That Dáil Éireann shall take note of the Report of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills entitled Report on Relationships and Sexuality Education, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 29th January, 2019.
We appreciate that the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Joe McHugh, is here to listen to the recommendations and what the committee has to say. It is to be hoped he will ensure they are implemented.
The committee included in its 2018 work programme to undertake a review of the relationships and sexual education, RSE, curriculum, including matters relating to contraception and consent. The committee carried out an in-depth review of how this is delivered in primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations which play an important role through their interactions with young people.
We sought submissions from a vast number of organisations and received 54 in total. We then had oral engagement with 26 different organisations and groups. On behalf of the members of the committee, I want to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of teachers in schools across the State in the delivery of the RSE programme to students. However, while the current curriculum was viewed as progressive when it was introduced in 1999, the committee feels that 20 years later it needs to be updated in order to take account of the significant societal changes which have taken place. It is very obvious that, due to these significant changes, it is essential that any RSE curriculum taught in schools equips our children and young people with the tools to navigate successfully and safely our modern world and the challenges they face.
Human relationships are complex and many young people are bombarded with information, particularly by having access to the Internet through smart phones etc. These online and mostly unregulated sources may not provide them with the most accurate or appropriate information. Some information accessed by young people is false and can be very damaging. As a society, we have an obligation to ensure that all such information is challenged and the correct information is delivered in an appropriate and a consistent way. Legislators have a duty in that regard.
An effective and modern curriculum will teach young people about sex, relationships and respect, but needs to be presented in an appropriate manner, taking account of the age and understanding of the child or individual. The committee was told that many adults have received little or no relationship or sexuality education due to the inconsistent way in which RSE was taught in the past. That undoubtedly has a knock-on effect should these people become parents, as it is unlikely that they will have the skills to educate their children in the most effective way possible. This was of particular concern with respect to people with intellectual disabilities. One witness suggested that this is possibly due to the perception that people with intellectual disabilities were eternal children. This is a very dehumanising perspective and one which has to be addressed.
The curriculum must also deal with LGBTQI matters and equip students and young people with the ability to interact with one another in a way which promotes well-being, respects the uniqueness of everyone's identity and helps to reinforce positive sexual behaviours.
The committee believes that delivering the curriculum from an earlier age naturally and in an age and developmentally appropriate manner will remove embarrassment from our children's social development and remove outdated stigmas associated with sex and relationships. However, it is not enough to produce a curriculum containing information relevant to today's society. It is also essential that it be delivered in an open, factual and consistent way across primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations that interact with young people. That said, I acknowledge the dedication and hard work of teachers to the work being carried out. I thank all who took part in the review of this important topic, which was very informative and useful for the committee in the production of the report.
It was important that the committee took a modular approach in respect of the organisations and individuals it met. As I mentioned, 26 groups appeared before it. The first module investigated the effectiveness of current sexual health and relationship education models. The committee heard evidence from users, policymakers, parents, teacher and student representative bodies, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, and the Department.
The second module investigated the elements to be considered in a future model of sexual health and relationship education and heard evidence from representatives in the areas of cybersecurity, consent training, disability and LGBTQI. The committee undertook to examine the implementation of sexual health and relationship education best practice and, of course, potential solutions.
The third module involved the committee hearing evidence from academics and those in the field of delivering sexual health and relationship education. The purpose of this module was to examine the area of sexual health and relationship policy and its implementation in schools. In that regard, I visited Trinity College Dublin to experience one of its workshops at first hand. I was impressed with how it was delivered and with the gender balance, which was approximately 50:50 male and female.
The fourth module focused on the role of management boards, including challenges they may encounter in the development and implementation of programmes and, in particular, any impact that ethos may cause. Overall, the evidence highlighted a need for change in the national mindset with regard to sex education. It identified that in order to deliver an effective RSE curriculum, a mindset of inclusivity-centred on competence, well-being and the development of mutually satisfying relationships needs to be fostered.
I refer to an interesting document published last week by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service that casts a spotlight on school-based RSE. It was produced separately from the committee's report. It states:
There is clear evidence that school-based sex education programmes can improve sexual health outcomes. Women who have experienced [appropriate] sex education in schools are less likely to have experienced rape, abortion or distress about sex.
It goes on to discuss research carried out by UNESCO and the World Health Organization, WHO, which claims that "sexuality education leads to improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes, including a reduction in sexually transmitted infections, (STIs), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and unintended pregnancy". It is important to note that.
I thank the members of the committee. We identified that improvements in the curriculum are urgently needed to give young people the skills they need, particularly in the areas of consent and contraception. The evidence we heard during the four modules highlighted a need for a change in the national mindset. We must acknowledge and accept that parents are the primary educators of their children but, working hand in hand with schools and the delivery and implementation of an updated RSE policy, we identified that to deliver an effective RSE policy, a mindset of inclusion centred on well-being and the development of mutually satisfying relationships must be fostered. The committee made 25 recommendations. We strongly believe that the social personal and health education, SPHE, and RSE curriculums must be inclusive of all students and give an equal voice to LGBTQI students and those with special intellectual needs, who are often overlooked in this area. To achieve this, the curricula must be reviewed to reflect today's society and delivered from an earlier age in a consistent manner to all students such that respect for the broad range of sexual identities becomes embedded in the mindset of future generations.
I reiterate our recommendation that reproductive health will form an integral and fundamental part of all discussions on and reforms of SPHE and RSE. That also appeared in the recommendations delivered last year by the Citizens' Assembly. Another important recommendation is that outside providers of RSE should be regulated by the Department of Education and Skills or the HSE to ensure the consistency and accuracy of information provided to students. In addition, the necessary legislative amendments required to remove the role of ethos as a barrier to the objective and factual delivery of RSE and SPHE curriculums should be made without further delay.
I thank all who took part for giving their time, motivation and passion to dealing with this sensitive issue. They very much helped the committee in forming its views for the report, which was presented to the Minister and the Department on 29 January 2019. I hope the work undertaken by the committee on this topic will provide young people with a solid foundation and aid in the success of other initiatives being rolled out as part of the wider discussion related to developing a more respectful and inclusive attitude to sexuality and its impact throughout society. I hope the Minister will take on board our 25 recommendations. I ask that he give the committee an opportunity to review the guidelines being compiled by the Department. I hope it is taking heed of our 25 recommendations in regard to the review. We would appreciate an opportunity to review the guidelines being drawn up by the Department and to revert at a later stage in the process.