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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Jul 2011

Vol. 209 No. 11

SPHE Curriculum: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann notes that:

the social, personal and health education, SPHE, programme, incorporating relationships and sexuality education, RSE, has been a mandatory part of the curriculum in all primary and junior cycle post-primary schools since 2003;

all schools are obliged to have an agreed school policy and a suitable RSE programme in place for senior cycle students;

a recent forum in Áras an Uachtaráin on Working Together to Promote Positive Mental Health, attended by representatives of the relevant stakeholders including young people, highlighted the need for schools to play their part in this crucial aspect of growing into adulthood;

this forum pointed to the centrality of the RSE programme for promoting positive mental health in our young people and that the effective implementation of such a programme in all schools was critical to the development of active, fully rounded and responsible citizens;

forum participants pointed out that in some schools the senior cycle was dominated by the examination system which often had a distorting effect on the priority afforded to the social, personal and health development of the pupils, thereby contributing to a poor and inconsistent delivery of the RSE programme;

the quality and inconsistency of the implementation of the SPHE programme in some of our schools and, in particular, the narrow focus of the RSE programme being experienced by many senior cycle pupils has given rise to concern;

and calls on:

the Minister for Education and Skills to give serious and sustained attention to redress this imbalance and to ensure that our education system responds to all of the developmental needs of each individual pupil.

I am pleased to introduce this motion, which deals with the difficulties being experienced by some of our school pupils with the quality and consistency of their schools' implementation of the social, personal and health education, SPHE, programme and the relationships and sexuality education, RSE, programme. The object of the motion is to highlight the collective responsibility we have to ensure that Ireland's education system is playing the best part it can in assisting our young people to have a solid foundation for the emotional, social, psychological and physical aspects of growing up which adequately covers education about relationships, human sexuality, sexual health and mental well-being.

Both the SPHE and RSE programmes have been mandatory in all primary and junior cycle post-primary schools since 2003. In addition, all schools are required to have an agreed policy on SPHE. The SPHE curriculum at primary level is designed to foster, in an age appropriate way, the personal development, health and well-being of the individual child. The junior cycle SPHE curriculum builds on this at second level. For senior cycle students, all schools are obliged to have an agreed school policy and a suitable RSE programme in place. It should include in-depth coverage of issues such as relationships, accepting sexual orientation, pregnancy, family planning, contraception, responsible parenthood, implications of sexual activity, sexually transmitted diseases, as well as sexual harassment and assault.

When done well, SPHE provides students with dedicated time and space to develop the skills and competences needed to care for themselves and others. It provides them with the information and insight to make informed decisions about their health, personal lives and social development. The old way of seeing health as merely the absence of illness or disease has today been overtaken by a much broader view in which physical health is just one element along with emotional, mental, spiritual, social and sexual health. Adolescence makes huge demands on all these aspects of health, and all are very relevant to the SPHE and RSE curricula.

However, figures given in the 2009 Dáil na nÓg survey show that, in the respondents' schools, almost three quarters of senior cycle pupils did not have RSE classes in that year and in 85% of these schools RSE was not timetabled as a class. It may shock Members to discover that recent studies and surveys reveal that the priority issue for our young people is their mental health. I had the privilege recently of attending a useful forum in Áras an Uachtaráin entitled Working Together to Promote Positive Mental Health. It focused on young people and some very inspirational people of diverse ages shared their life experiences, allowing us to drill deeply into aspects of the mental health of our young people.

Many participants pointed to the centrality of the RSE programme in encouraging positive mental health in our young people. All acknowledged that responsibility for mental health does not lie solely with the statutory mental health services but that the consistent and effective implementation of SPHE and RSE programmes has a critical contribution to make and at an important juncture in young lives. It must be acknowledged that considerable good work in SPHE and RSE curriculum development has been done, and continues to be done, by the Department of Education and Skills.

Our cadre of teachers is nationally and internationally recognised as being of the highest calibre with a huge commitment to the holistic education of pupils. The Department provides regular professional development for teachers, supported by guidelines and other resources. Schools have access to the National Educational Psychological Service and post-primary schools have access to guidance counsellors. The SPHE and RSE programmes are evaluated by the Department's inspectorate as part of its whole school evaluation process. However, despite these very positive factors and for whatever reasons, the quality and consistency of the delivery of these programmes remain a matter of serious concern.

Some experts point to barriers to implementation that arise, such as lack of a pre-service qualification for second level teachers in RSE in particular, the personal discomfort of some teachers when dealing with matters of sexuality, concerns with regard to possible conflict with the ethos of the school, lack of consistent co-ordination or leadership within schools or the dominance of the school academic examination system, as being among a range of reasons for the problems that persist.

This House has a role to play in ensuring that, alongside their vocational and academic training, our young people's education for life is sensitive and sympathetic to their whole human development in order that they can enter adulthood with the coping skills and personal resilience buffers which sustain good mental health. Serious and sustained attention is now needed to redress contemporary imbalances and to ensure that our education system is implementing consistently and effectively the SPHE and RSE curricula which were designed to meet the development needs of each individual pupil. I hope the House will see merit in supporting the motion.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I congratulate him on his first 100 days in office, and long may he last there. Go maire tú do chuid.

I support Senator McAleese's motion calling on the Minister for Education and Skills to give serious and sustained attention to redressing the imbalance in our education system and to ensure that it responds to all of the development needs of each individual pupil.

Will the Senator formally second the motion?

I second the motion.

I will focus my remarks on the post-primary cycle in particular. Section 4 of the rules and programme for secondary schools requires schools to have an agreed policy for relationship and sexuality education and a suitable relationship and sexuality education programme in place for all students at both junior and senior cycle. That statement is taken from the Department's website. However, is this the case? That is the reason we are discussing the issue this evening. Do we know for a fact that all schools are complying with this requirement? The reason we put down this motion is to alert ourselves and the public to a requirement and necessity for us all to be vigilant as sexuality is becoming increasingly mediated by the Internet. At junior cycle, the RSE programme is part of social, personal and health education, SPHE. It is the responsibility of the school board of management to ensure that a RSE programme is made available to all students. As Senator Martin McAleese outlined, the aims of SPHE, as part of the curriculum, supports personal development, health and well-being of young people and helps them to create and maintain supportive relationships. This is a part of the junior cycle and RSE is taught within this module.

An excellent report was published in 2007 by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency and the then Department of Education and Science on RSE in the context of SPHE. It was an assessment of the challenges to full implementation of the programme in post-primary schools. It was carried out between November 2004 and January 2006 and it is still the most comprehensive study of relationships and sexuality education conducted in Ireland.

What is clear and unequivocal is the importance of school-based relationship and sexuality education. It does not negate the role of parents or families but, according to previous studies, Irish teenagers strongly support classes that deal with relationships and sexuality. The aim of RSE, according to policy guidelines, is to acquire a knowledge and understanding of human relationships and sexuality through processes which enable them to form values and establish behaviours within a moral, spiritual and social framework.

The programme does not seek to tell young people what they should think, say and do in their sexual lives but it seeks to foster students' personal and sexual development holistically, with reference to the range of social and societal influences that can have an impact on how young people think and feel about their personal, romantic and sexual relationship.

The research in this study found that in Ireland, there is a lack of confidence among young people in the school-based sex education to which they are exposed, if they are exposed to it at all. A most interesting finding on the barriers to good teaching of RSE is its low status in the school curriculum and this was a concern in 2007 when this report was published. It was found that only 60% of schools surveyed had a RSE policy. Some 30% of schools reported not teaching RSE in third year, 43% in fifth year and 48% at leaving certificate level. Do we have any further baseline data available to us in 2011? Has it receded or has it increased?

This morning I texted my daughter, who is now going into transition year.

I did not know one could call a friend.

I sent her a text asking if she had received relationship and sexuality education in school and saying that I had to speak in the Seanad. I received a reply very quickly saying they never got anything like that and that the only thing they got was in sixth class. I will not go through how she spelled all of that. Essentially, her last relationship and sexuality education class was in the sixth class, some three years ago. She is now going into transition year but without receiving one such class.

My eldest daughter has just finished six years in secondary school and the only time there was any engagement around sexuality was in leaving certificate biology class. That is astonishing. I am privileged to be a middle class person and to have been able to send her to the school to which I wanted to send her but we are dealing with an issue which has a great impact on the mental health of our young people.

The barriers to RSE are also referred to in the report which provides interesting statistics and which I am sure the Minister knows. It surveyed "very important" to "quite important" factors preventing full RSE implementation in post-primary schools. Some 82% of schools agreed that the overcrowded curriculum was a barrier. Some 71% agreed that the need to complete so many courses in so many subjects was a barrier. Some 71% agreed that the discomfort of some teachers teaching RSE was a barrier. That is quite high and refers to a deficit in the training of post-primary teachers, to which I will refer later. The final barrier to RSE implementation was the pressure of examination subjects. My daughters deserve full access to RSE in school.

What are the next steps? We would like an updated and complete audit on what is happening in schools with regard to RSE. School principals are key opinion formers in the education system. I understand the Minister is about to change a significant portion of school boards and change patronage. It is an opportunity to let boards of management know that RSE should be seen as a priority and not left to schools' own devices. Principals should be encouraged to drive and implement SPHE and RSE as a priority and perhaps tie it into the Croke Park deal. Greater productivity in this area will make a healthier society.

Currently, if one trains to be a secondary school teacher, one does not have to do the SPHE or RSE module, unlike primary teachers. Approximately six years ago, the OECD recommended that post-primary teacher training in RSE should be concurrent and not consecutive and, therefore, optional — in other words, when one does one's Higher Diploma in Education, one does not have to engage in RSE training. That is a deficit which could be linked to the Croke Park deal.

There is an obvious link to the positive mental health of our young people and how sexuality and development are taught in schools. We should have another debate in the Seanad early in 2012 when the Minister has an opportunity to come back with recommendations and an audit on the progress of the recommendations of the 2007 report. I commend the motion to the House.

My young son is going into sixth year and went to Oxygen a couple of weeks ago. My 13 year old daughter told him not to be silly and to wrap his sandwiches, although she did not use that word. I was very impressed by that. The programme in primary school and for junior cycle in secondary school in relationship and sexuality education is quite good, and I speak as a primary school principal.

Some years ago I became involved in a project with the former North Eastern Health Board to pilot what was called "sex education" in the primary school of which I was principal. I called a meeting of parents to introduce the project, with staff from the health board in attendance. Midway through the presentation, I got a dig in the back from one of the parents who said she was very unhappy. She asked me if I knew with whom she was unhappy. She said she was unhappy with me and that ended the project at that time.

Thankfully, things have moved on since and relationship and sexuality education is now an integral part of the curriculum in primary school and at junior certificate level in secondary school. I am disappointed after all these years that not all schools have signed up and are teaching the Stay Safe programme. There is much pressure on schools from the Department of Education and Skills to take part in that programme, and rightly so. I hope that continues until every school in the country is takes part in the programme.

However, the programme for the senior cycle is, to say the least, patchy. If implemented, it occurs in transition year. Senator Mac Conghail spoke about his daughter. I have a daughter who has just finished her leaving certificate and who had a good relationships and sexuality education, RSE, programme in Mrs. Moran's school. I beg your pardon, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I mean Senator Moran's school. I am making all sorts of mistakes today. Whatever about the relationships and sexuality education young girls receive in the senior cycle, I think the 71% of teachers who are uncomfortable teaching relationships and sexuality programmes are concentrated in all-boys schools. Even in the junior cycle, in all-boys schools there is little concentration on relationships and sexuality programmes. We are lucky in Dundalk that we have organisations like the Apple Tree Foundation which deals with young adults outside school.

I support the motion 100% and commend the Independent Senators for bringing it to the House. This is an important time in young people's lives. I ask the Minister, not only to take the motion on board but also to ensure that the Stay Safe and the relationships and sexuality programmes in the schools are implemented and that a policy is in place and the programmes taught in all schools. I do not think the Department inspectorate deals with this subject in whole-school inspections. It might be an idea to put it on the list of things inspectors survey when they do whole-school inspections.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber for the second time in two days. We are very privileged and we hope we will see him frequently in the future.

I thank the Independent Senators for tabling such an important motion. Last week, the Minister published a consultation report on young people's views of the junior certificate programme. In that report the social personal and health education, SPHE, programme was one of the issues on which they placed most stress. They said they wanted more and better SPHE classes to cover more areas. When asked which subjects they felt should be compulsory at junior certificate level they cited SPHE, civic, social and political education, CSPE, English and mathematics. Of those subjects, the first is very personal and the second relates to politics and society. It is interesting that when young people were asked what skills they needed for 21st century Ireland, these are the ones they identified. It is excellent that our focus this evening is on such an important area.

Other speakers have referred to the value of a broad education, which is something about which I feel strongly. In today's world, it is important that we equip young people, not only academically but also with the personal and social skills they need to be happy, particularly during their adolescence but also as adults, to become caring and responsible members of society and to develop confidence and self-esteem. The SPHE curriculum has an important role to play in this.

It is also important for young people to become more aware of the importance of mental health and to be prepared to reach out and ask for help if they have a problem. President McAleese recently opened the forum, "Working Together for Positive Youth Mental Health" and Senator McAleese opened this evening's debate. The motion refers to that forum. We owe a debt to Donal Óg Cusack, who spoke at the opening of the forum about how difficult it was for him to come out and to deal with his sexuality as a younger person.

The Minister recently launched guidelines on homophobic bullying in schools. That is an equally important initiative. We must have an effective strategy to deal with bullying in all its forms. However, the instances of homophobic bullying are much more frequent than bullying in general. Speakers have spoken of the preparedness of teachers to deal with issues that come up in schools. At the launch of the guidelines, the Minister referred to young people's instancing inappropriate comments by teachers as having hurt them more than comments by their peers. This is central to this debate. We must make sure that adults in schools are equipped to deal with issues such as sexuality and relationships.

The Government strategy for improving mental health services, A Vision for Change, acknowledges adolescence as a key stage of psychological development, when children require an understanding of the life challenges they face and need to develop basic skills to cope with difficult emotions. We all remember our teenage years. It is a time of increased risk of poor mental health. There is a general anxiety that everyone goes through as a teenager, but some face issues such as depression, eating disorders and body image, which is a constant issue for girls but increasingly for many young men. It is a time of increased risk for young people. Studies have found that one in four Irish teenagers has experienced serious personal, emotional, behavioural or mental health problems and that one in ten has deliberately harmed him or herself. Ireland has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the European Union. We must redouble our efforts to address this problem, and schools have an important part to play.

It is important that, through the SPHE curriculum, we encourage young people to speak out and ask for help if they need it and also that we equip them with the skills they need to identify friends who are at risk, spot warning signs and know the agencies where help might be available.

Other Members discussed the patchy implementation of the SPHE and RSE programmes. I know the Minister is carrying out reviews of every school subject and that schools often complain about an overcrowded curriculum. I return to the fact that young people themselves emphasised the importance of these areas, of all the subjects they are being taught. Senator Mac Conghail referred to the 2007 report and the implementation of the RSE programme in the context of SPHE. I hope the Minister will tell us, in his concluding remarks, if there has been any improvement in the areas that were identified in that report as problematic. I refer to the problems of teachers feeling uncomfortable teaching the programme, the fact that not all schools offer the subject in the first year and even fewer in the later years and the role of the inspectorate. Some schools felt that inspectors do not place an emphasis on the programmes when doing whole-school evaluations. I ask the Minister to give the House an update on that report.

I welcome the Minister back to the House and thank him for taking the time to attend for this debate. I thank the Independent Senators for proposing this important motion.

The SPHE curriculum, as laid down by the Department of Education and Skills, makes impressive reading. In the primary sector, SPHE is delivered to children at all levels, from infants upwards. At secondary level, SPHE has been compulsory in the junior cycle since 2003. The curriculum lays down modules on integration, conflict, bullying, stress, emotional health, health, relationships and sexuality. These are all areas that are vital to the well-being of our young people. At both primary and secondary levels, the importance of healthy lifestyles, nutrition and exercise are emphasised. The implementation of SPHE in schools is assisted by a full-time service that operates on an integrated basis in collaboration between the Departments of Education and Skills and Health.

The relationships and sexuality component focuses on hygiene, puberty, reproduction, pregnancy, peer pressure and relationships. At senior level, the RSE programme includes in-depth coverage of many issues, including reproduction, puberty, sexuality and sexually transmitted infections. In 2008, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, submitted a framework for SPHE to be included as a new subject at senior cycle to cover five most important areas, namely, mental health, gender studies, substance abuse, relationships and sexuality education and physical activity and nutrition. It is unfortunate, however, that it has not been possible to implement this due to the level of resources available and the inability to provide a national programme of in-service training to support a senior cycle SPHE programme in schools.

I previously worked as a teacher and I am aware that what are termed the "points" subjects are seen as more of a priority when schools are preparing timetables. It is often subjects such as SPHE, physical education, religion and choir that are the first to be forsaken in order to offer a subject which will enable a student obtain more points in the leaving certificate. Last year, a first year who was 12 years old asked me about the percentage of students who took my subjects and who achieved A grades. She was seeking this information because she wanted to choose her subjects wisely for leaving certificate. With some students at junior cycle studying 12 subjects, we must wonder about them missing out on what is left of their childhood.

The SPHE curriculum in secondary school seems impressive. As a parent of five teenagers, four of whom have studied SPHE at school, on paper the curriculum certainly appears impressive. As other Senators stated, we must all have been asking our children about their experiences of SPHE in recent days.

There were many embarrassed teenagers in recent days.

I even went as far as to bring the SPHE textbook to work with me today. All of the books on the curriculum are fantastic and there are some excellent publications available. I hope more time can be devoted to educating our children in the non-academic subjects. The latter is extremely important.

It is the implementation of the policies relating to SPHE which provides the key to successful teaching of the subject in schools. As stated, I was previously a secondary school teacher. I never taught SPHE but I am of the view that it is vital that teachers of SPHE should be willing to teach the subject. Too often, teachers are given SPHE classes to teach simply to make up their hours on a school timetable. Such teachers may have no interest in or might not want to teach SPHE. In order to implement a successful SPHE department within a school, it is essential to choose SPHE teachers wisely. Not every teacher would be suitable for providing instruction in SPHE. It is a very personal subject and, in order the interests of efficiency, those who teach it should be in a position to form close bonds with their pupils. In addition, the timetable should be organised in such a way that a teacher will not have a class for an examination subject in the period before he or she is due to take the same class for SPHE. It should not be the case that a teacher might have a class for mathematics, that he or she might become angry because the pupils had done their work incorrectly and that he or she would then be expected to teach that class SPHE in the period immediately following. More care should be taken in devising SPHE programmes and a whole-school approach should be adopted.

It is often new teachers or those with the least experience who are given the task of providing instruction in SPHE. Imagine what it is like for a teacher with little or no experience of general teaching to be obliged to provide instruction in the difficult and sensitive issues surrounding relationships, puberty, etc., that arise in the context of SPHE to a class of rowdy 15 year adolescents. Speaking as a former teacher, the more experienced individuals on a school's staff should take the lead in the context of teaching SPHE. I would be much better at teaching SPHE now than would have been the case 20 years ago. This is mainly down to the experiences I have had in the classroom in the intervening period and also since I became a mother.

I am not at all stating that all SPHE teachers should be experienced or married but those who co-ordinate the subject in schools should have experience. As is the case with other subjects, some individuals are more suited to teaching SPHE than others. I reiterate that teachers of SPHE should above all want to teach the subject. It is essential that an SPHE teacher should have in-service teaching before he or she begins to teach it. Teachers often provide instruction in SPHE for months and sometimes years before they receive any formal training in it. I ask the Minister to consider making in-service training for SPHE compulsory before a teacher may begin to provide instruction in it.

Every school should have an SPHE policy that is regularly updated. SPHE inspections which liaise with the student population as well as the teacher should be encouraged. The SPHE department in a school should also liaise not only with the religion and career guidance departments, but also with all teachers. This would provide an opportunity for the latter to be updated on issues arising. It is vital that the SPHE should not just be seen to be delivered in an efficient manner. There must be a policy in place and this must be followed through in an active way. Schools should also have anti-bullying and substance abuse policies in written form. There should also be definitive systems of reprimands in respect of such policies. There is no point in someone teaching a class on bullying and then watching as a pupil tells one of his or her peers that he or she cannot sit on a particular chair because the former's bag is on it. If a student behaves in such a way, he or she should be subjected to some form of definite reprimand.

I commend the motion to the House.

I welcome the Minister. It is good to see him in the House again. I commend Senator McAleese and his colleagues on introducing the motion, which relates to a matter of vital importance.

Senator Power referred to sarcasm. It is not that long since a former Senator, Owen Sheehy Skeffington, campaigned against people who administered physical beatings to children in schools. We must recognise that the use of sarcasm can be just as damaging and I am delighted Senator Power raised the issue.

As Senator Moran stated, the SPHE programme in schools should be taught by those who volunteer to do so and who are properly trained. A study by the Royal Irish Academy indicates that approximately 80% of mathematics teaching at second level is undertaken by people with no qualification in this subject. One must wonder, therefore, whether the higher diploma in education, H.Dip, is a suitable qualification for those given that most important task of educating the next generation of young people.

The pleas on the part of previous speakers in respect of more professionalism and additional training are correct. In Finland — a country we seek to emulate — people must typically have a master's degree in a subject in order that they might teach it at second level. In the past, we engaged in a great deal of silly propaganda with regard to how smart people are in this country. The Minister has done much to try to set the record straight in that regard.

There is a need to consider the position on the training of those who teach the various subjects on offer at second level. These individuals have such an important role and we appear to be encountering problems. People are being asked to teach courses in which they do not have an interest or for which they have no enthusiasm. Young people tend to pick up on whether a teacher is interested in the subject he or she is teaching. One always tends to remember the teachers who were inspiring and those who were less so.

In the context of what Senator McAleese stated with regard to opening up schools, sports have an extremely important role to play. I refer, for example, to the Sam Maguire cup being brought to a school by the county team that won it, etc. Why do poets and Senator Mac Conghail and his friends not visit schools? Why do those who perform in operas for which State funding is provided not visit schools? One does not know what will inspire students or what they will remember ten or 15 years after they have left school. It could be a visit by a politician, for example. It is tremendous to see so many children being invited to visit the Houses of the Oireachtas. A student might be impressed by someone involved in the arenas of business, sport or culture. As a result, everyone has a role to play in the context of assisting the development of children in the most wide-ranging way. The reforms the Minister is attempting at second level are essential. I commend Senator Martin McAleese and his colleagues on their enterprise in bringing the motion forward.

I thank the Independent Senators for tabling this motion. It is something I should have done myself before now. Back in 1996, I was one of the first teachers in the State to train as a relationships and sexuality education tutor. Prior to that, I was involved in the development of the programme that was the precursor to the social, personal and health education programme, in which role my colleagues and I contributed liberally to the development of the SPHE curriculum at primary level. Having met many teachers at in-service level, I am aware, as Senator Mary Moran observed, that there are wonderful programmes available. The programme is not the problem; what is at issue is the practice and the level of difficulty around teaching such sensitive material.

One of the main difficulties for teachers is the lack of time within the curriculum for SPHE. It is generally considered a soft subject, particularly at second level and, as such, does not have the same currency as an examination subject. We are naive if we expect a subject like SPHE to have the same value in parents' eyes, in our points-driven system, as an examination subject. It is a question of priorities. Teachers and principals are largely guided by parents' priorities and will align their teaching priorities accordingly. If both the SPHE teacher and the mathematics teacher are absent, the principal will be far more concerned about securing substitute cover for the latter.

In my experience, schools value SPHE only when there is a crisis in regard to mental health, suicide, pregnancy or severe bullying. The problem with that approach is that it is reactive rather than proactive. The Minister is the only person who can change this by offering leadership to schools. The current situation will not change without his intervention. He is already taking action in a roundabout way, although it may in fact be deliberate. For example, if he proceeds with his proposal to introduce 50% continuous assessment at junior cycle level and confine students to studying eight subjects, that will open up space in the curriculum whereby the "life" subjects, namely, RSE and SPHE, can be accommodated. However, there is a major difficulty in accommodating these subjects within the curriculum at senior cycle level. Having said that, my son, who has just completed transition year, recently informed me that he and his fellow students are learning about sex. He was anxious that I should not feel obliged to tell him about the subject because, he said, he was getting the information in other ways, including at school. Clearly, his school is offering lessons on the subject in some shape or form.

For many teachers, the relationships and sexuality education programme presents personal challenges. I spoke to one teacher who was incredulous at having to deliver the subject matter, telling me that he would not even speak about his feelings to his wife, let alone to his students. We cannot expect all teachers to be comfortable teaching the subject and many schools are bringing in guest speakers to deliver the programme. While that approach is fine, it is neither integrated nor holistic and it conveys the message that it is an add-on subject. I have seen children asking questions of guest speakers which they would never ask their teachers. I recall queries such as, "How do homosexuals do it?" These are the types of questions they want answered. The class teacher may not be able to address a question like that because it conflicts with the ethos of the school and is not written into school policy.

All of the evidence shows we must be open and age appropriate in responding to young people's questions about sexuality. Above all, we must not seek to evade the question but rather to provide some type of suitable answer. Having said that, I would be the first to acknowledge that finding the right language is difficult. Open as I am, I have been asked questions by my own children at inappropriate times to which I have given the most ludicrous answers. A teacher of my acquaintance — considered a very open, up-to-date and informed person — told me of an occasion when she was driving to Galway with her children and it was announced on the news that condoms had been found on a beach in France. When her nine year old ask what a condom was, she told him it was a "condominium" or type of house. She knew if she attempted to answer honestly, it would set off a spiral of questions on why, when and how one might have use for a condom. The material is not easy and we must ensure the engagement takes place in the right environment and context and at the right time.

As interesting as the Senator's contribution is, I must remind her that she has only one minute remaining. I am loath to curtail her.


A Senator

We are learning a lot.

I will give the Senator three minutes of my time.

Relationships and sexuality education is critical to children, particularly at senior cycle when young people's identity is tied up with their sexuality and their relationships. It offers a break from examination-based subjects, thus providing an important space where students can discuss issues that are relevant to their lives. I urge the Minister to carry out an audit of schools, as Senator Fiach Mac Conghail requested, and to evaluate the effectiveness of social media approaches. If we can hook into children's lives in more natural ways, we have a better chance of creating a meaningful engagement. The implementation of SPHE in schools is referenced by inspectors as part of the whole-school evaluation process. However, the problem is often that the programme is in place in theory but is not being implemented in practice. It is up to the Minister to move on this. The implementation of SPHE in all schools to senior cycle will let light in on life and will help schools to produce rounded individuals. SPHE is about helping young people to make informed decisions which will ensure they can enjoy healthy and mutually respectful relationships. That is what it is all about.

I welcome the Minister. I am heartened by his determination to grasp the nettle on the many aspects of the education system where change is required. Not least of these is his commitment to increasing pluralism in the patronage of schools, which has a significant bearing on this debate. It is encouraging to see a Minister so engaged and willing to listen.

I wholeheartedly support the motion, not only as an Independent Senator but also as an educator. As I do not have children I was unable to undertake the type of research done by certain colleagues, but I can draw upon my experience of teaching young people for several years in New York city. One of the subjects I taught was religion. Most days the students were somewhat engaged, but the school on Fifth Avenue had large windows and they were often distracted by what was happening outside. In order to bring their attention back, particularly during teaching religion, I often repeated a phrase delivered by Bette Midler — one of my great heroes — from the movie "The Rose", about the life of Janis Joplin, "Drugs, sex, rock n' roll". This shows how long ago that was. That got them back. The heart of our motion is about young people and particularly what they want. They have identified a serious gap in the educational experience which, if filled, could contribute towards a significant move towards positive mental health for themselves, their friends and their fellow students. They want the education system to provide them with more opportunities to learn, discuss, share, debate and talk about stories about their relationships, sexuality, family, friendship, positive and negative feelings about who they are, who they want their friends to be, how they want to be intimate, how they can push through the dark times of adolescence and how they can discover and celebrate what it means to be human and to be human together. We think and they think that one of the ways to do this is to experience a high quality social, personal and health education programme and relationships and sexuality education more often than they do now. They think and we think that it would contribute more significantly to their positive mental health.

Why is this motion so important other than the fact that we think our young people are calling for it? Should that be reason enough? Many Senators have been drawing on research, their experiences and the experience of their children. Senator Power referred to the suicide rate. We do not want to have a high suicide rate but Ireland has a high rate compared to Europe. Senator Mac Conghail referred to research by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency to examine the potential effects of a lack of comprehensive implementation of these programmes. The lack of comprehensive implementation means our young people have a lack of knowledge about these matters and a lack of opportunities to discuss these issues. Issues related to this lack of discussion increase as a result of the lack of comprehensive implementation of this programme.

The Minister is probably aware of the specific research on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people, particularly as it relates to their mental health and well-being. In light of the research, particularly by Dr. Mayock in 2009, a picture emerged of the most vulnerable people within the minority of sexual identity. On average, they realised they were lesbian, gay, transgendered or bisexual at 14 years of age. My awareness came a little earlier than that and, thankfully as a result of that, it did not lead to what this research points to. Many of them commenced self-harming behaviour at 15 and a half years of age and attempted suicide for the first time at 17 years. Many of them did not come out until 21 years of age. For these participants, the seven years of concealing sexual or gender identity often coincided with mental health difficulties and vulnerabilities. The research recommends much of what we have suggested today, that there should be more social, personal and health education programme and relationships and sexuality education but particularly for this population. It should provide for greater scope of the exploration of minority sexuality and gender identity and not just in social, personal and health education programme and relationships and sexuality education in order that those minority sexual identities infuse the school curriculum and contribute to the health and well-being of those people.

BeLonGTo, GLEN and the social, personal and health education programme support service have developed a resource on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities for use in relationships and sexuality education at both senior and junior cycle and the Department is supporting it. It is ready to be rolled out in September 2011 but this will merely be a resource for teachers, should they wish to use it as part of the relationships and sexuality education programme.

I had some conversations recently with representatives of the ASTI convener of the social, personal and health education programme committee. Second level teachers are very keen to support the teaching of social, personal and health education programme at senior cycle even though there is no obligation to teach it. They are aware that best practice in this area dictates that they receive training to do this, as referred to by other Senators, particularly in learning methodologies for group work. To be effective, some of those groups need to be somewhat smaller.

Young people want it, the research supports it and teachers are standing by to support it. Now is the time to take practical steps to tackle the barriers outlined by Senator McAleese in proposing this motion in order to get Ireland back on track towards promoting positive mental health for young people.

I welcome Councillor Mary Howard in the Visitors Gallery.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to this motion. I support the call for the social, personal and health education programme and relationships and sexuality education to be fully implemented and extended. Senator Healy Eames referred to the difficulty teachers and parents have in finding language to address issues and talk to young people. I was reminded of myself as a teenager and my convent education. We used to have retreats every year and there was a question box where we could submit questions. It was probably a good idea but as we got older we learned the old adage that one never asks a question unless one knows the answer. We used to dream up the most shocking questions to see how the nuns would react. Some things never change.

I am not a teacher but as a parent I was interested when the social, personal and health education programme and relationships and sexuality education was being introduced in 1996 and 1997. We had informative meetings on a regional basis in Cork and in local schools. The course met with many objections from parents, which was a pity.

It was the end of civilisation.

It was informative in terms of how the courses developed and the language used in supporting young people not just in sexual relationships, but the relationships they have with individuals such as people sitting next to them on a bus or in the classroom and how to cope with those relationships. It is an excellent programme and is well constructed. I had concerns that, because of reaction from the floor, it was being chopped and changed and that relevant parts of the programme were being removed and the impact was lost. It struck me that those who are objecting probably had a well structured and comfortable home environment for their children but the programme was aimed at the children in difficult situations at home or in difficult relationships and providing the opportunity and language to reach out and say that a particular situation is wrong and that help is needed. It was a very important part of the programme and it was butchered in some cases, which should not have happened.

It is an excellent programme. Members of Dáil na nÓg appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills in January 2010 to discuss this matter. The Department of Education and Skills and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency conducted a review of the programme and the figures revealed a lack of uptake, particularly at senior cycle. An overcrowded curriculum, discomfort among teachers and the pressure in exam years were mentioned as reasons for this. These have all been mentioned in Senators' contributions.

I congratulate the Minister on his review and his approach to the junior certificate curriculum. Reducing the number of subjects and introducing continuous assessment will help——

Reducing the number of examination subjects.

Sorry. Reducing the number of examination subjects will relieve the pressure somewhat and ensure that such valuable subjects and courses can be introduced.

I am concerned that boys' schools appear to be lax in implementing the programme, particularly when we have such a high rate of suicide among young males. That does not make sense. The high rate of suicide among young males should reinforce the need for such a programme. The Minister might indicate when responding how he intends to implement the recommendations of the 2007 report which state that the guidelines must be reiterated and that schools must have a written policy on the subject. The practicalities of implementing those recommendations were raised earlier in the debate. I support the motion because it shines a light on an extremely important area in our education system.

As no other Member is offering I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, to the House and call on him to respond to the debate.

It is good to be back in this House again. It is even better to be back in a House that debates rather than reads scripts to each other. I have an excellent script which was prepared for me and which I intend to circulate to Members but it repeats much of the information that has been given and I do not wish to insult the House by reading it. That is in no way a reflection on the quality of the work done on my behalf.

I want to praise the motion. It sets a tone at the start of this Seanad that I hope will continue in the next five extremely difficult years because this country has lost its economic sovereignty. Our room for manoeuvre is limited and we have growing problems in a host of areas.

I want to encapsulate and respond to three areas mentioned. There is a familiar and similar theme running through them and therefore I will not necessarily mention individuals. We must realise the need to act now, unlike the exercise Senator Clune referred to which was as long ago as 1996 when there were so many taboos around this area. I am not just talking about the sexuality aspect of it; that is the tabloid side of it although it is so important to all of us. It is the mental health, personal hygiene and other aspects that were taboo. We must recognise that we can no longer afford to have taboo subjects because the consequence of taboo subjects are all the tragedies that have been referred to.

The second point made is the absolute necessity to have good teachers in whatever the subject happens to be. I am not just referring to mathematics, as stated by Senator Barrett, but in all the topics that have to be taught because we have to teach people how to grow up. It is done informally in families. Good, working, functional families do it without even realising they are doing it. How does one learn to be a parent? Where is the text book on parenting? Dr. Spock did it for suburban American housewives who lived five hours away from their Mammy but if one had a dysfunctional parent, what was one's point of reference? Good teachers — informal, familial and structured formal teachers — are essential and to get good teachers on the agenda Members spoke about we need a new curriculum. I will briefly discuss those three areas.

This representative Seanad in the broadest sense of the word can knock down the taboos. Its Members do not need my help in that regard, although in reference to Senator Zappone's contribution, I hope the provision of a greater pluralistic choice of places of education at primary and secondary level will enable people to assert their own value system without apology and for others to be able to find a place where they feel comfortable. I see no conflict in that. Pluralism is not some alien philosophy built into this island imported from somewhere else. It is embodied in the Proclamation, cherishing all of the children equally, and it is embedded in our Constitution where we recognise the right of the parent as the primary educator. Pluralism is the enemy of no one and is the liberator of us all. My view is that we should just get on with it but in a democratic, transparent and open way. I hope the forum on pluralism will provide a mechanism people understand to ensure we can get the changes people want.

Good teachers are a key component of the literacy and numeracy strategy launched on 8 July. On the point about the good teaching aspect, currently we have five teacher training colleges. That is what they used to be — four Catholic and one Church of Ireland. We now have an on-line postgraduate teacher training course. I stated at a committee meeting earlier that they have in effect merged themselves into the university third level sector. There was an intellectual and professional snobbery between primary school teachers who did not have degrees and secondary school teachers who had degrees but who had no teaching skills because the H.Dip was not a teaching skill exercise; it was a right of passage or something else and got one the points to which the Senator referred.

The reform of the literacy and numeracy strategy will cost an extra €19 million a year when it is up and running, most of which will be to extend the three year B.Ed degree in primary school teaching to a four year B.Ed degree. The one year H.Dip, to give it a distinctive reference, will become a two year course. Most of that additional time will be spent on pedagogic teaching skills, therefore, somebody at second level will no longer say they are a history teacher but that they are a teacher at secondary level and their subject at the moment is history, biology or whatever. They are first and foremost a teaching graduate who specialised in history and if they are taught how to teach a difficult subject they will be comfortable teaching other subjects that might have been more difficult in the past. If we get rid of the taboos we might make it easier for people to equip themselves with all the teaching aids available. Reference was made to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, equipment in regard to teaching skills in areas that are uncomfortable for people and with which they find a difficulty.

The tyranny in all of this is not what some liberal commentators might say has been the legacy of the past, the ethos of particular schools. The tyranny does not come from hard-line individuals who have a certain religious point of view or a certain traditionalist ethos. The tyranny comes from the points system in the leaving certificate and the demand from parents that the school get down to the business of getting their child the necessary points to get into the course they want. Senator Moran referred to the idea of a 12 or 13 year old at the start of secondary school having to deal with the selection of subjects for points.

We have a competitive education system. Some right-wing educational economists - I am not referring to Senator Barrett - would say if we have a voucher system we allow a market mechanism to operate so that pupils will seek out the place where they want to go. We have that de facto. It is called the capitation grant. The critically important difference in the Republic’s education philosophy embedded in the Constitution, unlike many status systems, is that the Constitution states that the State must provide for education, not that the State must provide education. That three letter word is critically important because it recognises parental choice and the role of parents. I was in Chicago last week and if someone lives in a certain area and the school is not up to scratch they either move or pay through the nose to go to a private school. The same applies in Britain. In Ireland we do not tie geography and place of residency to the school where one can send one's child, whether it is a primary or secondary school. We have never fully realised - I say this from the left - the liberation that provides for parents and the onus it puts on schools to be better than they were last week because otherwise they will lose pupils and if schools have had the phenomenon where parents are bypassing their school and driving out the country road to a smaller, different school one must ask why they are doing that. There are professional teachers in this Chamber - I am not a professional educationist - and they both know that when a school starts to fail it starts to fail at leadership level. Schools are fixed by fixing the leadership. The strength of our system is that parents can exercise choice. This is built into our republican Constitution.

Most parents send their children to be educated in schools in order that they will have better chances in life than they had themselves. That was the nature of my upbringing and, I suspect, that of many others. If pupils do not get the kinds of results they require in examinations to do the courses they want to do, their schools are not delivering what their parents primarily want. We deal with this by changing the junior and senior cycle curricula.

By international standards, we have a wonderful, inclusive child-centred exploratory learning system that involves fun, play and games. Good primary schools in this country are a delight to see, they are happy places. Professor Tom Collins confirmed this when addressing an IPPN conference four years ago. He saluted the principals and the deputy principals. The Stanley letter launched primary education in this country 180 years ago in 1831, which means we have one of the oldest systems in the world. In this context, Professor Collins told the attendees they had achieved something nobody had thought possible for generations. Speaking much more eloquently than I can, he told them they had removed fear from the classroom of primary schools. No primary schoolchild is afraid of going to school nowadays. Most give out to their parents if they are kept back or are late. This is a transformation we take for granted.

The experience of secondary level, referred to by the Senator, is different. Pupils enter second level at 11 or 12 years of age having come from a small school in which they stayed in a single classroom while the teachers came to them. They may come from a tiny school. Of the 3,200 primary schools, 620 have fewer than 50 pupils. These are hardly schools and are more like extended homes, yet we expect their pupils, at 12 or 13 years of age, to make the transition into the equivalent of a shopping mall. Every hour, on the hour, a crowd comes down the corridor and the building is inhabited by adults — 18 and 17 year olds. Pupils entering second level from primary school enter at the very start of the cycle, as with a game of snakes and ladders. In such an environment, in which we are asking pupils to do all the tasks SPHE and RSE equip them to do, parents simply want their children to get a sufficient number of points in their examinations.

With regard to curricular reform, I am delighted by the work of the NCCA. This is not my achievement but work that has been on the boil for some time. There is now a receptive Minister in the Department to respond to the work of many others. In fairness to the civil servants, they have had four Ministers in six years. Any organisation with that kind of turnover cannot operate at full or optimum capacity.

The new junior cycle will have a number of taught subjects but pupils will only be able to do a written examination in eight of them. The cycle will involve the compilation of a portfolio of projects and other work from first year through to third year. We are examining the way in which a portfolio can be assessed continually and how one can respect the integrity of examination results without there being a sense that they have been interfered with. The integrity of examination results at both junior and leaving certificate levels has not been sullied in any way by what we have done to other institutions. We must respect this particular virtue no matter how defective it may be.

We have not yet finalised the balance between the percentages of marks that will be allocated for both written examinations and for portfolio work. The ratio will be 50:50 or close to that. The core of the junior cycle curriculum will involve six taught life skills. They very much concern the topics the Senator referred to. The skills should enable a young person to function at the threshold of adulthood. They encompass looking after oneself, being able to articulate one's concerns, engaging with others and expressing oneself in a non-confrontational way.

We will keep the transition year because, for some, it is a year of liberation. Those who are focusing on points see it as a year wasted but it is a year of liberation. The detail on the reform of the leaving certificate, which follows transition year, has not yet emerged but, as I said today to colleagues at the committee, I hope that in September 2012 the cohort of young people starting first year will be able to study many subjects but will be able to take an examination in only eight. As soon as possible thereafter, probably the following year although I do not want to make express commitments despite my trying to drive this reform as quickly as I can, we will strike a balance between portfolio work and examinations. We will achieve the mix between continual assessment of one kind and State examinations of another.

The reality is that people starting second level in 2012 will not be doing their junior certificate examinations until 2015. It will be 2018 before they do their leaving certificate examinations. Change takes time and the outcome will not be manifest until 2018 or 2019. Who knows?

One hits a wall in respect of the way in which leaving certificate results are measured and the way in which the registrars of colleges capture those results through the CAO system. Most people believe the CAO points system is part of a State system but it has nothing to do with it. The CAO is a private company owned by the third level institutions and its job is to capture the results of the leaving certificate examination and put them through a churning machine that assigns points. As Professor Tom Collins stated, it is the most effective and efficient form of crowd control the college registrars have ever had. They love it and it allows them to have their week of power.

It is for this reason that, only two weeks into the 150 days in which I have been in the Department of Education and Skills, I met the heads of all seven universities and said I would embark on a necessary programme of change but that I could not do so unless they were part of the solution. I said the same to the heads of the institutes of technology two weeks later. I said that if the colleges still use a CAO-type form at the end of the process, the curriculum change we want to introduce will not work. I argued that if there is still a residual points system, the emphasis of the parents, whose tyranny in this respect is understandable, will be on points and on providing grinds to their children so they will get those points in their examinations. People talk about fees paid to schools but nobody has a clue how much people spend on grinds in post-primary school education.

It is a lot of money.

It is a lot of money. The seven presidents, or their representatives, have agreed that they will consider admission systems. This September, there will be for the first time ever — it is incredible to think of this — a joint conference between the HEA and the NCCA to focus on this. Although we have a wide, exploratory primary school curriculum that is regarded as very positive by international standards, we have a secondary school curriculum that is like a chicane or narrow tunnel through which one must force children. It is like a sausage factory.

One critical finding in the research by the NCCA was that the teachers most popular with the young cohort of first-year students are those who teach around the subject and explore the edges of an interesting topic. The teachers who are most popular in first year are the most unpopular in sixth year because they go off the point and do not teach with a view to their pupils achieving points. This demonstrates what we have done to youngsters.

Unless we unlock the tyranny of points and the bridge to third level, we will not be able to effect the required changes regarding subjects that matter in a system of evaluation that enables one to proceed to third level. The target is to have, by 2020, a third level participation rate of 72% of all pupils, not just those who have the leaving certificate because many students enter college without using it. Unless we open the system such that RSE and SPHE can be valued in the same way as other subjects, we will not make the changes we require. I agree that one wants to see these subjects as having equal value but they will not unless they have equal value in the outcome of exams to enter third level.

I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment the Independent nominees group on this very useful motion. I listened to the debate on the monitor and it has been very strong. It has been very encouraging to hear the words of the Minister. It is useful for us to consider the social, personal and health education programme and I know Senator Moran and others went into great detail on it. I have always been a strong supporter of it but the concerns raised in the motion are important. The quality and inconsistency of implementation of the programme are a concern. I know the Department is addressing these concerns and that studies to which others have referred show implementation is patchy in quality and in need of improvement, particularly in the relationships and sexuality education component. The studies also show great satisfaction among parents with the rollout generally of the RSE component of the programme and there is great commitment to it.

I thought I might follow the Minister's example, and that of other speakers, and stray a little from the subject of the SPHE programme and speak a little more generally on the education topic. I compliment the Minister on the fact he has hit the ground running. Some of the wide-ranging issues he covered show this and they include admissions policy in schools, the national forum on patronage and initiatives at third level. Coming from the third level sector, I know colleagues understand the need for cutbacks but we have great hopes we will see enough investment at third level to ensure we maintain a cutting edge in research and innovation because this is key to our economic development and recovery. Trinity College Dublin, where I have the privilege of working, consistently ranks highly in the international league tables, recently in the world rankings in the arts sector and we are very proud of this. We need to maintain these rankings. I know the Minister is very much aware of this.

I also want to speak generally on primary and secondary education as this is the focus of the debate. I speak as the parent of a child at primary level and, as the Minister is well aware, as the chair of a local Educate Together school start-up group covering the area of the Dublin South-East and Dublin South-Central constituencies, namely, the Portobello multi-denominational group. More than 400 parents are now members of this group and it is still growing. It was established last year in response to immense local demand. The group is very excited by the prospect of the national forum on patronage and we have made a submission to it. The group is living evidence of the increased demand for new forms of multi-denominational schooling and a mismatch between the current provision at primary and secondary levels and the wants and needs of parents.

Other speakers have pointed out — I am aware the national forum is considering this matter — the disconnection between the provisions of the Constitution which provide for parental choice in the manner of education of their children and the reality for many parents which is that in practice they are forced to send their children to schools where the ethos is one which they do not share. This is because we live in a country where 96% of education provision at primary level is denominational, largely under the patronage of the Catholic Church. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has recognised this position is no longer tenable. Out of 3,200 national schools throughout Ireland, less than 60 are multi-denominational schools under the patronage of Educate Together. As the parent of a child attending a multi-denominational school I am very conscious that the Educate Together model is about more than multi-denominational education; it is also a model of education that is child-centred and that encourages and requires parental involvement at a greater level than other schools.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House to take over from the Minister in an eminently capable capacity. Her brief covers equality and what I am speaking about goes a little beyond the motion on SPHE but covers the need to see greater recognition of diversity in the provision of education in this country, not only at primary level where the focus is at present, but also at second level. I was going to give the Minister, Deputy Quinn, a final compliment on his recent announcement that he will recognise Educate Together as a patron at secondary level. This is very important for the many parents who now wish to see their children, who have been educated through a multi-denominational primary system, receive at second level an education that is child focused and multi-denominational. This choice is not available.

The debate on SPHE and the need for consistency in the rollout of the RSE component is about supporting diversity among pupils. We also need to examine how we support the diverse ethos among various parents in an increasingly pluralist republic. The Minister and the Government have a real commitment to ensuring greater support for diversity in the education system generally and I look forward to this support being evidenced in the actions of the Government in the coming term.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House.

My intervention is directed at the Minister for Education and Skills but as the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, and I have previously exchanged opinions on this area in its wider context she will understand what I am about to state but may not agree with it. Yesterday, I raised a matter on the Adjournment which was taken by the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, on behalf of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. This was on support for the Foróige Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ireland project. I could not help but reflect on one of the references made on SPHE, which is that it allows discussions on feelings and emotions, personal safety, making decisions relating to others, communications, resolving conflict, dealing with bullying and citizen and media education.

Foróige has run out of funds to continue the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ireland project but there seems to be a relationship between it and certain elements of the SPHE programme, which as has been pointed out, is only at junior level. Perhaps there could be joined-up thinking between Foróige's Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ireland project and the Department of Education and Skills on using the expertise built up by Foróige on many aspects of human emotion and the development of young people. Yesterday, the Minister of State and I discussed the fact that many case histories of children in the project relate to issues of bullying and low self-esteem, which seem to be a significant part of the SPHE curriculum. Perhaps there is a basis for discussion between Foróige and the Department. We have discovered the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ireland project is very expensive and perhaps joined-up thinking might push it out to second level where it will not be available because of the economic situation.

As there are no more speakers I call on Senator van Turnhout to sum up.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and the Minister, Deputy Quinn, for attending the debate. I also thank my fellow Senators for contributing to the debate. We have had a very rich discussion and have shown the reason and basis for the motion. A statistic I would like to add to the evidence put before us this evening is that half of lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by the age of 14 and three quarters by the age of 25. In Ireland, a recent survey conducted by UNICEF, Change the Future: Experiencing Youth in Contemporary Ireland, found that half of all young people aged between 16 and 20 have experienced depression; more than one in ten anorexia; more than a quarter have felt suicidal; and of those experiencing ongoing mental health difficulties, only 18% are receiving help. The role of SPHE and RSE in schools plays a key part in addressing some of these issues.

During the debate we heard about the report from Dáil na nÓg and the report of the Department of Education and Skills carried out with the Crisis Pregnancy Agency in 2007. One of the aspects we would like to follow up is an audit on what is happening in schools in regard to SPHE and RSE. That is a specific step we would like taken with, I hope, the full endorsement of the motion by the House. School principals are a key driver and good teachers play a key role, which the Minister has acknowledged in the reforms he is undertaking, and we would like consideration to be given for the issues we raised to be tied into the Croke Park agreement.

The Minister referred to the junior cycle review and we hope the debate will strongly contribute to it. What he is doing with this review and the literacy and numeracy strategy is essential and important. He referred to unlocking the bridge to universities. We ask him to give equal attention to the senior cycle in secondary education. While we need to focus on the junior cycle, we equally have to focus on the senior cycle. I would like to ensure there is not an imbalance and that we do not say we have ticked the box because this has been done in the first three years of secondary education. It will not have been covered because children are developing emotionally and physically and they said this in the research conducted by Dáil na nÓg. The senior cycle is equally important to unlocking that bridge.

It is also critical that the training of teachers is not ignored. Many Members outlined their experiences. I recall clearly at the launch of the Dáil na nÓg report one young teacher sharing her experience. She was in her 20s and she was the last teacher into an all-boys school. She was given the SPHE hours because that is what one gets when one is last in. She had no training in this area and she was expected to uphold the ethos of the school but she was given no direction on how to do that. She had a class of young boys with no training. That does not lead to quality SPHE teaching but she could not say "No" because she was in a vulnerable position as the last teacher into the school. As Senator Moran said, life experience is essential. While in-service training is needed, life experience is also needed and I ask the Minister to give consideration to this.

I also acknowledge the role of non-formal education and, as Senator Mooney mentioned, the role of Foróige. Many youth work organisations in Ireland play an essential role in non-formal education and they could also play a role in SPHE.

The Independent group will not go away regarding this issue. We hope the motion is fully endorsed and we will come back to this early in 2012 regarding the next steps we have outlined. We will ask what has happened and we hope we can support the Minister in moving this essential issue forward.

Question put and agreed to.