Access to Relationships and Sexuality Education, or RSE, is an important right for students. This is reflected in the Programme for Government, which states that this Government will develop inclusive and age appropriate curricula for RSE and Social, Personal and Health Education across primary and post-primary schools.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment was requested to conduct a review of RSE provision in Irish schools, focussing on a range of topics including healthy positive, sexual expression and relationships and LGBTQ+ matters. The NCCA published “The Report on the Review of Relationships and Sexuality Education in primary and post-primary schools” in December, 2019.
This report resulted in the NCCA establishing two development groups, one for primary and one for post-primary, to oversee the work of developing an updated curriculum materials in this area and supporting the development of guidance material for schools.
The immediate focus of the NCCA work has been on creating support materials for teachers as part of an Interim Guidance Toolkit. This Toolkit aims to support effective teaching and learning of SPHE/RSE and to deepen teachers' understanding and skills in addressing important and sensitive topics.
The NCCA Toolkit is being expanded in 2022 to include further age and stage appropriate guidance for teachers on how to address these topics within the SPHE classroom.
In tandem with this work, preparation for the broader redeveloping and updating of the SPHE curriculum has begun. Updated curricula will be developed for Primary, Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle.
A draft revised Junior Cycle specification is due to be agreed at NCCA Council in early Summer. The final revised specification is due to be completed by the end of 2022.
Preparation to update the Senior Cycle SPHE/RSE specification has commenced and it is intended that a meeting of the Senior Cycle development group will be convened in the next week. This group will prepare a background paper and brief which will form the basis of their work of redeveloping the Senior Cycle SPHE/RSE specification.
Following publication of the Primary Curriculum Framework, expected in early 2023, NCCA will establish a development group for the curricular area of Well-being. Learning pertaining to RSE in primary school will be addressed within the curricular area of Well-being and the subjects of Physical and Health Education and Social, Personal and Values Education. This development group will work on the development of a specification for the curricular area and corresponding subjects. This advice will be developed through research, deliberation, consultation, and engagement with networks.
In redeveloping the SPHE curriculum, the NCCA will be making explicit the importance of fostering young people's self-awareness and self-esteem and building the foundational skills and dispositions needed for building caring and healthy relationships (including respectful communication, showing empathy, and appreciating difference).
Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) Health and Well-being Advisers provide bespoke, tailored in-school support for RSE and SPHE in a range of ways that best suit the needs of the school. CPD for SPHE within the remit of the Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT) support service is specifically informed by the NCCA Short Course in SPHE and the associated Assessment Guidelines. The content of the CPD is also informed by teacher feedback on the SPHE CPD provision. The PDST and JCT made a number of supports available to schools in the 2020/21 school year.
In addition to this, I have recently announced my Department's intention to provide funding for a new postgraduate programme to upskill registered post-primary teachers teaching SPHE/RSE.
This programme will provide a pathway for progression for post-primary teachers interested in developing their skills in teaching SPHE/RSE and in so doing build capacity and leadership within the teaching profession in relation to the teaching of SPHE/RSE. The intention to provide teachers with access to a new postgraduate course to be developed for teachers in post-primary schools teaching SPHE/RSE. Schools and teachers will be supported to access the upskilling programme and course fees will be covered by Department funding.
This programme will upskill registered post-primary teachers in SPHE/RSE. In the course of the programme, it is intended that each participant will be provided with high quality pedagogical content knowledge and will be empowered to become an effective and enthusiastic teacher of this subject. The design and delivery of the programmes should recognise recent curricular and other reforms.
My Department has recently engaged with higher education institutions (HEIs) and it is hoped that a number of HEIs will be interested in designing and developing an upskilling programme.
The Request for Tender notice for the Provision of a Postgraduate NFQ Level 9 SPHE/RSE Programme for Post Primary Teachers was published on the etenders website last month and HEIs are required to submit tenders by 30th May. Any tenders received will then be reviewed by an evaluation panel and it is envisaged that a tender(s) could be awarded for the design and development of a programme during the summer. Previously, HEIs have indicated that they may require at least a six month period to design and develop an upskilling programme. It is hoped that a new upskilling programme will be available to teachers by Q1 2023.