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Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 10 March 2022

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Ceisteanna (65)

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

65. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education the status of the Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill 2021; and if she will expedite the work on the Bill. [13664/22]

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Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Education)

What is the status of the Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill 2021 and will the Minister make a statement on the matter to update us on the work that has been ongoing since it was brought to the House five months ago? If possible, will she expedite the Bill?

Access to sexual and health education is an important right for students, and it is equally important that this education meets the needs of students in their day-to-day lives and reflect best practice. The Department continues to work closely with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, to give effect to the commitment in the programme for Government to develop inclusive and age-appropriate relationship and sexual education, RSE, and social, political and health education, SPHE, curriculums at primary and post-primary levels, including through an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships and making appropriate legislative changes, if necessary. The NCCA draws on the report on the review of relationships and sexuality education in primary and post-primary schools, which was published in December 2019.

As the Deputy will be aware from the Second Stage debate on the Private Members’ Bill he tabled, arising from recommendations in that report, the NCCA has been following a twin-track approach in this work. First, the NCCA has a focus on developing support materials for teachers for publication online as part of an online guidance toolkit. The toolkit supports teachers in their engagement with the current SPHE-RSE curriculum in a confident and holistic manner, and in a comprehensive way that meets the needs of young people today. Separate toolkits, which are being used by schools, are available for the primary, junior cycle and senior cycle curriculum areas.

In tandem with this work on the online toolkits, the NCCA is progressing the broader redevelopment and update of the SPHE curriculum, with an initial focus on the junior cycle. The Department is also examining means to support teachers through the provision of enhanced continuing professional development, CPD. A review of the current junior cycle SPHE course has been approved by the NCCA and forms the basis for the work of the subject development groups in formulating an updated junior cycle SPHE specification. A draft revised junior cycle specification is due to be agreed by the NCCA in advance of the summer, with a public consultation to follow. The final revised specification is due to be completed by the end of 2022 and rolled out in schools from September 2023. Preparatory work will commence in 2022 in respect of senior cycle specifications as the next area of focus.

I would like an update on the Bill, which was delayed by nine months. We are more than halfway through that period, at five months. Is it the Minister's intention to bring the Bill back on Second Stage, as was agreed to when the Bill received cross-party support in November? Will it be brought back before or after the summer?

I might highlight some of the issues that were raised during the debate on the Bill. This week, we marked International Women's Day. The Minister for Justice is working on a Government strategy to tackle male and gender-based violence. It will have four pillars, namely, prevention, protection, prosecution and policy co-ordination. It is difficult to separate prevention from education. Has the Minister's Department engaged with the Department of Justice, therefore, on what could be included in any revised RSE models at primary level and in the junior and senior cycles to combat male violence against women?

As I outlined earlier and as was outlined during the debate on the Bill, it is important that the NCCA, which has undertaken a significant body of work on specifications for the junior cycle this year, moving ahead with the senior cycle subsequently, be given time to complete the development work in this significant area.

That is why, on Second Stage of the Bill, as the Deputy will be aware, Government tabled a timed amendment that the motion be read in nine months. The Department will continue to work closely with the NCCA to assist in completion of this work as a matter of priority.

I made clear at the time I am absolutely committed to this being delivered as a matter of priority. It is important, as I have articulated, that students have the information available. It is the right of every student to have the information available to him or her.

It is also important that we are conscious of models of best practice. Indeed, in terms of the work of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, the Deputy will be aware that a cross-departmental approach is being taken and the Department of Education very much will be involved in all of that.

Has the Department of Education been involved to this point? What are the timelines for the involvement of the Department with the Minister, Deputy McEntee's cross-departmental approach to combating men's violence against women? Can the Minister, Deputy Foley, update us on that particular work? Specifically, what role has the Department of Education had to this point? Will this feature in the work of the NCCA? Can we see a progress report?

The NCCA has taken the broadest view of models of best practice in terms of the information that should be available to the students. I reiterate there is absolute clarity and commitment on the part of the Department. Indeed, there is recognition on all sides of the importance of the correct and factual information being not only made available to but readily accessed by the students. In tandem with that, it is important that the school staff are supported in the delivery of it. When we talk about various approaches, we are talking about not only the curriculum but also adequate and significant supports being available for the delivery of the curriculum. Underlying and underpinning everything that is in the curriculum, at the heart of it will be meeting the needs and the challenges that children and young people face today and that they would have the information.

In terms of working with other Department, I reiterate there is an absolute commitment on our part to work on a cross-departmental level. Whether with the Minister for Justice or the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, we will take that collaborative and co-operative approach.

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