religious discrimination under the Employment Equality Act 1998. Under section 37(1), one can still discriminate on the grounds of religion. That was changed in regard to LGBT but it was not changed in regard to religion. Under their contract, teachers are obliged to uphold the religious ethos of the school. They are in the position, therefore, if they give objective sex education in schools under religious patronage, they are in breach of their employment contract. There is a connection, therefore, with section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act as well as the various sections in the Education Act to which we have referred.

Dr. Clíona Saidléar

To respond to the gendered question, we can see the gendered impacts but it is more difficult to see how all that plays out before we get to those stark impacts. That is one of the reasons I have spoken on a few occasions about the need for a sexual harassment policy.

In the programmes we are involved in, boys and girls are together in the classroom but, as a facilitator and an educator, we are clearly looking at power dynamics and the different expectation that are based on gender. When we commissioned the research, Young people, Alcohol and Sex: What's consent got to do with it?, it surprised us that young people said there is no difference between men and women, boys and girls, they are all empowered now, they can all say "Yes" and "No", and that everything is fantastic. However, when we scratched the surface of that regarding scenarios that were questionable such as sexual violence and sexual consent, in the quick responses on who is the gatekeeper in terms of responsibility and blame, strict gender roles were outlined.

Delivering the curriculum in the classroom is one thing but what happens when those children walk out into the corridor? Unless we have a sophisticated understanding of the gendered, sexist and misogynistic world they are stepping into in the corridor, we may have equipped them poorly to engage. If we do not empower them to stand up for themselves and call out, say, the sexual assault they experience as soon as they step out into that corridor, what have we done as institutions to ensure they are in a safe place in terms of the power dynamics going on in that corridor?

When we have delivered our curriculum, have we also done our homework on the context they step out into? That is why I talk about a sexual harassment action plan for schools, a national policy on how we do that and create safe spaces in the school environment. We have a template, 'Safe and Supportive' that BeLonG To spoke about. It is an excellent piece of work. Why do we not have that for sexual harassment? We would like to think about how this curriculum is enacted in children's lives when they step back into the real world and whether we have empowered them in ways that are unintentionally unsafe because we have not taken care of context outside the classroom.

Dr. Aidan Seery

I am conscious that the experience in TCD provides us with a small knowledge base and I admit that I have no experience of schools or schooling. From the experience of young adults in college, however, and particularly with reference to this debate about the factual or objective on one side of the spectrum, and the ideologically tendentious on the other end because that is probably a more appropriate way to look at that end of the spectrum, the students we have dealt with come from different backgrounds. A total of 25% of them come from international backgrounds and while many have had a religion-based education but every one of them comes into a consent workshop with a set of attitudes, dispositions and world views. Every one of them has experienced social power relations in their own bodies and they have been formed and shaped by their experiences whether religious, non-religious or whatever.

Stepping precariously into the realm of schooling and teachers, without any background, a set of highly skilled professionals who are able to engage with this theme on the basis of dispositions, attitudes and power relations somewhere in the middle of that spectrum between the impossibility of looking at this theme purely factually and objectively on the one hand and with a highly ideological tendentiousness on the other, is required. It will require great skill and careful planning, and a careful curriculum.

Dr. Debbie Ging

Briefly in response to Deputy Murphy's point about gender inequality that has to be core, particularly to any training initiatives. There needs to be an awareness that not only is the programme often delivered differently but also of how the wider school processes of gender socialisation contribute to many of the problems that we are experiencing with regard to certain views on consent, or to the issue of girls feeling more responsible or being trained for particular behaviours that boys are not. As Dr. Saidléar mentioned, these are parts of what many children and parents feel as the norm. How do we advance a progressive curriculum when we are still grappling with problematic gender norms? A whole-school approach is probably the only way to make those incompatibilities work together.

With regard to the question on religious ethos, I concur entirely that the Education Act 1998 must be amended.

I thank Dr. Ging. Home-school liaison teachers will play an important role in respect of that balance between home and school.

I thank all the witnesses for attending and sharing their wisdom, experience, and huge depth of research and knowledge. It has been useful for me and all the committee members. If there is anything else they would like to send us, bearing in mind the questions and comments, they should please feel free to do so and we will ensure that all the members have the opportunity to read that before we prepare our final report.

I would like members to stay on because we did not deal with housekeeping.

The joint committee went into private session at 6.05 p.m. and adjourned at 6.20 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 21 June 2018.