Ancillary Recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly Report: Discussion

The same rules as in our previous session apply as regards telephones. I do not think that with these particular witnesses I need to go through the Defamation Act 2009 and the attendant privilege issues, as they are familiar with those. I welcome officials from the Departments of Education of Skills and Children and Youth Affairs, namely, Ms Olive McGovern, principal officer with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Mr. Eamonn Moran, principal officer at the curriculum and assessment policy unit; Ms Emer Egan, deputy chief inspector; Ms Amanda Geary, post-primary senior inspector; and Ms Clare Griffin, primary divisional inspector of the Department of Education and Skills. The witnesses are all very welcome. I invite Ms McGovern to make her opening statement.

Ms Olive McGovern

I thank the Chair for inviting me to attend this session of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. I am standing in this afternoon for my principal officer colleague, Ms Clare McNamara, who cannot be here at short notice due to illness. The committee has already received the submission of the Department. This follows on from a letter of response from the Secretary General to the committee in which the ancillary recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly that falls within the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was addressed.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs administers a range of funding schemes and programmes to support the provision of youth services to young people throughout the country, including those from disadvantaged communities. There are approximately 1,600 youth groups and clubs across the country, with an estimated membership of 89,000 young people, in receipt of funding from the Department under the local youth club grant scheme. The majority of these young people are in clubs affiliated to national youth organisations. Local youth clubs, along with each national youth organisation in receipt of funding from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, are expected to operate in accordance with the national youth strategy, which is a constituent strategy of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, BOBF.

The implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People has been ongoing across Government since its launch in April 2014. The national youth strategy, which was subsequently launched in October 2015, includes commitments identified by young people themselves. It builds on the youth-specific policy commitments outlined in BOBF. In line with current and emerging policy, the national youth strategy addresses the current socio-economic needs and aspirations of young people aged between ten and 24 years.

The implementation structures established by the Department under BOBF are overseeing the roll-out of the national youth strategy. Youth clubs and services have a significant contribution to make to realise the goals of the national youth strategy, as part of a cross-sectoral whole-of-society approach to supporting young people in their everyday lives.

One of the main objectives of the national youth strategy is for young people to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, in particular with regard to their physical, mental and sexual health and well-being. The Department also provides funding to the national youth health programme. This is a partnership operated by the National Youth Council of Ireland, NYCI, in conjunction with the youth affairs unit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the health promotion unit of the Health Service Executive. In 2017 the Department allocated €86,952 to the NYCI to support the implementation of the national youth health programme.

The national youth health programme provides a broad-based and flexible health promotion, education, support and training service to youth organisations and to all those working with young people in out-of-school settings. Through the national youth health programme, the NYCI has sought to develop the capacity of the youth sector and youth organisations to advocate on issues that affect young people and to develop evidence-based resources to support that work. The health programme works with practitioners across the youth sector to build knowledge, skills and expertise on a range of health areas, including health promotion, mental health and sexual health. This work is achieved through the development of a range of training and policy programmes.

Specifically with regard to sexual health and relationships, the national youth health programme provides training to youth workers within organisations and aims to strengthen the organisational environment for the delivery of sexual health programmes. The b4udecide training course is offered in conjunction with the HSE crisis pregnancy programme, and training and accompanying resources explore the concept of delaying early sexual activity among young people. A follow-on course for youth workers to the b4udecide training, entitled "Developing a Sexual Health Policy – Good Practice in Sexual Health Promotion", aims to strengthen the organisational environment for the delivery of sexual health programmes.

The Department is committed to delivering on both the commitments of the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures policy framework and those of the national youth strategy as they relate to prioritising the sexual health and well-being of children and young people. The funding provided by the Department, in conjunction with that provided by the Departments of Education and Skills and Health and the Health Service Executive supports young people around relationships and sexuality and provides access to timely and appropriate information.

If members have any questions, I can provide more detail or other information they may want.

Before we take questions, we will take the next speaker. I invite Mr. Moran to make a presentation.

Mr. Eamonn Moran

I thank the committee for the opportunity to make this opening statement. The Department of Education and Skills welcomes the opportunity to address the ancillary recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly relating to sexual health and relationship education, which states "Improvements should be made in sexual health and relationship education, including the areas of contraception and consent, in primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations involved in education and interactions with young people."

The Department has already provided a written submission to the committee which sets out the current provision of sexual health and relationship education in the primary, post-primary and higher-education sectors. I propose, therefore, to make a short opening statement, although, along with my colleagues, I will be happy to engage with the committee during the subsequent discussion and address any of the items identified in either the opening statement or in our written submission. The statement is organised in two parts: first, I will set out what is required of schools in the context of sexual health and relationship education, and how the Department supports schools to meet that requirement; and, second, I will describe briefly our monitoring of compliance, the outcomes of that monitoring and recent initiatives which can help and improve the quality of provision.

I will begin by outlining what we require schools to do. Access to sexual and health education is an important right for students. Schools have a responsibility to provide for this, importantly, in consultation with parents and having regard to the ethos of the school. Social, personal and health education, SPHE, is a mandatory curriculum subject in all primary schools and in post-primary up to the end of the junior cycle. Relationships and sexuality education, RSE, is required at all levels, from primary to senior cycle. The Department has set out the content for each of these programmes in SPHE and RSE syllabuses and guidelines, as well as in other support material.

The primary level SPHE curriculum currently used in schools was published in 1999. Its purpose is to foster the personal development, health and well-being of the individual child, to help him or her create and maintain supportive relationships and to enable children make safe and healthy decisions now and in the future. At post-primary level, the SPHE curriculum framework for junior cycle was published in 2000. It provides students with the opportunity to develop the skills and competence to take care of themselves and others and to make informed decisions about their health, personal lives and social development.

RSE is not taught as a distinct programme or subject in primary schools or in junior cycle. Instead, it forms an integral part of the SPHE curriculum at both levels. At senior cycle, a school’s RSE programme may be taught as a distinct programme or delivered in the context of an SPHE programme or another subject, such as religious education, biology, science or home economics. Primary schools are also required to fully implement the Stay Safe programme, which addresses physical, emotional and sexual abuse. It aims to increase resilience by giving children knowledge, skills and strategies in an age-appropriate manner, which is an important precursor to understanding the concept of consent in an adult sexual relationship when they get older.

All schools are required to have an RSE policy that is developed in consultation with the school community, including management, parents, teachers and students, as appropriate. A school’s programme for relationship and sexuality education is developed and taught in the context of its RSE policy. It is important to note that the ethos of a school should never preclude learners from acquiring the knowledge about the issues, but ethos may influence how that content is treated.

Contraception or issues relating to consent are not explicitly mentioned in the primary SPHE curriculum or in the RSE programme. The focus is on developing assertive skills, personal self-efficacy and an understanding how one’s body works. This lays the foundation for later discussion of specific issues in a manner appropriate to the developmental stage of the pupils. At post-primary level, schools are required to teach all aspects of the RSE programme, including family planning, sexually transmitted infections and sexual orientation. Elements of the programme cannot be omitted on the grounds of school ethos. However, all aspects of the programme can and should be taught within the ethos and value system of a school as expressed in its written RSE policy.

It should be noted that, under legislation, the higher-education institutions are autonomous bodies and the Department does not prescribe a programme in RSE at this level. The majority of higher-education institutions provide students with information on sexual health and additional links to further information and support on relationships, sexual education and mental health issues. Information is provided by both the institutions’ student’s unions and student services medical centres. Several higher-education institutions also provide classes in sexual consent, giving students the opportunity to talk about positive forms of sexual communication.

I will now discuss the ways in which the Department supports schools in meeting their requirements in respect of RSE and SPHE. A range of actions have been taken by the Department to support the implementation of SPHE and RSE. The Department has published policy guidelines for relationships and sexuality education to support schools in developing RSE policy. These provide clear guidance on engaging with the school community and on sharing the school’s policy on RSE, recognising that a partnership approach to RSE helps to ensure that children are provided with a consistent experience and are able to make connections between life at home, in the school and in the community. This is considered to be a very important requirement. Sample templates for RSE policies are provided for schools to consider when drafting their own policies.

An RSE support service and a separate SPHE support service are available to schools. An extensive programme of continuing professional development, CPD, opportunities has been provided to support teachers in the implementation of RSE and SPHE programmes in post-primary schools. Over several years, the Department and the support services have also developed a wide range of teaching materials, particularly in the area of RSE. This work has been done in partnership with other Departments and agencies, including the HSE, the Gay and Lesbian Education Network, GLEN, and the crisis pregnancy programme. It should be noted that schools have discretion regarding the resources that they use to teach SPHE and RSE, and that these are used in accordance with the school’s policy.

I will now move on to the second part of the statement, which addresses the ways that the Department monitors compliance in this area. It is the responsibility of a school's board of management to ensure that RSE is taught in the school. The inspectorate conducts robust quality assurance of provision in SPHE and RSE through its programme of inspection in schools. Inspectors ensure: that the school timetable includes time for SPHE and RSE; that the RSE policy has been developed; that broad and balanced coverage of the SPHE and RSE curriculum is evident in school planning; and, in focused evaluations of SPHE and RSE lessons, that students are achieving the intended outcomes of the curriculum. During all whole-school evaluations, school management is required to confirm that the full Stay Safe programme, SPHE curriculum and RSE are being provided. Where there is evidence that provision is unsatisfactory, recommendations for improvement are made. In those cases where there is no or inadequate implementation of the SPHE and RSE curriculum, the inspectorate conducts a range of follow-through actions until such time as the relevant school is regarded as being compliant with the requirements in this area.

Through the monitoring of compliance, we have found that, in general, schools are positively disposed to providing good quality SPHE and RSE, and we have noted the prevalence of a positive classroom and whole-school atmosphere. Systematic engagement by school managers and teachers with SPHE and RSE continuous development activities has been shown to have a positive impact on the quality of programme delivery. However, there are some challenges to achieving high quality in that provision which are common across primary and post-primary levels. In some schools, the development of an RSE policy has not been achieved and there is insufficient engagement with parents on the policy and programme in the school. However, as was mentioned in the written submission to the committee, our lifeskills survey indicates that almost all schools actually have written RSE policies in place and the remainder are in the process of developing these. Furthermore, we know that there are issues relating to the competence and confidence of teachers regarding the delivery of RSE.

I will now outline recent initiatives which will support high-quality provision of services in this area. The Department is developing a policy on well-being which will be published in early 2018. The policy, which will cover both primary and post-primary schools, will set out a number of actions which will enhance the physical, mental, emotional and social well-being of students and enable them to build life skills.

The policy will include actions to support schools and teachers to deliver high-quality learning experiences so that students acquire an appropriate knowledge and understanding of human relationships and sexuality.

Another important development is the introduction of a new area of learning called Wellbeing, and I apologise for the confusing terminology due to the use of a capital "W", which is part of the new framework for junior cycle. Social, personal and health education, SPHE, and relationships and sexuality education, RSE, are integral parts of the new Wellbeing programme at junior cycle. They provide opportunities for teaching and learning directly related to well-being, not least the capacity to develop and maintain healthy relationships. Wellbeing guidelines developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, have been published and training has already commenced for school leaders to assist them in developing a well-being programme. It is important to emphasise that the Wellbeing programme is a whole-of-school programme and is not just for specific individual teachers.

It is envisaged that the SPHE curriculum, including RSE, at primary level will undergo a review by the NCCA in the coming years, as part of its ongoing review of all the curriculum areas, with which the committee members will doubtless be familiar. A review of the curriculum at senior cycle is also under way, again led by the NCCA. The SPHE and RSE programmes at that level will be considered.

These reviews will include the views of all the education partners, recent research outcomes, societal and cultural changes and all the relevant polices and teaching materials that have been disseminated to schools since the SPHE and RSE curricula were first introduced, including material produced by entities other than our own Department, including our colleagues in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the HSE and other partners that operate in this area. It is not possible to determine exactly what the review will conclude in terms of curriculum content. The process will be very comprehensive and all views and suggestions will be considered.

I thank the Chairperson for the opportunity to make an opening statement. My colleagues and I look forward to our discussions.

I thank Ms McGovern and Mr. Moran for their presentations. We will now move on to questions from members. I call Deputy Louise O'Reilly and she has six minutes.

I thank the witnesses for sharing their experiences and information with us.

It is fair to say, and I will not give away my age, that the curriculum has moved on since I attended school. That is a good thing but we have a little further to go. I listened to the presentations and I was startled to learn that sometimes RSE takes place during religion classes. I wish to refer to a newspaper article that was published in 2014 where it was highlighted that schools used external agencies. As Mr. Moran mentioned, not all teachers are skilled enough to teach these classes. Does the Department have oversight in cases where external agencies are used? Is it left to the board of management to provide oversight? I ask because when I attended school there were organisations that would have been more comfortable teaching RSE such as Pure in Heart Ireland. Do some schools still use textbooks that exclusively focus on heterosexual relationships or abstinence from sex until marriage?

I am curious about the external agencies. Is there a register and regulations for external agencies? We have had discussions at this committee and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health about rogue agencies offering women counselling, a term I use advisedly. Can the use of external agencies be regulated? Is it simply a matter for the boards of management to decide?

Ms McGovern mentioned that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs allocated €86,952 to the National Youth Council of Ireland to support the implementation of the national youth health programme. To me, that sounds like an astonishingly small amount of money and is a loaves and fishes job. Will she give us a breakdown of the budget and outline what could be done if more money were allocated?

Mr. Eamonn Moran

I thank the Deputy for her questions. I will answer one of her questions and another question is for my colleague in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

I mentioned in my opening statement that the RSE may be taught as a distinct programme or delivered in the context of an SPHE programme or in another subject. I also gave examples, including religious education. There is a requirement that all schools ensure that all students get the RSE programme, unless parents have requested that their children do not receive an element of the programme. There is a requirement in junior cycle to have a minimum number of RSE classes per week and to have between five and six classes per year in senior cycle. The schools will be required to ensure that all of their pupils receive RSE.

Mr. Moran has referred to the RSE as if it is a standardised programme. I am sure that it contains standardised elements. Can the RSE course be tweaked to suit the ethos of an individual school? There may be people teaching abstinence until marriage. That might conform with the ethos of the school but I cannot imagine it will confirm with what is contained in the programme. I am referring to the grey area where a board of management may have stepped in and taken control. Is there a standardised form of RSE? Is there a mechanism by which there is a contradiction between the ethos of a school and what represents good practice? I refer to cases where good practice takes precedence over the ethos of the school.

Mr. Eamonn Moran

It is important to make the point that schools are required to teach all aspects of the RSE programme, including family planning, information on sexually transmitted infections and information on sexual orientation. Elements of the programme cover the issues of contraception and consent. As I said in my presentation:

Elements of the programme cannot be omitted on the grounds of school ethos. However, all aspects of the programme can and should be taught within the ethos and value system of a school.

For example, schools are required to teach the elements of the programme that relate to contraception. However, the schools, depending on their ethos might say, for example, in the context of the Catholic Church, we have a particular view on contraception. It is important for me to point out that there is a requirement for all elements of the programme to be delivered in the schools.

The Deputy mentioned external agencies so I ask my colleague, Ms Egan, to answer her questions.

Ms Emer Egan

We provide very clear guidance to schools on the engagement of outside speakers and, indeed, on the use of resources. We promote that the teaching of all elements of RSE and SPHE take place within the context of a policy that is determined at school level. We provide very clear guidance on how that policy should be developed. It should be a collaborative process between all members of the school community - the board of management, the parents, the teachers and the students, depending on their age. That policy should explore all of the issues associated with the teaching of RSE in the schools.

Where an outside speaker is engaged by a school, he or she should be engaged in the context of delivering a planned and comprehensive programme in the school.

He or she should not be brought in to replace the school programme but to enhance it. It is the responsibility of the school to ensure that outside speakers are aware of the school policy on RSE and child protection and their input should be delivered in that context. No rogue organisation at variance with a school's policy should deliver a programme in the school. We recommend and provide guidance that the class teacher should always be present in the class in order that he or she is aware of what is being delivered and will know if any aspect of school policy has been breached and needs to be addressed. We advise that material used by outside speakers should be checked in advance to ensure that it is in line with school policy and should be available to parents. Parents should be informed if an external speaker is engaged. Programmes delivered by visitors or external agencies must use appropriate evidence-based methodologies with clear educational outcomes. We have provided very clear guidance to schools on how to use external agencies.

My question was specifically in regard to accreditation. There is no list of approved third parties or agencies. I could set up an agency in the morning and once I tick the boxes, I could deliver a programme with my own slant on it to schools, albeit within the very broad parameters Ms Egan outlined. There is no regulation or accreditation that could be used to prevent this.

That will be Deputy O'Reilly's final question as she has exceeded her allotted time.

Ms Emer Egan

There is no regulation of such agencies. If an agency has an approach inconsistent with good educational practice and at variance with the policy of a school, the school should not engage it.

I thank Ms Egan. Has the Department received any complaints regarding rogue agencies delivering programmes in schools?

Mr. Eamonn Moran

Not of which I am aware. However, in the curriculum and assessment policy section we receive queries from schools regarding offers made by various agencies to deliver various elements of the curriculum and not just those relating to RSE and SPHE. There are so many such agencies that the Department is not logistically able to endorse or check all of their offerings. However, we counsel schools to make inquiries with such agencies as to the quality and nature of the product they propose to deliver and also to establish whether other schools have engaged with the agencies. As I mentioned briefly in my opening statement, a school's written RSE policy is developed in conjunction with school leadership, teachers, parents, students and the wider school community. There is a very extensive engagement by the school system in respect of setting out the RSE policy and that level of broad expertise is also brought to bear in determining the nature of the programme to be delivered and the policy regarding the engagement of external entities.

I thank Mr. Moran. Does Ms McGovern wish to comment?

Ms Olive McGovern

Overall Department funding for the National Youth Council of Ireland, NYCI, in 2017 was €594,000. In addition, we fund three specific programmes on health, child protection and the arts. The arts and health programmes are delivered in partnership with the Arts Council and the HSE, respectively. Through that spine funding, the health programme then accesses additional funding from a range of agencies. The total budget for the health programme is, therefore, far more substantial than the contributions of the Department and the HSE. Additional funding in respect of sexual health is provided by the crisis pregnancy programme and by the National Office for Suicide Prevention in respect of mental health. Smoking prevention work is funded by the Irish Cancer Society. There is a hybrid funding mix for the health programme anchored within the NYCI, which receives substantial funding from the Department. Our contribution is only part of the total available to the organisation.

I thank the witnesses for attending. As regards policy, when the witnesses from the curriculum unit are designing guidelines for education for young people, such as in respect of sex and reproductive health education - the areas of particular interest for the committee - do they consider models from other countries, particularly those in Europe? Can they comment on evidence presented last week to the committee regarding sexual education recently being made compulsory from the age of ten in the Netherlands? A corollary of that was a reduction of one third in teenage pregnancies between 2012, when it was made compulsory, and 2016. I ask the witnesses to comment on that.

My other question is similar to that of Deputy O'Reilly regarding the use of outside agencies. Senator Ruane was feeling unwell and went home. Her daughter attends a school in Tallaght in which sex education is delivered by an outside agency named Accord, which is affiliated to the Catholic church. Senator Ruane has removed her daughter from that class because she has serious issues with that agency and its affiliation. The Department's proposals repeatedly state that the ethos of a school may be taken into consideration. The ethos of school is very much a framework for how this is delivered. The ethos of the school has to be managed within the school framework, involving all agencies, including the board of management. Some 94% of boards of management of national schools in this country contain leading local members of the Catholic church or are controlled by the Catholic church. Do the witnesses consider there to be an obstacle to progressing the process of dealing with teenage pregnancy and sex education in order to prevent as many crisis pregnancies and to get on with the business of educating a future generation in a full and wholesome way about reproductive health and helping them to live their lives in a way that prevents the outcomes of crisis pregnancies such as, for example, the increased use of the abortion pill? Do the witnesses think that it would be of assistance to remove the framework of Catholic ethos from national schools? I am not suggesting that the church should be moved to Mars or some such place but, rather, that the ethos of Catholicism should be removed from the delivery of sexual health programmes in schools. The latter might have long-term positive outcomes, particularly for young girls.

Mr. Eamonn Moran

I thank Deputy Bríd Smith for her questions. I will take the question on the process of developing guidelines and Ms Egan will address the query regarding external agencies and ethos. As regards guidelines, I do not know the full details of the Dutch experience of making sex education compulsory. However, as members are aware, in making policy decisions on curriculum content, the Department is advised in the first instance by the NCCA. A very significant element of the policy development process of the NCCA is a consultative process engaging with all the players in the field, including students, parents, educators, school leaders and other agencies active in the particular curriculum area, including teachers' professional bodies.

I am aware from the work we are doing with the NCCA relating to the revision of the primary language curriculum and the senior cycle curriculum that it also has extensive engagement in carrying out international research and seeking to identify best practice in Europe and elsewhere. For example, with regard to the current review of the senior cycle curriculum, which would include a review of SPHE and RSE, the first part of that work has been a research phase examining the curriculum provision in approximately a dozen countries, both in Europe and further afield, to identify what does and does not work in those areas. It is important to point out that what works in one country does not automatically work in another and the particular circumstances of the country must be taken into account. The policy advice that is received by the Minister and the Department from the NCCA would have been through a very extensive consultation process and would be informed by the views of all the players in a particular area.
On the distinction between the programme of SPHE and RSE that is delivered in schools and the issue of the Catholic ethos, as I said in the opening statement and in response to the first question from Deputy O'Reilly, all schools are required to deliver the SPHE and RSE programme. The Department and the inspectorate would be concerned if, when the inspectorate visits schools, the programme is not being delivered. My inspector colleagues can comment further on that, but the feedback from the inspectorate's visits to schools is that the programme is being delivered in full. There are some cases where the RSE policy needs to be finalised but the programme is delivered in full. That is an important point.

Ms Emer Egan

Our education system is a State aided system and a range of patron bodies run the schools. They are facilitated to run their schools in accordance with their ethos. That is enshrined in legislation. In implementing an RSE programme in schools we are very clear that the schools must implement the programme that is laid out. They must cover the themes outlined for primary and post-primary levels. We clearly state that ethos cannot be used as an argument for omitting elements of the programme.

We expect that a school will deliver a programme using a variety of materials and resources and possibly external agencies. However, we would not expect that an external agency would take over the delivery of the programme in a school. RSE is not taught only during a class in curriculum time. The values inherent in an RSE programme, which is about developing children's understanding of good and healthy relationships, are something the children would also experience through the way in which the school is organised. RSE takes place in curriculum time but the climate and culture of the school also support it. As the ethos of schools can differ the schools are enabled to take account of their ethos in how the RSE programme is delivered, but they must first ensure that they cover the content and do not leave out areas of knowledge. They may follow up with how that might be considered in the context of the particular ethos of the school but they must teach what is in the framework curriculum.

There are ten modules in the RSE programme: belonging and integration; self-management - a sense of purpose; communications skills; physical health; friendship; relationships and sexual education; emotional health; influences and decisions; substance use and personal safety. Which of those could contain differences of ethos? Can there be a different ethos in respect of communications or self-management or is it just in sexual education?

Ms Emer Egan

That is an issue where it would be up to the individual school to determine the school policy. If members of the school community who are part of that policy development programme identify an issue under any of these headings which they believe requires clarification on how it might be taught, it is the role of that policy development group to be very clear on what, if any, ethos issue impinges upon any of these areas.

I have a final question. Would any or all of the witnesses say that there is good sex education at primary or post-primary level in this country?

Ms Emer Egan

We have made a great deal of progress over the last 20 years. We have some very good provision in many schools. Amanda Geary can speak about the SPHE review we carried out in post-primary schools.

Ms Amanda Geary

In 2013 we compiled a composite report based on approximately 60 schools. We looked at the quality of provision for SPHE, and that included RSE. That composite report is entitled "Looking at Social, Personal and Health Education". It yielded very positive findings relating to provision and a number of other themes. The main outcome of the report indicated to us that we have high quality provision and delivery of SPHE and RSE overall.

It is not specifically about sex education.

Ms Amanda Geary

SPHE includes sex education. RSE is the sex education component of the SPHE programme.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I am convinced that education in this area has come a long way since I was in school. I recall my sex education class really consisting of one word, "No".

That said, I see a contradiction in the idea that the Department will roll out this quite progressive education programme and at same time say that it can be taught within a particular ethos. We know what the problem is - the vast majority of our schools are still under Catholic control. That means young people are being told they can do something, but then they are immediately told that it is wrong. That is not the Department's fault but it is a glaring problem that we as elected representatives must deal with. Would the witnesses accept that, in reality, people are getting different types of education depending on the type of school they attend? Notwithstanding the fact that this set information must be given, the context is everything. That is a real concern.

I have some other questions, although I am conscious of having only six minutes.

You are always well within the time, Senator.

Thank you. Younger colleagues of mine were genuinely interested in this paper. Some of them only finished school a few years ago and they say, "Look, it sounds great but we never got it". Will the witnesses comment on that? Has there been a significant take-up in the last number of years? The people I am referring to would have finished school at some time between 2006 and 2012. They say that they never saw it.

With regard to the review being conducted, the witness said that in some schools the development of RSE policy has not been achieved. Are there any indicators or commonalities in that regard? Is it related to the size of the schools, the ethos of the schools or the location of the schools? Are there any commonalities such as that?

The well-being programme sounds like a good idea. How quickly can that be rolled out and does the Department have the resources it needs to roll it out?

Mr. Eamonn Moran

I will start with the last question. There are two elements to the well-being programme. One is the newly rolled out junior cycle well-being area of learning which covers SPHE, CSPE and PE. Some other elements could also be included.

This was rolled out to schools from September 2017 and will be reported on in the students' new junior cycle profile of achievement from June 2020. It is an exciting new area. Our junior cycle for teachers' continuous professional development, CPD, team has a particular well-being programme going out to schools to assist them in rolling out the programme. We are committing significant CPD resources to ensuring that the programme is rolled out well. I will make a point that might address one of the issues Senator Gavan has. An underlying emphasis of the well-being programme is that well-being is a whole-of-school activity, so it is not the case that when someone goes to a school and asks where he or she can learn about well-being, he or she is told to go to the guidance counsellor or the science teacher. The idea of the well-being programme is that it is a whole-of-school approach. All teachers are responsible for well-being in school, so one avoids a situation whereby in a specific well-being or guidance class the student is told about one set of issues regarding well-being and then goes into another class and sees no evidence of those issues in that class. All teachers are involved in the delivery of well-being. Well-being with a small W, which is the programme the Minister is seeking to roll out across primary and post-primary, essentially seeks to ensure that across the whole school system well-being is taught in an integrated way. The junior cycle framework is further down that road, but I think the Minister is keen to ensure that the lessons we have learned from the development of the junior cycle well-being programme can be spread across the whole school system.

Concerns have been expressed that as one goes into senior cycle and the leaving certificate heaves into view, the time spent on such areas decreases. Junior cycle teachers and those involved in delivering the well-being programme are typically also teachers at senior cycle level. Pending the delivery of the well-being programme for the whole school system, we know that the roll-out of the well-being programme in junior cycle will also assist in ensuring that well-being is embodied at senior cycle. Senator Gavan made the point about students saying they never received this education. I have spoken about this only within the past two days to my own two daughters, who are in their 20s now. They went to the same school. One said they never got it and the other said they got it in spades. I would make two points in this regard. First, it could be the case that different teachers might choose to deliver the SPHE and RSE programmes in different ways. In addition, depending on the ages or level of maturity of the individual students, they can receive this learning in different ways. It might only hit home with them at a later stage.

This brings me to another point I will make before I hand over to my colleague, Ms Egan, for any comments she may have. I made a point in the opening statement about age-appropriateness. We are asked why we do not teach primary school children about contraception and why we do not catch this at the very start of the schooling system. In developing the programmes for SPHE and RSE, the Department is guided by the requirement to ensure that this programme provision is delivered in an age-appropriate manner. We need to be careful that we do not hit students with something they are too young to understand and that they do not go away more confused about information we try to provide to them than before. Therefore, while some observers might consider that we should be teaching this in a more direct way at an earlier stage, there is a balance to be found between getting children at a young stage and confusing them with issues.

This brings me to the final point I will make on this issue. We have made the point very strongly that the provision particularly of SPHE and RSE is a partnership between the school and the parents. It should be remembered that the schoolteacher is delivering a programme to perhaps 15 or 20 pupils in a class and therefore needs to pitch the delivery of the programme at a certain level. As a parent of a child, I may have been involved with the school in developing in some cases the RSE policy. When I go to the school to determine whether I will put my child into the school, I will have been given sight of that school's RSE policy so I can decide whether the approach and the ethos underlying the provision of that policy is consistent with my expectations. Furthermore, when I see the layout of the programme and how it is proposed to be taught in the school, I can also decide from the home perspective, the parental perspective, to provide the input from the home and parental side of things to ensure that what the child is being taught in school is mirrored and tracked by what is being provided at home. This ensures consistency of messages between both education forums, and the parent might feel his or her child is at a certain stage at which the parent can perhaps supplement in a more direct way the information being provided in the school. I would emphasise the partnership approach between both the school and the parents regarding the provision of education in this area.

Senator Gavan's time is up, unless there is something that the witnesses feel needs to be said in response to his comments.

Ms Emer Egan

All I will say is that over the years we have as a Department on a number of occasions articulated to schools their responsibilities in the area of RSE and have continued to develop the curricula. We also monitor implementation in schools and offer advice to schools on how to improve their provision, so our engagement with schools in that area is an ongoing process. Yes, there is provision for school ethos to have an influence but most of the RSE programme is about helping children to develop their relationships with others, to get to know themselves and how their bodies work and to develop their self-worth and self-efficacy. No matter the stage at which one is in a school and no matter where the school is, these elements are really good educational outcomes to try to achieve.

I thank the witnesses. I will finish with just one comment. I do not think we will have the type of relationships and sexuality education we need until we have a democratic, secular system of education in this country.

I thank all the witnesses for their attendance. I am very concerned about some of the evidence I have heard today, and many of the previous speakers have spoken well about it. I am concerned that it is down to the ethos of the school to frame sex education. Mr. Moran spoke about age-appropriate education. Deputy Bríd Smith spoke about the Dutch system. In Holland this education starts at four, when children discuss their bodies. It moves on to respect and attraction at seven and same-sex attraction between eight and nine years of age. Between ten and 11 years of age they speak about changes during puberty, love, dating and men and women in the media. They deal with this in Holland from four years of age. It is not standardised across the Netherlands but it is exceptionally comprehensive. According to the Catholic ethos when it comes to contraception, condoms are still not allowed as a means of birth control under Catholic teaching. I am concerned that the rhythm method or the withdrawal method or abstinence is being taught to children in this State. My understanding is that 90% of schools in this country are under the Catholic ethos, so I am not sure how we square that circle. I think Deputy Bríd Smith's final question to Ms Egan was whether she was happy with our sex education in this country. She never actually said she was. It is very clear to me that we have serious issues here when it comes to sex education under the Catholic ethos. I know the bishop withdrew his comments but a cleric in this country recently spoke about teenagers engaging in pure and chaste lives. I am not sure what sort of teenagers he is dealing with but his comments concerned the HPV vaccine and a rather ignorant link between it and sexual activity.

Has the Department done any work on the promotion of the HPV vaccine, which can eradicate cancer? I am concerned about how all these things feed into educating our children and about this opposing view. If the Catholic Church does not teach that barrier contraceptives are a good thing, and if HPV vaccination is not promoted very well, I would be very concerned about how we are delivering sex education. Various states in the US have different approaches to sex education. The basic statistics show that in states where sex education focuses on abstinence there is a higher rate of teenage pregnancies than in states where there is a more comprehensive approach. In New Mexico, where abstinence is taught, there are 90 teenage pregnancies per 1,000 teenagers aged 15 to 19, whereas in New Hampshire, where the education regime is not based on abstinence, the rate is 30 per 1,000. All of this feeds into the question of whether sex education in this country is fit for purpose. I believe that if it is being influenced by the ethos of the school to this degree, we cannot sit here today and say it is working. Somebody answered that there had been no complaints. I am always concerned when there are no complaints or concerns raised about an approach to something.

I am very concerned about what Deputy Bríd Smith mentioned about Accord being used as a sort of subcontractor in schools. I am really concerned about what our young people are being exposed to in terms of the approach to teaching sex education. One of the key things we learnt from the witnesses from the Netherlands who came before the committee last week was that country had destigmatised and taken a non-moralistic approach to sex education, which ultimately led to a reduction in teenage pregnancies. It also led to Dutch teenagers tending to have their first sexual experience later in their teenage years than their European counterparts. They generally report it as having been a positive and fun experience. This non-moralistic approach has worked in the Netherlands. I do not want to bring up the sexologists from last week again but this approach seems to deliver better outcomes. I am really concerned that if we are somehow being caught by this idea of ethos then we will not be serving our young people. Does Ms Egan think that we should have a standardised approach? Should we forgot ethos and try to deal with our children and young people in a way which separates the moral from the medical? Does Ms Egan have any concerns in light of what we have heard about the current system today and in light of everyone's questions and answers in that regard?

The Deputy has not allowed a lot of time for answers. Will Ms Egan please be as brief as possible? The points are well made and valid.

Ms Emer Egan

The Deputy asked if we considered Ireland to have a standardised approach. We do. We have a curriculum which we expect to be delivered across the board from junior infants right up to leaving certificate. There is a standardised approach. We very clearly tell schools that elements of the programme cannot be omitted on the grounds of ethos. We have a system, however, which allows the ethos of the school to influence what happens in a school.

I understand that we have a standardised approach but that the ethos has influence, because I heard all of what Ms Egan said. However, if the ethos of the school is Catholic, and the Catholic Church teaches that barrier contraceptives are wrong and that abstinence is the way forward, surely there is a contradiction.

Ms Emer Egan

In our view if contraception is being taught, all elements of how contraception can take place should be taught. When drawing up its policy the school decides how much further to go in terms of its ethos and how the teachings of that faith should have influence. That is the system we have.

Does Ms Egan think it is right though? Does she think it is the correct system for the children of this country?

Ms Emer Egan

That is not for me to say.

Who should answer that question?

Ms Emer Egan

It is a legislative matter.

Does Ms Egan think the system is fit for purpose?

Ms Emer Egan

I think that our relationships and sexuality education, RSE, programme for primary and post-primary schools is absolutely fit for purpose in that it is primarily about helping children to acquire knowledge and understanding and to develop attitudes, beliefs and values about their sexual identities, relationships and intimacy. The programme fully facilitates that. It is a fact within our system that ethos will influence how the programme will be taught in a given school. In drawing up the policy on RSE at the level of the individual school, there is plenty of scope for all views within the school community to be thrashed out and for decisions to be made on how a particular issue is to be dealt with.

I have a question following on from that. It might appear facetious, but I do not mean it to be. When I was in school I was shown a video by the nuns. I would like to think that we have moved on from that. I am not in school and I do not have children so I do not know what is being taught in schools. I am interested to know what is being taught to children in practice. Could Ms Egan give me a brief summary?

Ms Emer Egan

Ms Griffin might be able to outline some examples of the themes which are visited.

Ms Clare Griffin

The social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum is taught on a mandatory basis at primary and up to junior cycle. Commencing in junior infants, the children learn through a number of strand units. The children are taught certain themes, vocabulary and language relevant to this discussion on a spiral basis, year after year, every week. The programme runs across themes such as "Taking care of my body", "Growing and changing", "Safety and protection", "Making decisions", "Myself and my family", "My friends and other people", and "Relating to others". It is a foundational approach. It sets the foundation for themes and topics which the children will explore at a more advanced level in an age-appropriate manner as needs arise. We also have to ensure that what the children are learning is relevant to the stage of life they are at. At certain stages it will be very important for them to understand that their bodies are changing, for example, puberty is explored at the senior level of primary school. That is the learning they need at that time and it is age-appropriate to them.

Is it in any way consultative with parents? Obviously parents are integrally involved with the education of their children.

Ms Clare Griffin

Yes. What I have just described is from the SPHE curriculum framework, which is the mandatory framework at all levels in primary school. Those themes are always explored. In the context of RSE, the RSE policy determines certain topics, which will also be delivered. That is where there is a lot of consultation with parents. We are satisfied that parents are getting involved in drawing up the policy. Of course, we would like to encourage further involvement because we know that the joint approach is most effective.

It is a difficult area to tackle. It is very challenging.

Ms Clare Griffin

It is. It is a challenging area for schools. Alongside the mandatory SPHE curriculum which runs from infants to sixth class and then up to junior cycle, there is also the Stay Safe programme at primary level. That has been a mandatory programme since 2011. It is specific to the prevention of child abuse. It covers certain topics such as "Feeling Safe and Unsafe", "Friendship and Bullying", "Touches", "Secrets and Telling" and "Strangers". All of these topics are addressed in an age-appropriate manner in a way which is relevant to the children and which will not frighten them. Again it lays the groundwork for looking at consent at a later stage but it also looks at understanding appropriate boundaries and touches and builds the children's confidence to tell and to say "no". All of those issues are dealt with through the mandatory Stay Safe programme, which runs from infants to sixth class.

My introductory question was whether the witnesses are satisfied that sex education has moved on since I was in school.

Ms Clare Griffin

We feel that we have a very comprehensive programme in place.

Has it moved on very significantly?

Ms Clare Griffin

It has. We are also constantly updating with new resources.

I will give the committee one concrete example of that. The Lockers resource was produced recently. It speaks specifically to non-consensual sharing of sexual images online. That is something that has only become a relevant issue for our young people in recent years so we are at-----

The witness is actually answering my next question. We have had a lot of experts in here to discuss the Citizens' Assembly recommendations. Practically all referred to the need for enhanced sexual education as a way of addressing and reducing crisis pregnancies. Children do a lot online and many nearly live online, which is regrettable. Most are on social media. It is an evolving medium and something that children are nearly ahead of us on. Is that something that the witnesses are considering in their policies?

Ms Clare Griffin

The resources and supports are there if the schools decide that is an issue that needs to be addressed with their cohort of pupils. There is school autonomy and a requirement for schools to respond to the needs of their children as manifested in the school context itself. Those supports are there. Alongside that, there is a good level of CPD provided which will inform schools about the different resources and guide them as they determine what specific issues need to be addressed with their pupils.

Many specific issues coming up in this committee will need to be referred to other committees. We will not be able to deal with all of them in our report and that is certainly an area that I would be keen to see addressed. I apologise to members: I do not normally ask questions in the middle of a meeting. I got a bit carried away.

I note the Chair was shown a video when she was at school. I can assure her that in my time in school, videos were banned, they did not exist and even certain films were, at the very best, of dubious benefit to all ages.

We have significantly moved on from the Deputy's time I hope.

We will not go there. I am conscious of that. I do have a particular interest in this subject because I have put down numerous parliamentary questions on the subject, as some of our guests will know. We have had information that children did not seem to have a proper sex education in school. That is a bland statement that may be right or it may be wrong. I got an email or text from somebody, and we have to take these things as they are, to the effect that a 14 year old child who had been raped did not do anything about it, did not know what the consequences were and did not have a conversation with her parents. The parents need to be involved in the programme of sex education in schools as well. The Well-Being programme is welcome. It needs to be comprehensive. It needs to identify all the potential threats to the child. The child needs to be protected. We have had enough incidents in this country over the past number of years, and in many other countries, where there is "trafficking", for want of a better description. The grooming of children is quite evident and is a serious threat to their well-being.

The next part is how to get the information to children. I see nothing wrong with the system as the witnesses present it, as long as it gets to children and their parents. If it does not get to parents as well, then it is a waste of time. The child will go home from school and ask the parents, who may not be receptive to adding to it. It should include parents. We are a multicultural society now so the ethos is not as important as it was. However, it is important that we get the message across to parents regardless of background and ethos. We need to put special emphasis on that.

I got a shock a couple of years ago when I put down a question in relation to children who were bullied in school and abused through the Internet and social media. It is horrific. Particularly horrific is the number of children who self-harmed or attempted self-harm as a result of that kind of activity in their schools. There were repeated attempts at self-harm which meant that the abuse was still going on. I remember that the ages were between ten and 14 which is really alarming. That cohort of children in that age group needs to be concentrated on particularly in order to identify what the threats are, whether via the Internet, social media or predators. It is a huge issue that needs to be dealt with. The child needs to know, boys and girls, what the threat is and if there is a threat. That is not to create suspicion of society but to have a genuine knowledge of what is required in order for them to become balanced citizens.

In relation to youth services, if we can talk about this as well, I want to compliment in particular-----

Can the Deputy ask a question please?

It is a question. I am not waiting for conformation of that.

No, the Deputy is almost out of time.

What way would the chair like me to ask the question?

The Deputy's points are well made.

I expect a response.

We take a response.

Mr. Eamonn Moran

There may be other questions on youth services. In relation to the role of parents and the Deputy's strong view that parents must be involved, that desirability underpins our whole approach to the provision of SPHE and RSE in schools. It relates to both the development of the RSE statement by the school and the engagement with parents. It underpins the information provided at all stages of the curriculum regarding how parents can provide additional and complementary material as they see fit to their children. The RSE policy in school is developed in conjunction with parents.

In relation to whether we are sure we are providing sex education in the proper way, the RSE policy for the school needs to set out the rationale for the provision of RSE in the school. This must refer to the context and ethos of the school, the aims of RSE and, critically, details of how the programme will be delivered in the school. When the RSE policy is being agreed with parents, they will be able to see how the programme will be delivered and by whom, the particular modules that will be delivered, the role of the principal, the creation of a supportive school climate and culture, the consultation process with parents, parents' associations and students, the resources for RSE, the training for RSE and how the policy will be reviewed.

In relation to the review issue, the schools inspectorate, as part of its whole school evaluations, examine the provision of SPHE and RSE in schools. The inspectors report their findings and make recommendations for improvements in schools. In schools that do not have an RSE policy in place or where part of the RSE and SPHE curriculum are not being taught, the inspectorate will make recommendations as to how they should be taught. Follow up visits to the schools will ensure that those recommendations are implemented.

On bullying in schools, the Department has developed a number of anti-bullying policies. I say a number because those policies have had to be updated to take account of the increasing use of social media and the presence on social media of nearly all of our school children.

Is that being done currently?

Mr. Eamonn Moran

It is being done. Guidelines are being provided both by the Department and other agencies in relation to online bullying also. That has to be done in partnership with parents because the reality is that the children are in school from about 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. The role of the school will go so far in ensuring students know what is appropriate and inappropriate when inputting and receiving social media content in this area. However, we need to work closely with our parents to ensure that outside of school hours parents have agreed guidelines in place with their children in relation to their safe use of the Internet.

We work with parents to ensure that outside of school hours they have agreed guidelines in place with their children in regard to their use of the Internet and the safe use of the Internet. In so far as is possible, the provision of those guidelines to students forms part of our programmes.

Deputy Durkan may only seek clarification on an issue as his time has expired.

Just because I was deprived of a video in my youth does not mean I should l not ask another question.

It is a timing issue.

I will be brief. The next phase is the youth services phase. We need to be conscious of the importance of it also. We need to ensure the our young people are positively influenced and that they are not hanging around corners with nothing to do. I compliment the witnesses on the work they are doing in this regard already. We need to be introducing new programmes annually to ensure that the people for whom these services are provided are conscious and aware of them.

Thank you, Deputy.

The Citizens' Assembly made a specific recommendation on this particular aspect. The points made today by the witnesses were well made. Much of the expertise shared with the committee on this issue indicates how important this area is.

The Stay Safe Programme was introduced following reports of appalling child abuse. It came directly out of a religious ethos and a group of people who were trusted but whom it was found could not be trusted. I accept the point on the need for programmes to be age specific but I do not think we have moved on in so far as that ethos is still getting in the way of delivery of sex education. Delivery in this regard is very contained. Sex education should be about not only pregnancy and disease but about inculcating positive attitudes in people.

The witnesses have told us that they have studied the research in other countries but that research does not matter if schools do not have the ability to deliver programmes without the interference of an ethos in that delivery. We have an unusually high rate of religious patronage of schools. We should be looking to the best outcomes and experiences in other countries in terms of well-rounded individuals who have a good understanding of issues, do not run with the herd and are independent. We heard earlier that for some people sex education was a great experience and for others it was a terrible experience. The experience was hit and miss, depending on the teacher delivering the programme.

In regard to sex education, a life survey undertaken by the Department of Education and Skills in 2015 found that 48% of primary and 55% of secondary schools indicated that they relied to some extent on external agencies. The external agencies aspect is incredibly important. There must be some degree of understanding of who those agencies are in terms of ethos. Based on the aforementioned figures, there is a very high level of intervention. The Department is getting very good evidence from other countries, on the basis of which the NCCA sets the curriculum, but it has no control over how this programme is delivered. How then can the witnesses say that there is good-quality sex education? In my view, this programme needs to be something different in many different environments such that it is not possible to say it is a uniform programme across the education system.

Ms Emer Egan

On the issue of the external agencies, there may have been a high proportion of schools that engaged external agencies but that may have been for only one or two sessions. In the lifetime of the primary or post-primary school there are SPHE or RSE lessons delivered throughout each year of the programme. In some cases, schools might value the assistance of an external agency on issues they consider to be sensitive for them to deal with.

It would depend on the external agency.

Ms Emer Egan


It does depend on the external agency. We heard from Senator Ruane about an agency with a religious ethos. Does the Department intervene in regard to the appropriateness of an agency to deliver this programme, to ensure it is similarly delivered across the school system?

Ms Emer Egan

We expect that schools will deliver the programme as it is outlined. Underpinning the SPHE and RSE programmes is a desire to develop children's life skills and their resilience and ability to evaluate the wide range of information and opinions coming at them all of the time. We do this in two ways. First, there are themes that are revisited from junior infants to leaving certificate and themes that are revisited at an age appropriate level. Second, the types of engagement with students during RSE and SPHE lessons is an experiential learning programme where they are presented with scenarios where they can identify what the issues are and how they might be dealt with. It is a very life-enhancing programme that has wonderful benefits for children. There are resources available to support schools in delivering those programmes. It is the case that a school must make decisions about the resources available to it but there are excellent resources available to enable schools deliver the curriculum in the broadest way.

There is an ethos-----

Ms Emer Egan

Yes, there is.

-----that varies, depending on where the education is being delivered such that a similar programme is not being delivered in every case. A school might have a good quality curriculum, but if it is delivered in a way that is biased or with an attitude or ethos that colours it, then there is a problem.

Ms Emer Egan

Circular 37/2010 specifically states that elements of the programme cannot be omitted on the grounds of school ethos.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. The witnesses are before us today in the context of the Citizens' Assembly recommendations and the recommendations which we, as a committee, will make to the Dáil in regard to repeal of the eighth amendment. Based on all that I have heard today, I am very concerned. First, am I correct that the role of the officials here today is that of policymaker in education?

Mr. Eamonn Moran

I represent the curriculum and assessment policy unit. I should make the point that educational policy is determined by the Minister.

Okay. I have found everything said today extremely good from a parent's point of view and a child's point of view. That said, I have some concerns. Who drafts the curriculum for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM? We are looking at changing how we do business in Ireland if this referendum is to be put to the people, but from an educational point of view are our young people prepared to deal with those changes?

We are talking from the two sides of our mouths. We have policy but no implementation. If we have implementation we can tone it up or tone it down, depending on who we are dealing with. I need to know what is the position regarding this policy in respect of the two forms of education, social personal and health education, SPHE, and relationship and sexuality education, RSE, when it is brought into schools and who is accountable.

I will not lecture but I have a few questions. The witnesses have outlined how post-primary schools are required to teach all aspects of an RSE programme, including family planning, sexually transmitted infections and sexual orientations. Schools cannot leave out any part of the programme but can teach the programme within the school's ethos and value system. How do schools balance what may be a conflict with school ethos with delivering relationships and sexuality education programmes which fully inform young people? Ms Egan used the word "recommends" earlier, and she can understand the question I have asked. What happens when schools do not fully implement or provide social personal health education and relationship and sexual education? Are there any repercussions? Are parents and students made aware of the shortcomings? Is there a mandatory requirement for teachers to engage in continuous professional development on the SPHE and the RSE or is the training a once off?

It was mentioned that some third level institutions provide information around sexual communications and consent. To what degree are the issues of healthy sexual relationships and consent a part of the post-primary curriculum? It is a challenge for some parents and teachers to discuss relationships and sexual health with their children or students. They themselves may not have grown up in an environment where those issues were openly discussed. While the Chair at least had the video, some people did not even have that. What resources are being made available to parents?

I read Ms McGovern's presentation and listened to her. At no stage were children in care addressed. Coming from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs I imagined it would be mentioned. I had brought up the issue of children in care over the last number of meetings but how we engage with those children was not addressed. They have been looking for booklets, not just on sexual education. We need booklets for children in care. How are we going to let them know how they can reach out for help when they are in a bad position?

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has provided funding of €89,000, but the overall budget, including the HSE and education funding, comes to over €500,000. When I divide that out over the clubs, the 1,600 youth groups, that works out at €327 per grouping. Can the witnesses explain to me how that reaches the groups?

Brevity is the order of the day.

Mr. Eamonn Moran

I thank Deputy Rabbitte.

In fairness to Deputy Rabbitte she is on the Committee for Children and Youth Affairs and is a very active member.

I have waited weeks for this.

I will allow her some leniency because I know that. I am on that committee with her.

Mr. Eamonn Moran

My colleague, Ms Amanda Geary, might speak later about the provision of SPHE and RSE at post-primary level. On the development of policy, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, advises the Department and the Minister on curriculum policy in schools. We get policy advice in the form of draft curriculum specification for all of our curriculums from the NCCA, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, SPHE and RSE. The NCCA represents almost all of the education partners, including parents, school leaders, schools and teachers. The policy advice that goes to the Minister is agreed by the NCCA council. The Minister will ultimately decide whether to approve the curriculum specification. The same policy would apply for SPHE as for STEM subjects. That is the process.

I make the point that the initial NCCA process is representative of all the players involved in this area. Ultimately, the Minister is the person who approves policy in that area.

The Deputy asked what happens if a school is not providing a particular element of the curriculum. In this particular case she refers to SPHE and RSE. My inspector colleagues can speak further on this as they wish, but I mentioned the inspection regime in the schools. When inspections are performed, the inspectors will seek to ensure that SPHE and RSE curriculum is being delivered in the school as per specification. Interestingly, the inspectorate reports have noted a number of positives in this area. Perhaps this harks back to points made earlier by other Deputies and Senators. There is a positive school and classroom climate for supporting the teaching of SPHE and RSE. There is recognition now that it is a whole-school responsibility rather than the responsibility of an individual person. Things have moved on in that area. The schools where SPHE and RSE are more successfully implemented make more effective use of teaching methodologies and resources provided for SPHE and RSE.

My colleagues from the inspectorate mentioned the curriculum resources that are developed by our professional development services by teachers, PDST, and by a number of other Departments and areas active in this field.

I ask for quiet in the room.

Mr. Eamonn Moran

This includes the use of programmes that complement the SPHE and RSE curriculum, such as the Stay Safe, Walk Tall and Busy Bodies programmes. On the other hand, in schools where an RSE policy is not in place, there is a need for the inspector to ensure that policy is put in place and is informed by the guidelines for developing an RSE policy. In some cases it is necessary to provide clarity about what is taught at each level of the curriculum and to ensure that there is balanced learning at each level. There is a need to ensure that in addition to having an RSE policy in place in the school, the school leadership monitors the implementation of that policy. Having the policy and curriculum in place must be monitored by ensuring that the policy is effectively implemented. The inspectors will have a role in the schools when they perform their visits, but it is the day-to-day role of the school leadership and the board of management which will ensure that the policy is implemented in the school.

The generation of home-school links, particularly when sensitive issues on the curriculum are being taught, is essential. It is important that parents have close involvement in and are aware of what is taught in the RSE and SPHE curriculum and that they are updated during the year in order that they know at what stage of the year different aspects of that curriculum will be taught. That is what comes out of the inspectorate regime.

I will ask my colleague, Ms Amanda Geary, to speak about the post-primary area and address some of the queries raised by the Deputy.

How many schools do not have an RSE policy? I apologise to Deputy Rabbitte for interjecting.

Mr. Eamonn Moran

A very small number have no RSE policy. It is approximately 1% or 2%. The life skills survey in 2015 showed that 99% of primary schools have a policy or are in the process of finalising it. In post-primary schools it is 98%. On the 1% in primary and 2% in post-primary, the inspectorate will ensure that policy is put in place.

It is important to know that it is a very small percentage and to clarify the language that was used.

Ms Amanda Geary

It is important to mention that schools take their duty of care towards their students very seriously across the whole curriculum, including the area of SPHE and RSE. There is a requirement, under child protection, that all primary and post-primary schools must have an SPHE and a comprehensive RSE programme in place. If the inspectorate finds that a school does not have that in place, we will draw the attention of the school to the child protection circular and guidelines and tell it that because the programmes are not in place, it is not fully compliant.

No school wants to find itself in a position where it is deemed in a published report to be non-compliant with child protection procedures and guidelines. It is rare, as my colleague stated, that we come across a school that is not implementing a relationships and sexuality education, RSE, programme.

To come to the second question on whether the topic of consent is dealt with, we have a comprehensive programme for SPHE and RSE. By the end of the three years of junior cycle and the two years at senor cycle, it is very clear that there is a Department expectation of where students and schools will be at in terms of the learning outcomes. However, the school has absolute autonomy to determine when it delivers on each topic and how much time it provides to deliver on each topic. For instance, if a school believes it is extremely important to deal with the topic of consent mid-way through first year or at the end of first or second year, that decision rests purely with the school. It determines when and how much time it spends on any particular topic.

It was mentioned earlier that, by their nature, SPHE and RSE lessons are interactive and that the students bring their own needs to the discussion. Frequently, there will be an SPHE plan in place, developed by the school and which follows the curriculum guidelines but it will be and is frequently adapted to match the needs of the students. If an issue arises in a particular class group, the SPHE programme will be amended to address that need.

The reason I asked that question was because Dr. Geoffrey Shannon came before the Oireachtas children's committee recently. The discussion was on cyber safety but it was also to do with children not understanding the roles and responsibilities around consent. I did not find the presentation very clear on that. I saw it for third level students. I would not expect to see it for primary level students but for post-primary I would need to have seen a clearer understanding around the issue of consent. I am labouring the point on consent because for schools that have a particular ethos or boards of management that are governing it or whoever signs off on the policy, the education around consent is very important. I want to know if that is delivered in junior or senior cycle or at what stage is it delivered.

Ms Amanda Geary

It depends on the need and the context of the school. To answer the Deputy's question, it can be done in junior cycle. More often than not it is done in junior cycle. It could be in second or in third year but the key point to make is that it is dealt with and delivered as part of the SPHE-RSE programme.

We will have to move on to the next question.

What does Ms Geary mean by the need and the context of the school?

Ms Amanda Geary

It could be the context of the students within the particular school. The context of the students will vary from school to school but to come back to my original point, at the end of the three years of the junior cycle or the two years of the senior cycle, the same programmes and outcomes are expected to be delivered.

Is Ms Geary saying that some schools may not teach it until the students are 16 or 17 and some schools may teach it when they are 12 or 13?

Ms Amanda Geary

It might happen but experience would lead me to say that, more often, it is happening in the junior cycle.

Many questions have been asked but I would like to bring Ms McGovern back into the conversation. The interactive point Ms Geary mentioned is important and is one that has not been raised until now. In the more informal settings the youth service would be dealing with I imagine there is much more of an opportunity for young people to talk about the complexities of the issues and decisions facing them in their personal lives. The programmes they are delivering are probably very effective but how widespread is their reach? I will also ask some education questions.

Ms Olive McGovern

I will answer that question in two parts. The total funding for youth sector provision in 2017, to answer Deputy Rabbitte's question partially also, is €57.4 million. The €600,000 I referred to is just the National Youth Council's budget.

In terms of the reach, there are approximately 400 targeted projects in the country along with 1,700 youth clubs. Broadly, that is the reach. We recently completed a map of them and they are in every part of the country but it is important to understand that participation in the youth sector is a voluntary piece so there is no mandatory aspect of that for young people.

In terms of the curriculum, I do not believe it is at huge variance to what is in the education sector curriculum. This year the curriculum content has been revised and updated built on the latest evidence base, which is a constantly evolving evidence base. There are eight components to the curriculum that are part of the resource available to those who are working in either a professional or a voluntary capacity in any of those 400 projects or the 1,600 clubs.

In terms of participation in the training, and I got some data in preparation for today from my colleagues, in 2017 alone, 68 people participated in the policy training and 33 organisations. We have 150 or 180 legal entities involved in this so in this year alone the figures are 68 and 33. I reviewed last year's data and the figure is in the mid-70s for both training programmes. They have an additional training programme this year in regard to pornography that they are offering of which there is some uptake. Individual organisations send their staff or their volunteers through to the training programmes but the training programmes have been in place for a number of years. I just got the data on the last two years for this input this evening but I could get the data for previous years if members wish. I am confident in saying that there is provision across the country but the difference is that it is a voluntary provision for young people.

I will add to that so the Deputy has the full information. In this year, for the first time, the Department has included funding for, which is an online youth information resource. Through our youth information centre grant fund and our youth services grant fund, in a combination of both funds, will receive €200,000 per annum for this year and next year in an effort to try to respond to the fact that many young people are now getting their information online. That is a development that has taken place this year for us.

I do not want to repeat a question that may have been asked earlier but regarding education, my real concern, which goes back to the interactive point, is that the quality of the teaching will be crucial in this and whether the person delivering the programmes can engage with young people in a real way and not preach at them. I want to ask a question specifically to do with qualifications. Is there a formal accreditation and recognition for SPHE-RSE teachers? Does every school have a designated SPHE-RSE co-ordinator? In other words, is there that professionalism?

The third point is that we hear about these outside bodies coming in. Do they have to be professionally trained? If one is presenting a curriculum in any other subject one must be appropriately trained and educated, have had CPD or whatever. I ask the Department about that because I believe the time has come not to allow outside groups to come in unless they are appropriately trained to deal with the delicate issues around young people's sexuality and the ability to communicate with young people.

Ms Emer Egan

In providing guidelines to schools on the engagement of outside speakers we say that programmes should be delivered by visitors and that external agencies should use appropriate and evidence based methodologies with clear educational outcomes so therefore they should be in tune with the needs of students within schools.

They do not need to have a teaching qualification.

Ms Emer Egan

They do not have to have a teaching qualification currently.

On the training and provision of teachers, one cannot be recognised by the Teaching Council of Ireland as a teacher of SPHE and there is no undergraduate course in SPHE but many of the teachers who are involved in SPHE will have access to training programmes, primarily through our professional development service for teachers. In the past, our National Educational Psychological Service would have put in place substantial training programmes for teachers and they provided a foundation for much of the early implementation of SPHE and RSE in schools.

I refer to the well-being programme.

I presume it must be accredited in terms of the junior cycle report that they will be getting at the end of the cycle. Presumably, there is CPD for teachers delivering that programme.

Ms Emer Egan

That has already started with the school leaders and will be rolled out. Over the past number of years, a very significant number of primary and post-primary teachers have engaged with the Professional Development Service for Teachers on the RSE element of the curriculum.

I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee today. I think all of us agree that we need fewer abortions. This is why I am so eager to see proper discussion on positive alternatives. I already highlighted the need for this committee to address adoption as a life-saving alternative to abortion because I think this is something that has been unfairly ignored and many couples have suffered as a result. Does the Department propose to include looking at the whole area of adoption? Many couples need to adopt so there is a proposal to educate students on adoption. Does the Department have any proposals for streamlining this process?

That is probably a matter for the Department of Health, representatives of which will appear before us today. If the witnesses from the Department of Education and Skills wish to make a brief comment, they may do so.

Mr. Eamonn Moran

I would defer to the Department of Health on this issue. I am not aware of the Deputy's information in this area.

The Deputy could ask representatives from the Department of Health tomorrow.

Given that the Department of Education and Skills is looking at relationships education and mental health, these are surely affected by the failure to be able to have a baby naturally or to adopt it, so is it reasonable to ask what the Department of Education and Skills is proposing to do to teach students how adoption is a positive alternative to abortion? That is where I am coming from. Adoption would be a positive element.

Ms Emer Egan

There are elements of the programme that would be focused on families and the different kinds of families that we have. That could lead to a discussion about families with adopted children but it is in that context that we would currently address the issue of adoption.

The reason I am asking Ms Egan is because the Department educates a lot of students. What I am trying to say is that adoption would be a good and safe alternative. I cannot understand why the Department has not put forward adoption. To me, it is a good proposal. Why is it not there? Will it be there going forward?

Mr. Eamonn Moran

With regard to the general issue of what we may call crisis pregnancies, in addition to teaching the SPHE-RSE curriculum, the Department would also refer pupils to the range of services that are available to provide assistance to students and parents when dealing with the issue of crisis pregnancies. Agencies that operate in the adoption area would presumably be among those agencies. We have a range of bodies that we would advise students about when we are dealing with the issue of crisis pregnancies, so in that context, adoption would certainly be considered as one of the services provided by those agencies.

When we are talking about abortion, we are talking about the ending of a baby's life. We saw earlier today that more than 190,000 babies lose their lives through abortion every year in the UK. In the context of relationship education, are students taught about the development of the baby in the womb? For example, are they taught that the baby's heart starts beating at just three weeks in the womb?

Ms Emer Egan

They would be taught about how the baby grows and develops.

In fairness, they are taught about contraceptives and I think it is very important that they actually know the facts, such as the fact that the baby's heart starts beating after three weeks, in order that they are educated about that. Will the witnesses elaborate on that?

Mr. Eamonn Moran

My colleague already mentioned that in respect of the topics taught in the RSE programme provided at primary level, there are two strands entitled Myself and Myself and Others. The options include self-identity, growing and changing, birth and new life, personal safety, feelings and emotions, relating to others and making decisions, and awareness of changes in the human life cycle. At post-primary level, the programme covers three themes: human growth and development, human sexuality and human relationships, covering areas such as puberty, sexual organs, adolescence, feelings and emotions, personal safety, the implications of sexual activity, conception, pregnancy and birth-----

That is a very-----

Mr. Eamonn Moran

-----and the understanding of pregnancy and the development of the foetus.

That is one of the best answers I have received so far since I joined this committee. It is so important that we educate our children and students. Will the Department have a look at adoption? It is very important. The Department has a massive catchment area and I think it is a preference instead of having an abortion. I thank the witnesses.

Deputies Fitzpatrick and Rabbitte highlighted the fact that a lot of time needs to be spent in other committees in the areas of health and education as well as in the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs following on from this committee . Clearly, part of our report will have to refer some matters. Obviously, it is not within our remit and we do not have the time to do it but we could spend days discussing what we are discussing here today. Am I right in saying that the curriculum was last updated in 1999?

Ms Emer Egan

The primary curriculum was updated in 1999.

That clearly needs to be updated. That is nearly 20 years ago. A lot has changed in this country in 20 years. Not much has changed in terms of the realities of sex and all of that, but the fact is that we need to revisit that. Perhaps it is something that needs to be gone through because primary school is the only show in town when it comes to sex education as far as I am concerned. In respect of the time when students get to secondary school, things have changed a lot since I was that age, not that I am ancient. That is just a statement.

Mr. Eamonn Moran

In respect of the curriculum material dating from 1999, I said earlier that the NCCA is in the process of reviewing the primary curriculum. However, it also needs to be stated, and this is particularly important in the case of SPHE and RSE, the teaching and learning in schools are not based exclusively on the 1999 curriculum. The 1999 curriculum sets out some fundamental underpinnings, but as both my primary and post-primary inspectorate colleagues advised, a mass of supporting material has been provided and continues to be provided.

It is like legislation written in the 1800s being updated a few times since. In some instances, it could do with being revisited. I think that is a fair comment 20 years later on this topic in this country.

Following on from the Chairman's comments, my point relates to teacher training colleges. What is the training with regard to sex education in the colleges when a teacher embarks on his or her training in university? Will the witnesses expand on what they are told to teach and how to go about it? I imagine that for many teachers, it could be a very difficult subject to broach with their students. From a primary school perspective, it obviously needs to be age-appropriate and we understand that, but how are teachers trained with regard to teaching sex education?

As a teacher, Deputy Naughton knows that herself.

I am speaking as a primary school teacher and somebody who went through the system.

It is an important question that has not come up.

Ms Clare Griffin

We regard every primary teacher as being fully trained to teach the SPHE-RSE programme and have confidence in their competence to do that because they attend initial teacher education for three years in the majority of instances, a period that is being increased to four years. The colleges of education have indicated that the time being allocated to specific training in SPHE-RSE has actually increased across the four-year period because of the overall time increase. We regard that as good provision at the initial teacher education stage. We recognise that this is a challenging area. There is no doubt about that. Many teachers report that it is challenging.

We are told that some 62% find this area challenging and that 12% find it very challenging and so training does not begin and end at initial teacher education stage. It is really important that teachers receive good quality continuous professional development, CPD, throughout their careers, and this is provided. From June 2014 to June 2017, some 3,135 teachers availed of CPD, which is a very high number for us to be able to stand over. The seminars, which were delivered by the professional development service for teachers, PDST, focused specifically on sex education and other elements of the relationships and sexuality in education, RSE, programme from senior infants to sixth class. It is important that schools have in place an RSE policy that is clear, implemented and monitored. The 3,135 teachers mentioned will have benefited from that type of input very recently in their careers.

The seminars also focused on the particular methodologies for teaching RSE that we regard as being important, these being methodologies that allow for discussion with students and allow them to engage with the issues at a level that is relevant to their own lives and also generate a safe classroom environment at primary level. A lot has happened in this space. We have referenced a number of times the amount of resources that are available online. These are up-to-date resources such that what students are accessing online gives them a good grounding in how to address specific issues.

I accept that very good work has been and is being done. Am I correct that continuous professional development is voluntary?

Ms Clare Griffin


In other words, teachers opt in to it, which is precisely the issue because not every teacher is engaging. We need to do much more work in this area. I accept that there have been improvements but, as I said, there is much more to be done in relation to sex education and not, by the way, only for our young people, but right across the board. We heard from medical people over the past couple of weeks about the lack of knowledge around contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, relationship awareness, pornography, and so on. Regardless of what issue we are talking about, education is key. As a former teacher, I am very aware that almost every issue will come back to education. We really need to get this right in the primary school setting.

In regard to the opt-in to continuous professional development, it may be ten, 15 or 20 years since teachers left training college and as such we need to be doing more around this issue. I accept that the witnesses cannot answer on that issue today, but it is nevertheless important to make that point.

That is a really good point to end on. Our approach to CPD needs to be refreshed when it comes to teachers on this topic in particular. Deputy Naughton has again highlighted the need for consideration of this issue by other committees when we have concluded our work on it.

I thank all of the witnesses for attending today's meeting. We really appreciate their time and effort in answering members' questions.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.05 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, 30 November 2017.