The Programme for Government states that this Government will develop inclusive and age appropriate curricula for Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) across primary and post-primary schools.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) conducted a thorough and transparent review, and published its report, “Report on the Review of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in primary and post-primary Schools” in December 2019. This Report was developed on foot of extensive consultation which was conducted between June 2018 and March 2019.
For the purpose of this review and for future work in primary and post-primary curriculum developments, the NCCA describes RSE as a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of relationships and sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to develop self-awareness and self-esteem, realise their health, wellbeing and dignity; develop positive and respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own wellbeing and that of others; and, understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to themselves and others.
The NCCA were asked to look at a number of specific issues in respect of RSE and the curriculum. These included but were not limited to consent; healthy positive, sexual expression and relationships; developments in relation to contraception; safe use of the Internet and social media and its effects on relationships and self-esteem; and LGBTQ+ matters.
The NCCA report makes a number of recommendations. These include primarily the development of a single integrated curriculum for RSE and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in schools. Work on updating or developing new specifications for SPHE/RSE commenced in the NCCA earlier this year, beginning with a focus on Junior Cycle. This work includes engagement with all the key education stakeholders as well as a further process of public consultation before any new curriculum specifications are finalised.
The NCCA has established two development groups, one for primary and one for post-primary, to oversee the work in this area and support the development of guidance material for schools. These groups were unable to commence their work as originally planned, due to the COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings. However, the NCCA began convening online meetings with these groups as of October 2020 which allows them to review significant work that has been progressed. Both the primary and post primary SPHE/RSE development groups have been meeting successfully via Zoom on a monthly basis since the groups were convened in October last.
The immediate focus of the work is on creating support materials for teachers for publication online as part of the Interim Guidance Toolkit. The toolkit's purpose is to support effective teaching and learning of SPHE/RSE linked to the current curriculum. This work is progressing well and the first section of the toolkit (a portal repository of teaching and learning resources linked to the Primary SPHE Curriculum, the SPHE Junior Cycle Short Course and Senior Cycle SPHE Framework) is now published.
In tandem with the development of the online Toolkit, preparation for redeveloping and updating the SPHE curriculum has begun, with an initial focus on Junior Cycle. To support this work NCCA are inviting teachers and students to give feedback on their experience of the Junior Cycle SPHE short course specifically. The feedback from students, teachers, and the support services working with them will inform the work of the post primary development group in updating the Junior Cycle SPHE short course. A draft, updated Junior Cycle SPHE specification is due to be available for public consultation by the end of 2021.
Further recommendations in the report in relation to Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) regarding SPHE and RSE are being considered by my Department with a view to putting enhanced supports in place.