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Joint Committee on Gender Equality debate -
Thursday, 14 Jul 2022

Recommendations of the Report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality: Discussion (Resumed)

We are beginning the public session a little earlier than anticipated because we got through our private business very efficiently.

I remind all members that they have the option of being physically present in the committee room or may join the meeting via Microsoft Teams from their Leinster House offices, but that they may not participate from outside the parliamentary precincts. If joining on Microsoft Teams, I ask that they mute their microphones when not making a contribution and that they use the raised hand function to indicate. I ask them to note that, in order to limit the risk of spreading Covid, the service encourages all Members, visitors and witnesses to continue to wear face masks when moving around the campus or when in close proximity to others and to adhere to public health advice.

Today's public meeting will be in two sessions. In the first session we will have an engagement with representatives of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, on the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality relating to norms and stereotypes in education, that is, recommendations 26 to 31, inclusive. In the second session we will meet with Professor Angela O'Hagan to discuss recommendations relating to gender equality principles in law and policy, namely, recommendations 42 to 45, inclusive.

I warmly welcome the representatives from the NCCA, who are joining us in person: Dr. Jacqueline Fallon, director of curriculum and assessment; Dr. Patrick Sullivan, deputy CEO for early childhood and primary education; Ms Annette Honan, education officer; and Mr. Barry Slattery, deputy CEO for post-primary education. They are all very welcome. We really appreciate their giving their time to be here with us. I know that Members are very keen to hear from the NCCA. We have already held a number of hearings on norms and stereotypes in education with other stakeholders, but we are really grateful that the witnesses before us are able to join us. The committee has taken the view that our job and our role is to see how best to implement the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. As a result, we are looking at the practical means of implementation of the recommendations made rather than the substantive questions behind them because we endorse the recommendations. We are grateful to stakeholders for engaging with us on that practical aspect.

I will read out an important notice on parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. If, however, they are directed by the committee 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. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and 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 now call on Dr. Patrick Sullivan to make the opening statement on behalf of the NCCA before I open the floor to Members for questions and answers.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

On behalf of the NCCA, I thank the Chair and committee members for this opportunity to speak to them. I thank the Chairman for her kind introduction. I will not go through the introductions in my written submission of the people accompanying me. We acknowledge the important work of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality and are delighted to speak about the NCCA's work in supporting specific recommendations in the assembly's report.

Appointed by the Minister for Education, the council has a representative structure. Its remit is to advise the Minister on the curriculum for early childhood education and primary and post-primary schools as well as the assessment procedures employed in schools and public examinations on subjects which are part of the curriculum. The NCCA develops curriculum and assessment advice by working closely with learners, teachers, practitioners, parents and school leaders; through extensive consultation; by drawing on research evidence, good practice and international experience; and through ongoing deliberation by the council, our boards and development groups. This work is underpinned by eight principles that enable the development of advice that recognises the uniqueness of each young person and the importance of supporting all children to reach their potential.

The NCCA recognises the role that education can play in support of gender equality. Recommendation 27 in the assembly's report presents actions addressing unhelpful gender norms and stereotypes. These relate directly to our work, and I wish to highlight relevant developments in social, personal and health education, SPHE, relationships and sexuality education, RSE. science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, education and the wider curriculum.

The NCCA's review of RSE in primary and post-primary schools identified a number of actions, a key one being the development of an integrated and updated curriculum grounded in the rights and needs of young people that is holistic, child-centred, inclusive, and age- and stage-appropriate. A draft junior cycle SPHE curriculum will be published in the coming weeks, with consultation open until mid-October and with the final specification available to schools from September 2023.

Updated curricula for senior cycle and primary schools will be finalised in 2023 and 2024, respectively. These will promote gender equality by addressing topics such as rights and responsibilities in relationships, healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships, interacting safely and respectfully with the Internet, gender and sexual diversity and sexual consent. In the interim, the NCCA has established online toolkits to support the work of schools in this area. We have supplied an overview of this work in the supplementary reading.

The council is also conscious of gender equality in STEM education, with the following as examples of our work. The draft primary mathematics curriculum sees children of all genders as mathematicians and includes approaches to encourage all children to be actively involved in maths learning and to think positively about the subject. As part of our curriculum development processes, work on post-primary subjects such as biology, chemistry and physics explicitly aims to widen their appeal to re-balance gender uptake.

Other subjects, such as history, classics, English and politics and society, help to raise awareness of and promote gender equality. Examples include learning about women previously written out of history, studying the work of renowned female thinkers and theorists and exploring human rights issues related to gender, ethnicity and social class, and concepts such as power, participation, equality, inequality and bias. The study of English texts also provides opportunities to explore and challenge stereotyping in the real world and in fiction.

The NCCA is redeveloping the primary curriculum and senior cycle. In addition, Aistear, the early childhood curriculum framework is being updated and we continue to support the work of schools with the framework for junior cycle. This work is grounded in a commitment to inclusion and diversity as well as active citizenship and social justice. Supporting gender equality requires a systemic response in which curriculum and assessment provision is one aspect, albeit an important one.

The NCCA is committed to working with stakeholders to continue to support the recommendations in the report of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality. Further information is provided in our written submission and accompanying documents. My colleagues and I are happy to answer questions members may have. I thank the committee for its time.

I thank Dr. Sullivan.

I thank the witnesses for their time and expertise. It is fantastic to have them here. I have a question for Dr. Sullivan. There is an acknowledgement that supporting gender equality in schools requires a systemic response. Curriculum and assessment provision is just one aspect of this. With regard to delivering this, what interaction does the NCCA have with other aspects of the education system? This is a shared objective and we all want to get there. We all have a role to play in this. What mechanisms are in place for the NCCA to link formally with the Department, or informally with other relevant agencies and representative bodies, to ensure the collaborative nature required to deliver the shared objective is there? This is also important in order to address gender inequality comprehensively in our schools. It does not do anybody any favours. It does not only fail our girls, it fails our boys. This is something we have heard very strongly from other stakeholders who have come before the committee.

The third strategy on domestic and gender-based violence implementation plan commits the NCCA to submitting a primary curriculum framework to the Minister by the fourth quarter of this year. The NCCA also committed to the finalisation of draft senior cycle SPHE and RSE curricula specifications for public consultation. It also committed to finalisation of the draft primary framework in the first quarter of 2024 to be completed by the third quarter of next year. There are a number of specific timelines in place in the implementation plan. How do these tally with what the NCCA is doing? Do the witnesses see their organisation as being in a position to be able to meet the deadlines? Do they see any barrier to meeting the deadlines? Are the resources there? It would be wonderful if the witnesses could speak a little about this.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

The council has 26 members who are representative of the stakeholders, from early childhood education all the way through to post-primary school. In every meeting of the council, and in our development groups and boards, we have people around the table to support the system response the Deputy spoke about. Part of the system response includes aspects such as initial teacher education and continuing professional development for teachers on SPHE, RSE and throughout the curriculum. It is also about working closely with the Department of Education on support services, upskilling teachers, initial teacher education and realising the conducive conditions in which a curriculum is enacted in our schools. We work incredibly closely with schools through our networks. We work with 60 schools as part of the schools forum. They include preschools and post-primary schools and the forum is largely made up of primary schools. We have our ear to the ground on the needs of schools. We feed the information through our representative structures. In our review of RSE in 2019 there were implications from a systems point of view and not only with regard to curriculum and assessment. The recommendations have been supported by members of our council and the representative structure. The system response has been supported through our collaborative work with the Department and support services, initial teacher education and other important stakeholders.

With regard to the third strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, the timelines sit very comfortably with us in terms of delivery. We had input into the timelines. They reflect our expectations of what we will be able to deliver. An important context of the timelines is that in 2019 when the report on the review of relationships and sexuality education was published we had short-term and medium-term actions included. The short-term action was to meet the needs of teachers and students in our schools immediately. We developed the toolkits online and they are very comprehensive in nature. They are supportive of inclusive teacher and learning in RSE. The medium-term action was on curriculum development. As the timelines outline, in the coming weeks we will have consultation on the junior cycle, and consultation on primary and senior cycle will follow.

One of the biggest impacts on the timelines was the pandemic. For two years the pandemic impacted our work with schools. Many schools were closed. Many learners were at home. Parents were working with learners at home and supporting remote learning. Teachers were working from home supporting remote teaching. There was no way the NCCA could work with the people we needed to work with to develop and consult on curriculum specifications. We have been hampered by this. There is also the fact that 65% of our staff were redeployed to the HSE school support teams at that time. This was another contributing factor to the impact on the timelines for specification development. With regard to the third national strategy published a number of weeks ago, we are confident that we will meet the targets in the strategy.

Mr. Barry Slattery

Dr. Sullivan has covered everything. With regard to the question on active engagement with stakeholders-----

And the Department.

Mr. Barry Slattery

Yes, and the Department. Our structures include development groups that look specifically at a curricular area, boards that have responsibility for the early childhood, primary, junior cycle and senior cycle sectors, and the council itself. We have working groups in specific areas of work. There are areas on which we need to engage with agencies and bodies not in our structures. An example of this is our work looking at pathways from school to further education and promoting apprenticeships. We established a standing committee with SOLAS that meets three or four times a year. We established technical working groups to look at specific areas. Structures have been put in place to ensure that we are able to work closely with all stakeholders on various topics, including addressing unhelpful gender norms and promoting gender equality throughout the curriculum.

Mr. Slattery spoke about pathways. An issue that has been highlighted repeatedly to the committee is the lack of availability of choice, particularly in second level schools. This is having a detrimental impact, particularly on subjects that are not necessarily academic based. We have been told that from entry to secondary school students are pigeonholed and their career options are being limited because of the lack of availability of choice when it comes to subjects such as computer science, woodwork and metalwork. It is with regard to these types of options. What impact do the witnesses see this having on the flow of students into apprenticeships if they have not had a base in the subjects in secondary school?

I want to speak about RSE. Toolkits were mentioned.

We were also told one in three students stated they had not received any form of RSE at senior cycle and that is reflected in a recent study by the Irish Second-Level Students' Union, ISSU. It seems there are a considerable number of processes in place that are not feeding through the system to the receivers, that is, the people who should benefit from those processes. Can Dr. Sullivan give us an opinion - I do not want to say excuse or reason as they are not the words I am looking for - on why that is happening? Why is gender inequality still such an issue in our schools?

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

Ms Honan may wish to respond on the Deputy's second point.

Ms Annette Honan

Perhaps Mr. Slattery will respond first on apprenticeships and I will then pick up on RSE.

Mr. Barry Slattery

We do not have access to the figures but it is obvious there is not a sufficient gender balance in the uptake of apprenticeships. The Deputy mentioned computer science. When we were first asked to develop computer science we did some initial research and scoping. One of the first things the research pointed out - it was obvious to everybody even in the absence of research - was that if young people, boys or girls, do not have access to and opportunities in computer science, they will not select careers in that area further down the line. Exactly the same applies in the context of apprenticeships. Students need exposure to all subjects.

There are limiting factors. The Deputy asked why, despite the subjects being available, we continue to see a limited offer in some schools. One of the obvious factors is school size. Small schools have a smaller number of teachers and fewer resources and, therefore, they will have a smaller number of subjects. Sometimes there are systemic issues that relate to issues such as school size, regardless of the desire to expand subject choice within a school. Offer particular subjects in a school also needs to be viable as a minimum number of students is required. Those are not excuses but the Deputy asked why some of the trends are continuing, even though there is a desire for that not to be the case. Technical issues such as those I described are part of the reason.

I thank Mr. Slattery.

Ms Annette Honan

The Deputy mentioned that one in three students stated their experience of RSE was inadequate and is absolutely-----

It was not inadequate. Many of them-----

Ms Annette Honan

-----or absent altogether.

-----had not received any form of RSE.

Ms Annette Honan

Absolutely. That is endorsed by lots of other evidence, including feedback sent from the principals of schools into the Department in response to a survey on the number of RSE lessons given in their schools each year. We know therefore that it is factually true that RSE is not being provided in many schools or is being provided at a very inadequate level.

There is also the quality of the RSE that is being delivered. The reasons for that are multiple. In some cases, it is down to the high turnover of teachers and the lack of training and support available for teachers. That is being addressed to some degree. We need to welcome and affirm the initiative being made by the Minister recently on providing a qualification for SPHE teachers at level 9. That is really important. It will be a game-changer in many ways but it will take time for that to create a cohort of qualified and competent teachers in our schools. In the meantime, it is a matter of providing professional development and other supports for teachers, an updated curriculum and clarity in the curriculum regarding what they are to teach. That was one aspect of the feedback we received in our review of RSE, as was the fact that while we have quite a progressive curriculum in place already, it was not clear to teachers exactly what they were expected to teach. For example, as regards the learning outcome on sexual health, teachers asked what that meant and wondered whether they were to teach about hygiene or contraception.

My question was on what it looks like.

Ms Annette Honan

In the updated specification, which we will publish for consultation next week, members will see that it clearly states that young people should be able to explain and understand methods of contraception, safer sex and so on. We are providing much more clarity and that will be helpful. However, the key enabler to more effective SPHE is teacher professional development. All the research shows that, as do all our consultations with teachers themselves. Young people recognise that too. There is obviously a journey to take there as well.

I thank Ms Honan.

I am conscious of time.

I am finished.

I gave Deputy Clarke some leeway. From now on, we will stick to engagements of eight minutes.

I thank our guests for coming in and for the presentation. Formal training was covered a little in response to earlier questions. A DCU study published earlier this year found that almost two thirds of student teachers indicated they were not receiving enough RSE training. While many of them stated they were prepared to teach RSE in schools, they felt they were not getting the training they needed. Some indicated they were uncomfortable teaching the subject because of insufficient training and the training they were receiving seemed to be lacking standardised quality. I do not know whether the ethos in schools has something to do with that. Would the council support the establishment of appropriate subject requirements for SPHE to deliver the mainstreaming of the curriculum?

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

I thank the Deputy. We are very aware of the study in question and we had input in attending some of the focus groups related to it as part of the background context of that work. On teacher preparation, primary school teachers teach every subject and receive preparation in terms of teaching relationships and sexuality education. However, as we identified in our report on RSE, at post-primary level in particular, there has been a lack of opportunities to provide input, training and upskilling in this area as well. This is a sensitive area. One issue we found related to teachers' confidence to be able to sensitively address some of the topics, themes, discussions and misconceptions that come up in a classroom. It is also about their competence in relation to having the subject knowledge of the topics and conversations that come up and being able to address those in a sensitive way. There is also the matter of addressing any worrying or concerning views, beliefs and values that may come up in that regard too and being able to progress the learning. That was identified in the 2019 review and is corroborated by the research to which the Deputy. That goes back to Deputy Clarke's point about a systems response. It is about a system working together to enhance the provision of RSE right across our schools. Ms Honan will respond to the second point.

Ms Annette Honan

I affirm what Dr. Sullivan said on the complex nature of the professional development needed to create confident and competent SPHE teachers, be that at primary or post-primary level. I think of the great American educator, Parker J. Palmer, who said we teach who we are. That is never more true than when it comes to the teaching of SPHE. That is why it is not only about professional development and giving teachers the knowledge of the subject and the skills to be able to facilitate open and non-judgmental conversations in the classroom with young people. It is also about the personal development piece, which is a very important part of professional development for teachers of SPHE. It gives them an opportunity to interrogate and understand their own particular biases and prejudices, including gender ones, that they might be bringing into the classroom. If that is not part of the professional development of teachers, we are doing a disservice to young people because we are all swimming in a sea of sexism and may not be aware of that.

Teachers' personal experience of RSE might not have been a very positive one. Again, it is about having an opportunity to interrogate that to become aware of it. The whole personal development piece is very important too. That is why I say the professional development piece for SPHE teachers is unique but it is really important it is done. It cannot be done in a once-off manner where someone comes out for one day and is then sorted. It needs to be ongoing and sustained.

How often are in-service training days provided? If these are the results from student teachers, who we imagine are quite young, how is the council reaching older teachers who may not have received that training?

Ms Annette Honan

That would not be fair to say because there is such a mixed experience. There are teachers in the system who have availed of a number of opportunities to upskill and are very confident and competent in teaching SPHE. We should acknowledge that. They would have attended all the available opportunities provided by the Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST, and the Junior Cycle for Teachers, JCT, service. The HSE has done wonderful work in this area as well. Some of the NGOs have made a wonderful contribution to the professional development of teachers in this area. That includes groups such as BeLonGTo and Bodywhys, which deals with eating disorders.

I should not name anybody because I will leave people out. There is a range of sources and the teachers who are really interested in this area have sought them out. Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has done excellent work to support teachers with particular areas of the curriculum. Some teachers are highly confident while others might be teaching because they are timetabled for it, even without their consultation or consent.

I apologise to witnesses for the noise interference.

Dr. Jacqueline Fallon

The NCCA creates change wherever we go. There is a circular issue. I mean that we know that those kind of gender stereotypes and so forth are picked up. All of us, as human beings, almost by the time we are aged three acquire all of those gender stereotypes and all kinds of other stereotypes.

The NCCA's work on the curriculum begins with and is grounded in the early childhood curriculum framework. From those earliest days, we are concerned about supporting young children's sense of identity and belonging. I will not go into the details now but if we want to have this impact, I would pick up on what Ms Honan said about our personal reflection as professionals in working and examining our own thoughts and feelings. If we can intervene in the earliest years through curriculum and all kinds of other interventions with very young children then by the time all of our student teachers, young adults and as adults ourselves, hopefully, we would have that conscientious around gender stereotypes. We, therefore, need to intervene very early on rather than simply wait until we are in college or actually teaching.

I am struck by Ms Honan's use of the phrase, "We are all swimming in a sea of sexism". That sums it up. Does Deputy Cronin wish to follow up?


Deputy Réada Cronin: No.

Deputy Carroll MacNeill is next and she will be followed by Senator Higgins.

I thank the witnesses for their attendance. I was struck by Ms Honan's comment that teachers reflect on themselves and their own biases, which is a huge part of the work that we are trying to do. It is in that context that gender and sexuality need to be the grounding principles behind this. I mean that this is not something that is simply descriptive but is understood in the context of how we have reached this point over decades and how we are trying to consciously undo that, and provide a safe space for boys not to be criticised but to be aware of their own contribution that can be made in the future. I was also struck by what Dr. Fallon said about early years with whom I agree in every way. That is one of the reasons I find it challenging that the primary cycle curriculum will not begin until September 2022 and I do not understand how those things sit together.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

I will give the context and background. Part of the developments at primary level is that we are redeveloping the entire primary school curriculum. It is 22 years old and is in need of a revamp and update.

In 2019, when we published the review of the RSE report, those recommendations were timely because we could incorporate them directly into our proposals to update the entire primary school curriculum. In February 2020, we published a draft primary curriculum framework, and it is a bit like the framework for the junior cycle, which set out the direction for developments at primary and included the recommendations from the review of RSE.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

In March 2020, a consultation on the draft framework commenced and it was supposed to take between five and six months but, in March 2020, Covid hit our shores.

Yes, Dr. Sullivan made that point earlier. It is the first time that I have heard Covid cited as a response to this question. Everything was impacted by Covid but schools continued to function albeit under pressure and the Oireachtas continued to function. Policy development in a range of Departments, commercial State-sponsored bodies and different entities continued to function and produce content while contemporaneous work was being done on the other cycles.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

Yes, and the council continued to function during those years. However, one of the key processes in our work is to ensure consensus is building across the system on curriculum change. A key aspect of that is sustained and continued engagement with school communities, parents, children, school leaders and teachers. During that time, in emergency circumstances, when schools were closed and children learned at home, teachers taught from home and parents dealt with all of that in their home environment, there was no possibility for consultation and engagement with those constituents at that particular time so, in response, we took a two-phased approach. In March 2022, we closed consultation on the draft framework and now we are reporting on what we heard. We will finalise the final primary framework at the end of this year and it will be issued to the Minister in early 2023. In the meantime we will establish our development groups, which will work on the specification for the framework. SPHE and RSE are within a curriculum area called well-being, which includes physical education or PE and, therefore, they will be developed by the development group. It will be consulted upon widely with the public, schools, parents and children in our normal processes. We will draw on all of the research in this regard as well.

I acknowledge what has been said. I respect the fact that the NCCA has lost staff, as well as on an administrative basis, to schools and so on. I sit on range of sectoral committees, including the Joint Committee on Justice and the Committee of Public Accounts, where we deal with all State bodies and entities that perform difficult functions over time. I find the timelines for this matter unusually challenging, The excuse that Covid ate my homework has not been replicated in other sectors in regards to some of the other significant policy and delivery challenges that we have.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

Community engagement is key, particularly around sensitive areas of the curriculum. If one does not have community engagement on the ground then that can really impact on take-up in schools and, indeed, mass opting out of teaching across our schools, which is a scenario that nobody wants to see.

In terms of our processes, we are very sure that at the end of this we will have an incredibly high-quality, acceptable and agreed curriculum in schools that will have meaningful and long-term change.

Ms Honan mentioned BeLonG To and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Have those organisations fed into the content development? Will the NCCA cross-check it with them?

Ms Annette Honan

The membership of our development groups is published on our website. Those organisations are not on the development group but they are regularly consulted bilaterally by the NCCA. They have attended consultation meetings with us, and held round-table discussions with other like-minded organisations such as individual meetings on a one-to-one basis. I am in regular contact with all of the organisations and update them on what we do plus share developments. We also encourage them to be aware of the direction of travel we are moving in so that they can prepare their education response in sync with the updated curriculum. There is a lot of communication.

Have they made suggestions?

Ms Annette Honan

Yes. In fact, some of the work that is part of our toolkits has been developed in direct collaboration with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

I wish to ask a question as we could not get clarity on the following matter. Will the new programme that will emerge be taught to every child in Ireland, without exception?

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

Yes, in terms of early childhood and primary. The curriculum is taught to all children and the same situation applies to post-primary education. However, that does not negate a parent's right, under the Constitution, to have their child opt-out if the curriculum is contrary to their conscience.

Is it available in schools?

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

It is available to all.

I mean irrespective of school form, teacher preference and anything.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan


Is it for every child in every school?

Dr. Patrick Sullivan


I thank Dr. Sullivan for clarifying the matter.

Yes, that is clear.

I do not know why we had a difficulty before.

Ms Annette Honan

It is an important point.

That is why I kept asking.

Ms Annette Honan

There is one State curriculum and it is the same for all children in all schools in Ireland.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

And it is inclusive.

Can I ask a question for clarification?

Mr. Slattery wants to come in. I will come back to the Deputy.

Mr. Barry Slattery

Just to come back on the engagement with stakeholders such as the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, as soon as we open the consultation we will also contact those agencies and bodies to make them aware that it is available. We will have meetings with them or communications in whatever format they choose. They may choose to make a written submission. If they choose to do so, the written submission will be published on our website. Everybody will be able to see what we were told and what our response was. It will be very clear where the changes are in the curriculum itself.

Ms Annette Honan

For the record, although we identified and named some particular agencies here, it is important to note that there are lots of others. I do not want anybody to feel we have gone in a particular direction of travel. We have spoken with experts in the areas of substance abuse, youth mental health, sexuality and youth organisations across the board.

Two members who have contributed previously want to come in very briefly. We usually just do a first round.

It is just a clarifying question on foot of Deputy Carroll MacNeill's question. Perhaps Mr. Slattery can clarify. Previously when I asked him about apprenticeships and availability of subjects, he referred to capacity within the school and a minimum number of students. Does that apply to the subject Deputy Carroll MacNeill was speaking about?

Mr. Barry Slattery

No. For example, the area of well-being is 400 hours within the junior cycle curriculum that all students need to be exposed to. SPHE is an element of those 400 hours. There is not a choice for schools on curricular provision for that. A small school with 400 or 600 students will be offering-----

It could be less than that in my constituency.

Mr. Barry Slattery

The school I went to had 210, I think. There is a limit to the number of subjects that they can offer but they must offer the core, mandatory subjects.

There will never then be a situation whereby if a significant percentage of the parents of students going to that school decide, based on their personal ethos, that they want to remove their child from the class, the school would be able to say it does not have demand.

Mr. Barry Slattery


That is really clear. That is a good clarification. I think we were talking earlier about the optional subjects. Senator Higgins is next and then Senator Warfield.

It is useful and clarifying but I am still a little concerned. In some of the conventions relating to the Constitution there are a lot of exemptions even in equality legislation in respect of education. The Constitution has changed and now also includes the rights of the child. There may be scope for re-examining the basic rights of a child in respect of well-being, safety and health, including sexual health. If we are looking at a new curriculum, we might need to look at some of that received wisdom and the issue of balancing. Members of the committee have drilled with great depth into the issue in respect of relationships and sexuality. We may even have written follow-ups as well. It is a matter that people have been trying to tease out. The witnesses have certainly been helpful. The development groups are interesting as well. I am wondering if school patrons are represented on the development groups as well as these others.

I will bracket those matters, though, as I wanted to focus on a different part of our guests' presentation and to really build on what others have been saying. We had young people from their representative groups before us talking about their experiences of education. Something that came up was looking further than just RSE. The fact that optional subjects do not get the same strength is highlighted. The change of CSPE not being an exam subject was also raised. We heard how the resources then migrate away from it. We are not just trying to protect people in terms of their relationships at an intimate level but also their relationship with society. CSPE is a really important tool for gender empowerment, addressing systematic inequality and facilitating full participation in all aspects of our shared public life on a gendered basis, in a place where a lot of stereotypes are embedded. The CSPE curriculum is being updated. I understand the NCCA is looking at the junior cycle but I refer to the idea of it being mandatory, which is really important.

Something else that was discussed and highlighted was subjects such as history and classics being important in respect of gender equality. We heard from students who talked about seeing just three women in their whole history course. Those women were mainly described in relationship to men. I like that this is placed alongside the issues in respect of gender, ethnicity, social class and even sexuality. For example, there are a lot of LGBT figures in Irish history who were really fundamental in the founding of our State. The witnesses will be aware that my group in the Seanad has brought forward the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018. We have discussed the decolonisation of curriculum. It is an international process that is happening in the way we widen and improve the way we do history. Could the witnesses comment on those points with the strongest focus on gender, of course?

I had some points on physical education but I will leave them aside for now. The statement refers to English texts as a key way of coming at these issues. Drama as a new subject will also be crucial as a form of empowerment. Youth theatres have done extraordinary work for many young people. Being part of a youth theatre at 15 was fundamental to my development and was really important. Is the NCCA engaging with those groups? Youth Theatre Ireland does in-service training. As a school subject, drama can become a space for challenging stereotypes and making people think about roles, literally. Could the witnesses comment on those issues?

That is a tall order. I thank the Senator.

Ms Annette Honan

I will attempt to answer. The Senator gave a comprehensive and helpful overview of the curriculum opportunities that exist. To wind back, she mentioned a rights-based approach as being fundamental to RSE. We are in full agreement with that. Page 2 of the new specification states: "This specification supports teachers in adopting an approach that is inclusive in accordance with principles of equality and human rights." It is about young people having a right to this education and all young people having that right. When we speak about inclusivity, the specification states:

...this ensures that all students can see themselves, their families and their communities reflected across the learning and can learn to value diversity as a source of enrichment. SPHE thus contributes to building a cohesive, compassionate and fair society; one that is inclusive of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, religious beliefs/worldviews, social classes and abilities/disabilities.

We are pointing there to the intersectionality of all of these issues and wanting to raise awareness around that.

CSPE has changed from being a syllabus document of 70 hours to a 100-hour course. In many ways, it has been strengthened within the curriculum in terms of its space. With that comes an enhanced status also because that is how teachers view it, how many classes they are timetabled for. Instead of one class a week, teachers may be teaching both CSPE and SPHE, which are similar in time, over five class periods over the three years. It might be two class periods in first year, two in second year and one in third year, or whatever way the school decides.

It is not an exam subject any more.

Ms Annette Honan

It is not.

It was just at a base level. We cannot be guaranteed children are coming out with a base level.

Ms Annette Honan

The assessment piece has been taken away from the State Examinations Commission so they no longer have to sit an exam. However, they continue to be assessed in the subject, which is really important. The assessment is now much more enabling and more teacher and student-friendly and student-led. The students will complete a project.

If the Senator looks at Curriculum Online there are some fantastic examples of the types of work that students are doing as part of their assessments with the new course. There are projects where students have identified a topic of interest to themselves. It could be Brexit, climate change or fast fashion. There are wonderful projects there and they are very much student driven. In many ways the assessment practice is improving because of the lack of the examination in June where there are the predictable questions that the student can go in and answer in two hours. I am not sure that in supporting better teaching and learning, an examination is necessarily a good thing.

I have to say the experience we have had is that we talked to students, some who did it when it was an examination subject and some when it was not, and it was said that the school now does not have resources. Again, it may well be that there are fabulous projects, but we do not want it to be that there are just fabulous projects in well-resourced schools which have the luxury of bringing that in. However, when there are schools that are under pressure for resources, the subject that is not the examination subject often gets downplayed. I do not want to end up with a situation where we have CSPE and fabulous individual projects for some and, effectively, not for others where schools are under pressure. We will not dwell further on it but I must say that the evidence we have heard from students within the same school is that they saw the resources leave that subject as soon as it became a non-examination subject.

Ms Annette Honan

One will find diversity of practice across schools. From next September, under the provisions for well-being, all schools are obliged to provide this 100-hour course, so there will be equity in what is provided across all schools for CSPE.

Dr. Jacqueline Fallon

I will pick up on the reference to drama. We fully understand that many of the questions are focused on junior cycle and senior cycle and clearly arise as well from what, rightly, has been a very impactful input by the ISSU. We hope the committee would remember that all the young people represented by the ISSU began that journey in early childhood education with what is called Aistear, Irish for "journey", which is the early childhood curriculum framework. In terms of drama and in the context of curriculum coherence from the NCCA's perspective, we can actually track drama through from the provisions in the early childhood curriculum framework around socio-dramatic play, which specifically mentions the fact that girls and boys need opportunities at that very young age to engage in non-stereotypical play activities. To give a picture of what that looks like, we want to see the girls playing with the blocks and the cars and we equally want to see the boys playing in the home corner with the dolls and the saucepans. We can track that through then.

One of the things we are looking at, and which has emerged from our consultation on the draft primary framework, is the issue of drama. We can see we have an issue to address here. There are issues emerging around the idea that drama should be a methodology and not a subject. I refer back to the issue raised by Deputy Carroll MacNeill on the time it takes, and this is a very good example of why we need to spend that time developing curriculum specifications. We must have a dialogue with stakeholders in the sector, particularly with teachers, principals, parents and children, on those types of issues where we need to create understanding of why we need drama as a subject. We are a country of incredible actors and playwrights and we need time to have a dialogue that provides a floor for what we want to do in our curriculum. That is one of the reasons that the development of a specification can take two years. There is a hearts and minds piece of work that has to be done.

Thank you. Those are great contributions. I will move on to Senator Warfield.

When answering the next Senator, perhaps the witnesses could respond to the question about history and ethnicity and also comment on philosophy in the schools. I would be remiss if I did not mention that because I am pushing for that as well.

We are obviously impatient for the change we all see. I have some sympathy for the consultation and the amount of time it takes. I refer to the recent NCCA review on sex education at almost every meeting in which we talk about RSE, and I reference the students' experience or their response. Obviously, that was a huge consultation. Some of that is politics, but one cannot deny the voice of the child and the student. The report said they were unanimous about the importance of this, so I have some sympathy as regards the amount of time it can take. As Dr. Sullivan said, if that was not done, and I am paraphrasing, there would be a problem with uptake or buy-in. If the NCCA did not do the consultation, where would that problem with buy-in be? Would it be in the school community? Perhaps he might respond on that.

Somebody was saying that at one of the recent festivals a comedian asked, "Who here still has nightmares about their leaving certificate?", and everyone put up their hand. We are literally traumatising children with examinations. We have had the discussion about CSPE not being an examination subject. I have some sympathy for it not being an examination subject. However, in an environment where the examination subject is all very intense and children need to get ready for examinations, how does one change the culture of CSPE and SPHE? It is not that long ago since I was in school, but from my experience how does one change that culture? Some might see these subjects as a bit of a joke and a time to take a breather or have a rest class or mess around. How do we change that culture so that they are serious? We live in a homophobic and sexist world and every time something terrible happens, whether it is fatal or an attack, we come back to the importance of CSPE and SPHE in schools. How do we change the culture whereby those subjects are seen as a bit of a joke sometimes?

The question about buy-in was first.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

In terms of buy-in, Dr. Fallon spoke about winning hearts and minds. Everyone is on a journey with curriculum change and that was the example of drama. On particularly sensitive topics such as SPHE, RSE, human sexuality, identity, belonging, gender stereotyping, gender norms and so forth, the spectrum of views in the general public is vast. When one thinks about it, deliberation and consultation in this space and working with communities and schools are very important. The NCCA is very much a listening organisation and then a leading organisation in terms of plotting the pathway forward from there. It is understanding the perspectives of stakeholders, communities, parents, children, school leaders and school teachers in regard to what is age and stage appropriate for children to be learning in primary schools and post-primary schools.

There are cautionary tales all around the world on this. Our nearest neighbours in recent years have had mass walkouts and opt-outs from minority faith communities because they were not consulted in the development of the curriculum. They did not feel they had buy-in or ownership of what was being taught in schools. They did not feel they had consented for their children to be taught these things in schools. There were mass walkouts, particularly across those communities in northern England. They will be dealing with the fallout from that for years to come, and that is a cohort of children who, in our eyes, will be suffering in respect of not meeting the rights they have with regard to this very important aspect of education.

In all aspects we want to avoid any such situation. That is about taking time and the research we draw on. It is about the communication and awareness-raising that we build in that regard for parents and the wider public. It is also about winning the hearts and minds of teachers and school leaders to ensure the education is being provided for children at school level, with the resourcing and the provisions, and that the status of the subject in our schools is respected in this regard. That is the piece concerning the hearts and minds that Dr. Fallon was referring to and of which we are very conscious in our work all the time.

Regarding the time, and this may be a side point, the council undertook a comparative analysis review of curriculum timelines across other jurisdictions.

We were asking ourselves the same question about timelines for curriculum development in Ireland. We actually come out quite well in comparative analysis. In many jurisdictions, it takes between six and eight years for curriculum development on a wide-scale change project as well as implementation. Our focus is very much on consensus-building, so that when we do get to the point of implementation into our schools, it is quite smooth and seamless. This ensures that it is impactful at the local level. I might refer to Ms Honan and Mr. Slattery to respond to the questions on CSPE and post-primary level.

Ms Annette Honan

Senator Warfield asked how we ensure that the Cinderella subjects, as it were, are taken more seriously within the curriculum by students, teachers and parents, who frequently might value the academic subject more highly. Part of that is about awareness raising for all of these people, including parents, so that parents are aware of the importance and value of comprehensive sexuality education, SPHE in particular, and the way it protects their children from many risks and dangers they will encounter now and in the future.

The other key element is the professional development work. I know we have mentioned it before but when we have well-trained, confident and competent teachers in the classroom, it elevates the status of every subject. Students love it when they know the teacher is committed to teaching and is teaching competently, no matter what subject they are doing. Our research shows that to be the case across the curriculum. The professional development element is really important.

The witnesses have given assurances around every child receiving a satisfactory relationships and sexuality education. Where does ethos come into play? Is there a friction there? The witnesses assured us that eventually, with curriculum change, every child will receive the same education. Does the ethos become a bit of a barrier and, if so, where?

I think the Senator is referring to school ethos. Is that correct?

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

In the review of RSE, we found that the biggest barriers to inclusive, effective and child-centred RSE are teacher confidence and competence. We found that school ethos is not in fact the barrier that it is often perceived to be. It can happen that teachers who feel a little unconfident or unsure of themselves in the classroom will think they cannot address a particular issue. A teacher may think it is not age- and stage-appropriate for him or her to speak about the issue with different groups of children. That is where teacher professional development comes in. It can support the effective negotiation and navigation of tricky terrain that can be required in classrooms. There are unexpected teachable moments that pop up every second of every day in a classroom and teachers can skilfully navigate them across the curriculum. However, this is one area that requires that extra bit of skill and care. That is what we found in our review and it is the council's view on the matter of ethos and RSE currently. Ms Honan has worked directly with the schools and has seen it first-hand.

Ms Annette Honan

When we visited schools, the Senator's question was one that was on our minds. We met with groups of teachers, students, school leaders and parents across a variety of 20 schools as part of the review. We did not fudge the issue. We asked directly if school ethos was a barrier to more effective RSE and if it was inhibiting participants, in any way, in addressing topics across the curriculum. As Dr. Sullivan has said, it did not come up unprompted. Generally, participants did not say that it was an issue, apart from in a minority of instances. For the most part, they identified other areas that were much more of an issue in terms of enabling them to become more effective or disabling them, as the case may be. That came back to issues of clarity around what to teach, access to an up-to-date curriculum and up-to-date resources, and professional development. These areas were all of a much higher priority.

We also engaged with management bodies, trustees and representative bodies. Some of them are directly quoted in our report. One of them said:

We are really keen to address the myth that Catholic schools are standing in the way of good RSE. It is the view of Le Chéile [a collection of Catholic schools] that schools' first duty is to educate and care for students. Students need to get information and have a right to this knowledge so that they can make informed decisions.

That was typical of the response of some of the church representative groups. On how it is transacting on the ground, we do not doubt that there are mixed experiences. Indeed, sometimes individual teachers might have a perception that school ethos is a barrier. We need to address that. However, there are other more systemic and fundamental issues to be addressed as well. Taking it in isolation is not really helpful.

I know of non-religious teachers working in religious schools who feel a bit spooked at times about certain topics, not only in RSE. I do not have any further questions.

I am conscious that the session is drawing to a close, and I want to ask a follow-up question. In the same review, did the NCCA find any issues with single-sex as against co-educational schools at primary or post-primary level? I am very interested in the comparative review and the timelines to which Dr. Sullivan referred. Ireland is unique in still having such a large number of single-sex schools at both primary and post-primary levels, but particularly at primary level, whereas it is against the norm in other European countries. Did it come up as an issue, particularly in terms of the teaching of RSE or SPHE? I also refer to the more general context of Deputy Clarke's questions about subject options. It certainly came up in our engagement with other stakeholder groups.

Ms Annette Honan

That is a good question. In relation to the practice on the ground, where we saw more progressive and positive experiences of RSE and SPHE happening, that was across all types of schools. We might have gone out with an expectation that certain schools would be more or less progressive but that was not the case at all.

Dr. Jacqueline Fallon

Perhaps I could pick up on a point made by Senator Warfield. He mentioned the importance of listening to young people and consultation. It would be important, given that we are all here trying to do ensure we do our best for our children and young people, to let the members know that we are very focused on consultation with children. For example, we are currently undertaking a consultation with babies, toddlers and young children on the updating of the early childhood curriculum framework. That is being carried out by a consortium across a number of academic institutions. We have just completed a consultation with primary school children to contribute to the finalisation of the primary curriculum framework. We are also sponsoring a study that is being carried out by the school of education in UCD, the Children's School Lives study. That is also feeding into the work we are doing. Mr. Slattery can also speak to the fact that we are sponsoring a longitudinal study on junior cycle implementation, which very much listens to and includes the voices of the young people who are actually experiencing all of the issues the committee has been discussing. Perhaps Mr. Slattery wants to speak to that.

Mr. Barry Slattery

We have been working directly with the ISSU and the students in the case study schools on the consultation. The student voice is so integral to our work now that we almost take for granted that consultation is something that we do. It has been praised highly by people like the Ombudsman for Children, for example. It is probably because it is an area we started to work on over ten years ago. It has been a learning curve and we will continue to learn. In all areas of our work, we strive to do the best we can. We are always reviewing, reflecting and trying to develop best practice. Student voice is probably the area in which there has been the most development over the last ten years. We started almost from scratch in many ways.

Do a lot of the people in the NCCA have experience working in schools as teachers?

Mr. Barry Slattery

Yes. I was a chemistry teacher.

Dr. Jacqueline Fallon


I think that shows, if I may say, in a very positive way.

I told representatives of the ISSU that I had the best knowledge of this area and what the leaving certificate should look like when I was doing it. That is why the student voice is so important.

We love that. We are all enjoying-----

Dr. Jacqueline Fallon

The ISSU has recently joined our council. It is now a member of the council. The student voice is being represented around the table. We are delighted to welcome ISSU to the council.

Ms Annette Honan

One of the first things we say when consulting with young people is that they are the experts in their learning and their lives. I do not know what it is like to be a 12-, 13- or 14-year-old today. I need them to tell me in order that we can reflect this in the curriculum and create a curriculum for them that is relevant to their lives and their needs, not my perception of what their needs are. They appreciate that and respond very well and very honestly. The feedback and insights we get from young people are fantastic. One of the most enjoyable parts of our work is talking with young people.

We are all enjoying the idea of a consultation involving babies and toddlers. We have finished the formal rounds, and I am conscious of the time. Each member may make a brief contribution and I will invite a final contribution from each of our witnesses. We will start with Deputy Cronin.

I am interested in what was said about the ISSU. The committee was previously given evidence that the ISSU had not been consulted on the new RSE syllabus. It has also said the existing curriculum deals more with biology than consent. The witnesses are now saying that has changed.

Mr. Barry Slattery

It has not been consulted on the new curriculum because that is only going for consultation next week. As part of the development of the curriculum, a background paper was produced. Ms Honan visited a number of schools. We reviewed the existing syllabus and engaged directly with students in the schools we were working with in the consultation on the background paper. The same will happen when we have our consultation on the draft specification. We will return to schools and talk to students, teachers and school leaders and we will invite the ISSU to participate in that. The ISSU is part of our governance structure now as well.

Is the new syllabus going to concentrate more on consent than biology?

Ms Annette Honan

It will be much more comprehensive and up to date, explicitly naming issues such as consent, pornography, sexual diversity, sexual orientations, healthy, unhealthy or abusive relations and so on. It will address all the issues that are identified in the committee's report, in other reports and by young people themselves as being important. They are all explicitly included in the updated curriculum. More important is the approach underpinning this, which is much more positively framed. As the Deputy says, the curriculum will be less biological. That is not to say there is not biological information and factual scientific information that needs to be conveyed to young people. However, we are also focusing on the fact that the information needs of young people will change. We need to equip them with the skills, and health literacy skills in particular, to be able to know where to go and how to access safe and reliable information on all aspects of their health and well-being. That is an important feature of the new specification. There is much more that could be said about it. I look forward to all members of the committee having a look at it and giving their feedback on it in the coming weeks.

Dr. Jacqueline Fallon

The idea of consent does not begin at the point Ms Honan is describing. For curriculum coherence, I would go all the way back to the early childhood framework. We are very concerned about young children having the opportunity to exercise choice and have their opinions consulted in order that very young children can get used to that idea of making their own decisions. We can then track that through the approach we take in the primary curriculum so that by the time we get to explicitly dealing with those issues of consent, those young people have had years of developing a comfort level in describing their own feelings about the choices they have to make.

That is great. It is very important. I will go to each member briefly and then come back to the witnesses.

Have our witnesses had the opportunity to look at the World Economic Forum's global gender gap report that was published yesterday? Believe it or not, it shows progress. It is now only going to take us 132 years to close the gender gap, versus the previous 136. The figure for gender parity in educational attainment has been put at 22 years. Will we get there before that?

As there are so many questions, I ask that we get a follow-up response in writing on some of these matters. There are issues around the history curriculum and intersection with regard to how ethnic minority women are portrayed and represented. I mentioned philosophy in school, female thinkers and how to engage and discuss. One of the witnesses referred to the international aspect. That is one of the reasons there is urgency here. We are not operating in a blank slate situation. There are also orchestrated and very well-resourced campaigns against children having access to this information. We should be honest and state that this is a fact. It is an issue from Hungary to Uganda to Ireland, and it is sometimes funded in other countries. That is why having good-quality education at every level is important. It is not just about a lack of information but sometimes quite bad information being targeted towards young people.

Does Senator Warfield wish to come in again?

No. I would just thank our guests. This has been a very informative meeting.

Absolutely. The witnesses might have some final observations in response to Deputy Clarke and Senator Higgins.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan

We engage widely with international and national reports and research but we have not had an opportunity to look at the particular report to which Deputy Clarke referred since its recent publication. We will be looking at it. I thank the Deputy for highlighting the matter of the gender gap in education and whether we can achieve that in a shorter period than 22 years. It goes back to the systemic response. Curriculum and assessment are very important aspects of it across early childhood, primary and post-primary but it is also a matter of wider society, the attitudes and values of parents and communities, the support for teachers and school leaders and initial teacher education. Closing the gap in a shorter time goes from education to justice to other areas of society, as the Deputy well knows.

I completely understand the issue relating to the international campaigns against children getting information in this regard. Given Ireland's commitment to the rights of children and the conventions and international agreements we have signed up to, we are on good ground. However, it is not so long ago that someone from the Department of Education had to go on "The Late Late Show" to talk about RSE in our schools to get public buy-in when it was being introduced in the late 1990s. We have come a long way, but there is another road to travel here. It is about that attentive ear to communities, families and values across our society. As I mentioned earlier, it is also about leading the way through curriculum and assessment provision in this area and being grounded in the rights of the child and what they are entitled to in our country.

Ms Annette Honan

I will quickly answer the Senator's question on philosophy. There is a curriculum for philosophy for the junior cycle. It is a 100-hour course. There is quite good uptake and young people are enjoying it. She might be glad to know that is available to schools. We probably need more time to fully respond to the history question and on Traveller education within the curriculum. We have done significant work on that area. We can share with the members what we are doing in those areas and how that aligns with the concerns of this committee.

It would be great if we could get that information by way of written follow-up. We would appreciate that.

Mr. Barry Slattery

I will try to finish on a positive note. We will close the gap before the 22 years. That is just a personal opinion, but I would like to think we will get to it a lot quicker than that. Looking at the impact young people have had on education in the past five or six years alone, that is only going to get stronger. I do not think that has been factored into the calculation of 22 years.

Dr. Jacqueline Fallon

That is a perfect note to finish on.

We appreciate that positive note. I warmly thank all the witnesses for their brilliant engagement with us today. We all appreciate it very much. The clarity of their responses has been strong. We all feel we have strengthened our knowledge of how best to implement the citizens' assembly recommendations, particularly recommendation No. 27, which is the one most relevant to the work the witnesses do.

I thank the witnesses again and wish them well in their ongoing work. I wish to express how much we appreciate their input, not just in today's presentations but in the written submissions and follow-up. We will suspend proceedings for a moment.

Sitting suspended at 10.40 a.m. and resumed at 10.42 a.m.

I welcome Professor Angela O'Hagan, reader in equalities and public policy at Glasgow Caledonian University and independent chair of the Scottish Government equality budgets advisory group. She is joining us via Microsoft Teams. I apologise for the delay in commencing our session with her. She is very welcome, and we really appreciate her joining the meeting.

Before we begin, I will read an important notice on parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. If, however, they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they will be entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Participants who are to give evidence from locations outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that the constitutional protections afforded to those who are participating from within the parliamentary precincts do not extend to them. No clear guidance can be given on whether, or the extent to which, the participation is covered by absolute privilege of a statutory nature.

We will now look at recommendations Nos. 42 to 45, inclusive, on the gender equality principles in law and policy, and in particular to consider recommendation No. 44, on equality budgeting. We are grateful to Professor O'Hagan for joining us to share her expertise and experience in this area. I call on her to make her opening statement before I open the floor to members.

Professor Angela O'Hagan

I thank the Chair and colleagues for the invitation to appear before the committee to discuss the recommendations on equality budgeting from the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality. My comments are given in a personal capacity as a researcher on gender budgeting internationally, with insights from my role as the independent chair of the Scottish Government’s equality and budget advisory group, EBAG, and as a trustee of the UK Women’s Budget Group and the Scottish Women’s Budget Group. It seems to be a very exciting time in the progress of equality budgeting in Ireland. My observations will draw on recent comments made to this committee, the OECD Scan: Equality Budgeting in Ireland report of 2019, analysis by Professor Ann-Marie Gray of Ulster University, and my experience in seeking to advance gender equality in Scotland and internationally.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality is an important initiative, and one that I would like to see replicated closer to home. The assembly specifically recommended legislating "for equality budgeting across all Government bodies including local authorities". This is a broad an ambitious recommendation, and one that replicates similar reach in other nations, including in Scotland since devolution in 1999-2000.

In Scotland, through the efforts of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group, individual campaigners and activists, and a series of actions by successive Governments, there have been some significant steps taken towards integrating gender analysis in the Scottish budget process as part of a framework of equality budgeting. These positive steps include the introduction of an equality budget statement since 2009, which has been entitled the equality and fairer Scotland budget statement since 2018, and the existence of EBAG, which is similar to the new structure in the Irish Government for the expert advisory group. EBAG has existed in several iterations in Scotland since 2000.

The equality budgets advisory group submitted a set of recommendations, most recently in 2021, to the Scottish Government. We are waiting for the Government to publish its response within the next few weeks. When it does so we will be happy to share that with the committee. The recommendations from EBAG also reflect some of the findings from the OECD scan report on Ireland. The recommendations fall into 4 categories: improving understanding of the budgetary processes; internal communication; organisational culture; and building knowledge and understanding of equalities and gender analysis.

EBAG's membership comprises of internal representation from across directorates including the economy, budgets, performance and strategy, equality and human rights, and external members include the Scottish Human Rights Commission, SHRC, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Audit Scotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Fraser of Allander Institute, and the Scottish Women’s Budget Group. The advisory group meets regularly and pursues a series of change processes to integrate equality, and now human rights analysis, in the budget process across Departments, and through policy specific reviews on key areas including social care, childcare, children’s rights, and economic policy. EBAG endeavours to ensure its deliberations and directions are aligned with the budget process. This has, however, proved problematic as the budget process has not been wholly consistent in recent years.

EBAG has increasingly engaged in expanding a human rights based approach to the Scottish budget, with a view to ensuring that spending and revenue policy decisions respect, protect and fulfil the State’s obligations to secure the realisation of rights. This approach should not be understood as being separate from or undermining a gender analysis or wider equality analysis within the budget process. Gender and equality analyses are essential elements of human rights budgeting and, as many others have said, good budgeting.

In 2018, the SHRC initiated a review of the Scottish budget process based on the criteria of the open budget project. Among the findings and recommendations was a focus on improving transparency in budget documentation and decision making at Scottish Government and local authority levels, offering some learning to the proposals before this committee. These findings reflect my analysis, and that of others, on which of the favourable conditions I suggest are necessary for gender budgeting. In a recent public lecture on gender budgeting, Professor Ann-Marie Gray of Ulster University suggested that in relation to this framework of favourable conditions, areas for further improvement in Ireland include responsiveness to external drivers, maximising political change and opportunity structures, improving the understanding of the budget process, and improving and bringing greater conceptual clarity to a framework for gender budgeting. Future improvements focus on improving gender analysis in Government processes and improving gender-aware budget documentation. The OECD recommendations for Ireland also highlighted the need for a clear conceptual understanding, which in turn was further acknowledged in the comments to this committee by Ms Caroline O’Loughlin on 30 June.

It seems that there are some shared learnings and common challenges between Scotland and Ireland. These include the need for a clear, conceptual understanding upon which to progress as equality budgeting is not always clear or consistent; understanding the challenge of an equality-budgeting approach in ensuring a focus on gender and other structural inequalities and how they manifest in different disadvantages and lived-effects for different groups. Understanding those differences, their causes and manifestations, requires extensive and quality equalities data and the analytical capacity to apply that understanding in policy analysis informing budgetary decisions.

The persistence of gendered inequalities is constantly reported in the excellent analysis of the women's budget groups and highlighted by the National Women's Council of Ireland. The recent submission to this committee from the NWCI reiterated the absence of gender analysis in economic policymaking in general and specifically in regard to Covid recovery - a situation that is not unique to Ireland but a global problem that all governments must take action to remedy. Gender analysis in an equality budgeting approach requires acknowledging and committing to eliminate gender inequality, eradicating established attitudes and assumptions that produce and reproduce inequalities, and committing to support improvement in analysis through political leadership and practical integration in budgetary processes. That means building capacity among officials, politicians and managers within government bodies to improve equality analysis and integration in policymaking and the budget process.

I thank Professor O'Hagan for that comprehensive and clear overview and for highlighting the commonalities between Scotland and Ireland as well. That is very useful to us. I invite comments and contributions from members.

I have one specific question. I thank Professor O'Hagan for her time. She touched on the importance of gender budgeting at national level but also at other levels. She specifically mentioned local authorities. To my mind, it is not just that they complement each other, but that without the overall embedding of gender budgeting what we will actually see is badly spent taxpayers’ money and we will end up with different arms of the State pulling in opposite directions. That would miss the point by a country mile of what gender budgeting is about, but it would also undermine the positivity that can come with gender budgeting. Could she speak to the importance of having that wider spread of gender budgeting than just simply at a national level?

Professor Angela O'Hagan

I thank the Deputy for her question. It is one on which we are very closely engaged at the moment in Scotland, as I am pushing for that greater synergy to be part of the next phase of our work through the equality budget advisory group, EBAG.

If the overall budget is an expression of a government's priorities, we have those priorities set out in a number of frameworks. In Scotland, it is the national performance frameworks and in Ireland there are frameworks, including programmes for Government, that set out what the priorities are. They are the priorities for the government, but those objectives are pursued through a range of public bodies that are charged with delivering on those priorities and whom the national budget funds through the allocation of resources. It is essential that there is that follow-through from national government to the range of public bodies charged with implementing and pursuing those priorities, using the mechanisms that are in place, whether they are public sector equality duties or another range of auditing and reporting purposes in the alignment, whether it is through sustainable development goals or how those goals are framed in national performance frameworks. In Ireland, the performance budgeting framework has been in place for some time. That again needs to not just demonstrate but actively be conjoined at government level across public bodies and for there to be an effective monitoring and evaluation mechanism that brings that information back through to the national level. That also means the need for effective parliamentary scrutiny through different parliamentary committees, budgetary office responsibilities and other oversight functions.

I thank Professor O'Hagan for her submission, which was interesting. In the Sinn Féin submission to the Citizens' Assembly we suggested that DPER-----

Deputy Cronin had better explain.

It is the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

It is nearly as bad as EBAG.

Yes. We should not be using all these acronyms. We suggested that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform would partner with other jurisdictions to see who has experience in equality budgeting and gender budgeting. Would the Scottish Government or EBAG be willing to do that or be open to working with Ireland on that?

What does Professor O'Hagan see as the big difference between gender budgeting and equality budgeting?

The question was about the two acronyms - DPER working with EBAG.

It is awful. I hate them.

Professor Angela O'Hagan

We could end up with an alphabetti spaghetti. I thank the Deputy for her two big questions. On whether the Scottish Government would be willing, that is a question for it.

Is it working with any other government?

Professor Angela O'Hagan

As the chair of EBAG, I would certainly be very happy to see us work together and to share our learning and development between Ireland and Scotland. In preparing for today and re-reading what Ireland has been doing, I certainly learned a lot and I will be passing on a number of observations to my colleagues on the group, and civil servants and Ministers supporting that work.

As to the difference between equality and gender budgeting, there are some significant differences and some caveats in how we approach equality budgeting in particular. Gender budgeting takes a very specific focus on looking at the structural inequalities that give rise to or create inequalities in the experiences of women and men, economically, politically and socially, and how they manifest in women's and men's economic status. Unless public policy decision-making takes a gendered analysis, it will continue to produce and reproduce those inequalities in public policy decisions across social security, taxation, economic policy, labour market-weighted policies and other policies, including maternity, paternity and other gender-equality policies. It is essential that there is a gendered analysis there to understand those differences, the causes of those differences and to take steps to eliminate the inequalities through examining public resourcing decisions and the decisions around the distribution of public resources.

An equality budgeting approach takes a much broader perspective. Very often, as can be seen in some elements of the Irish work, it can focus on socioeconomic equality or inequality, and do poverty-related and income-related work. Unless that equality analysis contains a gendered analysis and an intersectional gendered analysis that reveals how the oppression of gender inequality, racialised inequality, class-based inequality, and disability all intersect to create and recreate different experiences of discrimination and inequality then we are not going to eliminate some of those structural issues.

All of that said, it means it is a complex process and it requires robust detail across different characteristics and the intersection of how those different characteristics work together to create different types of inequalities is important. Having that data is not straightforward. I can see there is a commitment to improving the data available in Ireland, just as there is a similar commitment in Scotland, but it means having the data and then building the capability to interpret the data and understand what it means and then using that information and understanding for policy formulation and policy responses to the status quo - the current situation. We must understand why it is that some experiences of discrimination and inequality - economically, socially, politically and culturally - happen to different individuals and groups of individuals. Some scholars talk about it as critically thinking otherwise. I think about it as working backwards from what is the current situation, how it has arisen, what policy choices, policy decisions and political decisions have given rise to this inequality and then working backwards from how the policy problem has been considered or what it is considered be.

It is about working backwards from that to get a better understanding of people's circumstances, in the first instance, how some policy decisions make those circumstances worse and how to avoid that.

I will quickly give an example. There was a very good analysis by the UK Women's Budget Group of the cumulative effect of changes in the tax system and the social security entitlements system by the UK Government over a number of years. It demonstrated clearly that the changes in tax policy and social security policy, that is, the reduction in social security payments and the increase in tax giveaways, most affected women, particularly affected lone-parent families, by far the majority of which are headed by women, and particularly affected lone parents with larger families, the majority of which are headed by women of colour. The intersection of the factors of race, class and gender reinforced and exacerbated those inequalities as they manifested in a serious reduction in income to those particular groups.

We need the data on who is currently where across society and we need use need to use those data, in the first instance, to make policy from a perspective that is about driving equality, securing the realisation of rights and eliminating inequalities. That needs to be the starting position for policy, rather than deciding on a policy and then looking to see how it will affect different people differently.

I could not agree more that the data are important but the way we use them and the direction we go from there is much more important. It cannot just be about good intentions. I thank Professor O'Hagan.

I thank Professor O'Hagan for her attendance. A number of years ago, I had a chance to travel to Glasgow and look at some of the work being done by EBAG, and others. It has been a really important initiative. The example she gave was really useful. One of the issues we are looking at in the committee is the different kinds of families and how they are treated. It captures that question of the need for equality budgeting to be wider and not simply to look at a narrow income distribution aspect. We need to apply that analysis within the social protection system. For example, one of the issues that comes up is the question around individualised social protection and looking at the impact on the different individuals in a household rather than just a general household indication. The reference to the impact on women from ethnic minority groups within the lone parent category is a clear example of that.

I want to pick up on something Dr. O'Hagan mentioned about tax, which is interesting. Even in the past few years, that has become more of an area of analysis. I am aware that in Scotland, where there is the question around which powers sit with the Scottish Government and so forth, there has been a journey toward looking at gender and equality budgeting in certain areas. Increasingly, there is now a focus on how we bring that analysis into areas such as taxation and revenue. When it comes to equality budgeting and delivering on public duties on equality, it seems to me there is sometimes a notion that we have to add a bit on to cover it. The idea is that we will spend X amount on equality or we will have one group dealing with it, rather than looking at the main policies with the very large sums attached to them. Does Professor O'Hagan agree there is an issue in this regard? In the case of some of our tax relief systems and other policies that are embedded, we need to look at some of the assumptions or inequalities embedded in them, rather than just saying we will give a €1 million fund to such-and-such group to help bring it on board. It is about challenging some of the solid provisions that tend always to be in annual budgets and tend not to get queried at all. Taxation is one of those areas that has come up for discussion here. Social protection is another, to which Professor O'Hagan referred.

A development that has been really powerful in Scotland is the idea that the equality statement comes out alongside the budget. It is not a case of deliver a budget and then, four or five months later, somebody does an analysis of what its effects might be. The equality consideration is there in the statement on the day. That is really important. We are now at a point where carbon budgets need to be talked about as well. It is important that when we metric these things, they are not simply interesting academic exercises but are visible alongside the budgetary decisions. That is on the way in respect of the carbon emissions and environmental impacts of budgetary decisions. The same should apply in respect of equality impacts. It is important that they be visible on budget day and it should be clear they have been thought about in advance. Professor O'Hagan mentioned the sustainable development goals, which may be a way of bringing these different aspects together.

Will she comment on the piloting phenomenon? We have seen one pilot after another. We fought so hard to get gender and equality proofing included in the budgeting process in Ireland and it was beginning to be piloted across two Departments. Now we are looking at wellness budgets and wellness indictors. All of that is good but I am concerned that we might end up with pilot after pilot. We know from the evidence all around the world that equality budgeting makes a difference. Will she comment on the danger of siloing in respect of piloting? The idea that we can do budgets differently may get reframed and there is a danger of going back to the starting point time after time.

Professor O'Hagan mentioned local authorities. The citizens of this country have called for local authorities to have a goal in regard to gender equality. This area may need to be strengthened. I understand there were situations in the UK where local authorities failed to apply a gender analysis and that ended up costing them a lot more in the long run. Does she agree that spending on equality is a form of preventative spending?

There are quite a number of questions there for Professor O'Hagan. I thank Senator Higgins for focusing on the text in recommendation No. 44, relating to local authorities.

Professor Angela O'Hagan

I am not sure I captured all the points the Senator raised. I will try to answer all of them and I am sure she will keep me right. On taxation, one of the ways we have come at it, as the Scottish Women's Budget Group but also from the human rights perspective and the approach to human rights budgeting, is to focus on the Scottish approach to taxation and the principles put forward. That approach is based on the historic principles of Adam Smith but it is consistent with the Scottish Government's updated approach. The focus within that on ability to pay as a principle of taxation takes us into equalities analysis because people's ability to pay different types and levels of taxation is a consequence of where they are in regard to income tax and where they are in the labour market.

We know the majority of part-time workers are women and the reasons for that, including the absence or insufficiency of affordable, quality childcare. We know women work part time because they make up the majority of unpaid carers. We know women are part-time workers because of the combination of those caring responsibilities and a whole other set of structural issues, including the relationship between transport, the opening hours of public services, the opening hours in provision of publicly funded childcare and so on. There is a set of reasons that women predominate as part-time workers. Another factor is that the sectors in which they predominate tend to be lower-paid sectors.

By understanding the structure of the labour market through equalities characteristics and a gendered analysis of that, we can look at the ability to pay from a different perspective. We can look at the ability to tax income as also being about what kinds of jobs there are in the labour market and what Government intervention and other interventions are necessary to improve the offer of employment within the labour market and improve the opportunities women workers, and workers in general, can access.

As Senator Higgins said, the assumptions embedded in tax policy need to be unpicked. We need to understand what the barriers are to employment for women, disabled workers, black and minority ethnic workers and workers who are also unpaid carers and what structural adjustments and structural changes need to be made in order to improve access. We also need to understand that by improving or expanding tax policy and by increasing taxation, we are increasing revenue-raising and bringing revenue into public services. The two have to be seen together in respect of creating economic opportunities and using publicly generated public finance.

Professor Kathleen Lynch has given evidence to the committee. Her contribution was tremendous, not just to the committee but in general. She talked about the types of investment in care. We are doing work in Scotland on care, and there is the work the UK Women's Budget Group has led on recognising the importance of investment in care as a mechanism or a measure to advance gender equality. There are significant returns on investment in care for the economy in general through investments in the state and the expansion of the care workforce, which in turn increases the tax take from that workforce. It is about seeing the two together rather than seeing care as a drag on the economy and something that requires public spending and the taking of public spending away from somewhere else. It is a matter of seeing how taxation measures, tax policy and investment policy need to work together as mechanisms to eliminate some of the established gendered inequalities we are discussing.

Senator Higgins talked about spending on equality as distinct from mainstreaming. She used the phrase "the piloting phenomenon", which I have made a wee note of. I quite like that one. With a focus on pilots, the problem arises when the pilots become the ends in themselves. Pilots are a means of trialling processes and raising awareness internally within government departments, with officials being asked to do things differently, perhaps. However, the pilots need to be part of a process of learning and development, including the development of new processes and procedures. They need to be part of a process of working through what the issues are and piloting an approach to try to develop new systems or new processes. Then it is a question of how that learning is captured and then applied and amplified across government departments and processes like a budget process. The problem, however, is when they get stuck in the pilot phase and when the focus and the intention is on the pilot rather than on a process. That is where things get a bit stuck.

Senator Higgins referred to a range of initiatives. We have heard a lot over the years, in the context of gender budgeting and equalities budgeting, about initiative fatigue and that we are asking too much of officials. I have heard this recently described in response to officials being asked to run carbon budgeting, as the Senator said, well-being or wellness budgeting, children's rights budgeting and equality budgeting. Those were all described as additional and parallel asks that-----

To be very clear, these things are all really important. It is just a matter of how we provide the momentum such that they can build on one another.

Professor Angela O'Hagan

I appreciate that the Senator was not suggesting what I said; I am saying that that is what I have heard-----

I just wanted to be clear.

Professor Angela O'Hagan

-----not in respect of Ireland specifically but around the world. I have heard that there is a concern that we are asking too much by asking for all these different types of approach to the budget. I have heard it described as a cognitive overload on officials. While I have some sympathy with the need to build the competence and confidence of officials in working differently, there needs to be very clear political direction and sustained political and management direction that gender budgeting, equalities budgeting, carbon budgeting, well-being budgeting and children's rights budgeting all point in the same direction. They are all part of the same commitment to social and economic justice, however that is framed in whatever national performance frameworks individual countries work to. They are not additional or competing demands on officials; rather, they are analytical processes which should enable decision-making on policy, resource allocation and revenue-raising that equip governments and make it more possible to achieve the economic and social justice goals governments set for themselves.

The final point Senator Higgins raised was about the equality budget statement coming alongside the budget. We have a long way to go in Scotland with the equality and fairer Scotland budget statement to ensure that it is a reflection of the decision-making process. The old-fashioned phrase used in school with some of us with my hair colour was that we had to show our workings in the margin. This is about demonstrating one's analysis in how decisions have been made, the intent behind those decisions and why resources are allocated in a certain way. Equality budgeting needs to be more than a narrative accompaniment to the budget, which is one of the criticisms I have made over the years of the equality budget statement in Scotland. Where we have seen significant improvements in the equality budget statement, EBS, with apologies for another acronym, or, as it is now, the equality and fairer Scotland budget statement, has been in the introduction of a range of templates that portfolio departments are required to work through in their analysis of policy and spending priorities. There was the introduction in 2020 or 2019 - I cannot quite remember - of a list of the key risks that potentially undermine the pursuit of government priorities. It is a matter of focusing portfolio department attention on what needs to happen in order to alleviate and to avoid those risks and, maybe, to improve or to increase resourcing or intervention and attention in particular areas of policy. That helps focus the attention of the portfolio departments on government priorities and the national performance outcomes and helps focus the delivery and the implementation of commitments in the programme for government.

There is significant transparency and visibility by having the equality budget statement as part of the general budgetary documentation. That is a very important element. It is also an area where we are looking at continuous improvement in Scotland, particularly as to who uses the information in the equality budget statement, how it is used by parliamentarians in their scrutiny of the budgets throughout the budgetary cycle, rather than seeing it as a one-off event, and how evaluation of outcomes against the commitments in the budget and the analysis that informs them is then brought back in to inform amendments to iterations and development from budgetary commitments.

Those questions involved quite a range of issues. Thank you, Professor O'Hagan, for addressing them all. Deputy Cronin wishes to come in again.

Unless you have a question, Chairman, because you have not had a chance-----

I will contribute at the end. I will give everyone a final go now. This is a shorter round.

One of the recommendations of the citizens' assembly was to make sure that there is an adequately resourced and empowered statutory body for gender equality, with that responsibility being with a Cabinet member. Was the same done in Scotland? If so, was that cabinet member high up in the pecking order?

This is recommendation 42 of the assembly.

Professor Angela O'Hagan

In Scotland we have the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is a GB body, and the Scottish Human Rights Commission, which is an organ of the Scottish Parliament. At cabinet level we have a cabinet secretary for social justice. I am probably getting the current title wrong. The minister with immediate oversight of the work of the equality budget advisory group, EBAG, is the Minister for Equalities and Older People.

The position is not at cabinet secretary level but we have meetings with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy as well as the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government and our Minister for Equalities and Older People.

I thank Professor O'Hagan. That is interesting to hear.

I have one final question. On the equality budget, which Professor O'Hagan noted has been a piece of work since devolution, what metrics are used to measure progress? Is an overarching list of goals developed that are ticked off as achieved and reviewed at intervals along the way to ensure they are still fit for purpose? What new knowledge was gained from doing a piece of work like that? We know the importance of equality budgeting. We know the goals that need to be achieved. How do we measure progress along that very long path?

Professor Angela O'Hagan

That is an excellent question and when I have a better answer in the future I will come back to the Deputy on it.

Our door is always open.

Professor Angela O'Hagan

It is absolutely key. It is one of the issues I will be focused on in the next iteration of the equality budgets advisory group. It forms part of our 31 recommendations to the Scottish Government, on which we are waiting to hear back, about capturing the knowledge, progress and learning as to how we got there and what difference was made.

One of the formal feedback loops is around the national performance framework. Officials within performance and strategy in the Scottish Government look at the differences year on year or over different periods of time in terms of meeting the indicators and targets within the national performance framework. The trinity there is really to have the budget commitment and the analytical processes that inform the budget process and the budget commitment aligning with or being seen as part of that triangle of the national performance framework and the programme for government. They all need to be linked. If the budget is giving resource expression to government commitments that are about achieving the national performance frameworks, then we need to see that alignment. The analytical processes that the equality budgets advisory group is trying to improve and instil within the Scottish Government processes require us to have much closer alignment to the budget process. That has been a little tricky because the fiscal events of the UK Government have moved about quite a bit in recent years, which means the formal part of the Scottish budget process - going through parliament, from the draft budget to the finalisation of the budget - has become a bit truncated. We have also not had a resource spending review for a significant number of years. The first resource spending review in, I think, ten years was produced in the last few months. In brief, there is a lot going on but there is a lot more to do to improve the ways in which we measure progress and improve the process.

I thank Professor O'Hagan. She said she would be happy to share the Scottish Government's response to the 31 recommendations when it comes out. The committee would be delighted to receive that response as a follow-up.

It would be great to get a copy of that. An example of those templates would also be very interesting.

I have a question on the local authorities, which is an area that was identified and relates to this. The question relates to how the public duty on equality, which we have had in Ireland since 2015, and equality budgeting tend to intersect. Is it the public duty helping to drive the equality budgeting.? Is the fact of having to deliver on quality budgeting driving the public duty? How are those intersecting? They all come together in terms of performance framework. Will Professor O'Hagan discuss the dynamic between those two tools for equality?

I am chair of the all-party interest group on the sustainable development goals, SDGs. We are trying to figure out how the sustainable development goals are embedded. Scotland has the experience of trying to embed equality budgeting prior to bringing in the SDGs. Will Professor O'Hagan comment on whether there has been any useful learning in that regard? Would she like to add anything in that regard?

Professor Angela O'Hagan

I was bound to forget something in the long list the Senator provide. My apologies for leaving out local authorities. It is well documented that the processes of equality impact assessment are limited in scope and quality across public authorities and that there is room for significant improvement in the application and use of equality impact assessment. Equality analysis overall involves equality analysis informing policy formulation and the options around policy interventions and then setting up measures to be able to capture the impact on different equalities groups. There is a limit in terms of the amount of time that officials are given to complete equality impact assessments and there is the stage of the process at which equality impact assessments are initiated. There is a sense that equality impact assessment is somehow a separate action within policy rather than the advancement of equality and the realisation of rights being the starting point for policy decisions. What is the "problem" that needs to be addressed and how might different interventions alleviate or eliminate the inequalities that exist? There are some problems with the tools and with the implementation and that is fairly well documented by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and other bodies.

Part of the problem is that the public sector equality duty needs to be viewed as a support to policymaking for improving policy and decision making, not as a further set of demands on already hard-pressed officials. It needs to be seen as an enabling platform. It is about making better policy to secure better outcomes for people rather than being an imposition on public bodies. We need that change in mindset across our public authorities. From that, we would see a better set of tools and better application of those tools in relation to equality and practice assessment. I have made some very general and critical comments there with which I am sure colleagues across public authorities in Scotland would disagree because of course there is some variance in what I have been saying. There are some examples of good practice and good guidance.

In relation to the sustainable development goals, the national performance framework in Scotland is structured around the SDGs. One of the SDGs that is sometimes overlooked in relation to gender budgeting and equalities budgeting is SDG 16, the need for strong institutions. In concluding my remarks, the recommendations from the OECD Scan report on Ireland offer some really positive guidance and steps for Ireland - I am learning a lot for Scotland as well - in relation to advancing gender equality within an inequalities and human rights budgeting framework. The recommendations there really help as regards how to secure a process whose outcomes better enable our governments to realise their commitments and the necessity to act under the sustainable development goals.

That finishes our round of questions. I have one question and Professor O'Hagan will be glad to hear it is a fairly concise one. It relates to a matter that arose in our previous session which dealt specifically with recommendation 44. The citizens' assembly recommended that the Government legislate for equality budgeting across all Government bodies, including local authorities. We had some discussion about whether legislation is necessary to embed equality budgeting or whether it is just as effective, efficient, meaningful or impactful to do it without the basis of any statutory framework. What is the experience in Scotland? Professor O'Hagan described it as a broad, ambitious recommendation which replicates similar reach in other nations. Was there legislation in Scotland to underpin the process or has Scotland found that it is not needed? That is the key question.

Do we need legislation to do this?

Professor Angela O'Hagan

It is a perennial question. Recently, the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls made a recommendation that intersectional gender budgeting be put on a statutory footing. The response from EBAG at that time was that we already have legislation which is not being properly or fully implemented. The public sector equality duty requires that and should be seen as both enabling platforms and a compliance mechanism for equality or gender budgeting. A judgment set out in a judicial review in 2010 relating to the UK Government was very clear that the budget process should be part of the public sector equality duty requirements. The OECD has recommended a legislative footing. A number of other countries around the world, like Canada, and sub-national governments such as the autonomous community of Andalusia and some of the other Spanish autonomous communities have introduced a legislative footing. One of the reasons given for providing that security of a legislative footing is so gender budgeting and equalities budgeting are not vulnerable to the electoral cycle and the particular political preferences at any given time; rather, there would be a statutory requirement. There is certainly a strong argument for ensuring statutory provisions are effectively implemented. In the absence of those statutory requirements, they should be introduced.

It is very helpful to hear that point about the public sector equality duty. We have a similar provision, which is equally under-used or under-implemented at present. That is a very important point and we will take that on board. I thank Professor O'Hagan again for her comprehensive responses and for her written submission. We appreciate her engagement, on recommendation No. 44 in particular but also more broadly on recommendations Nos. 42 to 45, inclusive, on the gender equality principle in law and policy. These are important recommendations, as part of the overall suite of 45 recommendations the Citizens' Assembly has made, which we regard as a blueprint for achieving gender equality in Ireland. I thank Professor O'Hagan for her help in enabling us to do our work and for sharing her views and expertise.

I thank all colleagues and stakeholders who attended yesterday's launch of our interim report on constitutional change. We all look forward to resuming our hearings on the final module, module E, on recommendations relating to workplace pay and conditions and leadership, politics and public life in the autumn. Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.33 a.m. until 9 a.m. on Thursday, 15 September 2022.