Parents Guide to RSE (Relationships and Sexuality Education) in Schools
In 1999 , RSE became a mandatory part of Primary School curriculum .
The type of RSE Lessons taught to children are currently a matter for individual schools and teachers .
At present , School policy on RSE must include a provision to notify parents about RSE lessons and give them the option to withdraw their child from a lesson . However a Bill currently before the Dail - "The Provision of objective sex education bill 2018" when passed will make it compulsory and mandatory for very controversial matters to be taught to children regardless of parental approval or school ethos .
Course Content of RSE lessons
The Course content for RSE lessons is developed by teachers and academic groups such as the SPHE network at St Patricks College DCU , the PDST (professional development service for teachers) , the department of education and science and a number of NGOs (Non governmental organisations) such as GLEN (the gay and lesbian equality network) , the INTO LGBT Teachers group and BeLonG to youth services .
BeLonG to Youth Services LGBT programmes
BeLonG to youth services limited is the largest NGO producing RSE course content for Irish Schools.
It specialises in LGBT education and services to schools and youth clubs accross Ireland .
Its youth club clients include such names as the Catholic agency Crosscare (Bray & East Wicklow youth service) , (kerry diocesan youth service).
Its school programmes include the "All Together Now" programme at primary level , and 'Growing up LGBT' and 'Stand Up' at secondary level .
All Together Now
BeLonG's - "All Together Now" Programme for children in primary school was developed in partnership with St Patricks teacher training College DCU .
The programme is spread over 4 lessons , extracts from which are shown below :
Extracts from All Together Now Programme in Primary Schools
Activity 4 Rainbows :
The teacher displays and introduces the symbol of the rainbow. Its significance is explained to the pupils in terms of the range of colours (diversity) that together form a beautiful phenomenon in the sky on a rainy day. Other places where rainbow symbols are seen are also explored. Its significance for the LGBT community is discussed. The pupils are shown some pictures of people wearing/using the symbol who are not LGBT – but who are LGBT allies. The concept of an ally can be explored. The IWB could be used to display some of these images to the children.
Discussion : Scenario 10
"Lily has an older sister Michaela whom she’s very fond of. Michaela has recently told the family that she really feels like a boy inside, and has felt like that for some time. She has asked that everyone would now start calling her Michael and use “he” in discussion about her rather than “she”.
Lesson 3: The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams
The Boy in the Dress by David Williams may be used to generate further discussion with the pupils. The teacher may choose to do a whole class reading of this novel...
Dennis is twelve years old. He lives with his Dad and older brother John who is fourteen. Their Mam left home a couple of years. At this stage of the story Dad has just found a Vogue magazine belonging to Dennis . “What the hell is this?” said Dad. Dennis wondered why Dad was asking, if he already knew what it was, but he kept that thought to himself. “It’s Vogue magazine, Dad.”………. “I can see it’s Vogue. What I want to know is why a son of mine wants to look at a fashion magazine?” “I’m sorry. It’s just not right. A boy at your age reading Vogue magazine." ... is his dad right discuss , what should dennis do , what should you do
children could be updated on the recent passing of the Gender Recognition Act (2015) which recognises the right of transgender people to be legally recognised as their preferred gender
Feedback from Teachers
'The children enjoyed the excerpt from The Boy in the Dress and it led to a great discussion around children and their toys e.g. why can’t boys play with Barbies? Why are kitchens and dolls in the girl section of toy catalogues? - 6th Class teacher '
'The children loved the novel extract. They suggested that the problem actually lay with the father, not the child, and to me this was evidence that the programme was a success - 6th Class teacher'
BeLonG says its lessons are necessary in order to tackle "homophobic and transphobic" bullying .
In this regard , it points to an academic thesis (Farrelly 2014) which it claims .. "highlighted the 'prevalence' of homophobic bullying in primary schools" .
However , Farelly's thesis made no such findings .
Gerard Farrelly as part of his doctorate in Education at St. Patrick’s College DCU (Homophobic Bullying and School Leadership 2014) set out to establish if homophobic bullying was an issue in primary schools in Ireland.
His research involved the completion of a questionnaire distributed to 2,978 member schools of the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) asking principals or vice principals questions about homophobic bullying at their school .
Just 6% of schools responded ... Farrelly states - "One of the major limitations of this study was the poor response rate. Considering this included 2978 member schools of the IPPN with a total of 2839 principal teachers and 2190 deputy principal teachers who received the escéal with the link to the questionnaire, the response rate of just less than 6% or 283 was disappointing" he explains .
According to Farrelly's research , of the 6% of schools that responded , 81% of principals said they had never come accross any incidents of homophobic bullying at their primary school . One principal responded .. "I have spent over 22 years as a primary school principal, and have worked in three different schools (urban and rural settings). I have never come across any issue of homophobic bullying in that time"
Other principals questioned whether or not children are aware of their sexual orientation at such an early age .
Indeed , the CEO of BeLonG Monnine Griffith (pictured below) told the Irish Independent she was in her 30s and married to a Man for several years before she realised she was a lesbian ... "I would identify as a lesbian now. I'm not trying to erase my past , I had relationships with men" explained Griffith in a 2014 interview .
Another study referenced by BeLonG is (Higgins et al 2016) which it claims .."clearly shows that young LGBTI people in particular are at risk from depression, self-harm, suicide ideation and discrimination and that schools in many instances are not the safe spaces they should be"
The Higgins study in question - "National study on mental health of gay people" was a study by Prof Higgins & others at Trinity College.
The study which was commissioned by BeLonG involved an anonymous online survey of 2,264 lgbt people 'primarily via social media and supplementary online methods' .
The average age of those surveyed was 29.63 years . The youngest age group surveyed was 14-18 .
While the findings indicated some increased risks of self harm among 14-18 yr olds , the study could not confirm this was a direct result of discrimination or any experiences at school.
Of the 803 Participants who attended school in the past five years , most participants rated their school a 5 out of 10 , a 5 meaning ‘somewhat LGBTI-friendly’ with 1 in 4 giving their school a 7 plus. The report findings stated that ... "similar to the general population a large proportion of LGBTI participants (approximately 70%) are experiencing positive wellbeing"
The third report referenced by BeLonG is a 2009 report by Paula Mayock TCD (supporting lgbt lives study of lgbt mental health)
Mayock's study was commissioned by BeLonG and took place between Nov 2007 to Jan 2008, it involved an anonymous online survey of 1,110 people who self identified as lgbt people living in Ireland and 40 face to face interviews
The average age of those surveyed was 30.5 to 31 years old and the minimum age was 14 . The report states that "fewer than 5% of the sample were enrolled in school " and "A majority of survey respondants (77%) agreed that people were friendly towards them in school and that they were liked by other students (62%)" .
In 2020 , Belong released its most recent survey report entitled "The 2019 School Climate Survey " which involved an 'anonymous' online survey conducted by BeLonG and the Teachers College Columbia University , of 778 LGBT pupils between the ages of 13 and 20 who claimed to be attending school in Ireland . No Survey identification verification tool was used for the survey which was shared on social media channels such as - "Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat" and Belong's own website .
The report contains a number of conflicting results . For example on page 10 it is stated that - "73% of LGBTI+ students feel unsafe at school. 47% because of their sexual orientation and 27% because of their gender expression" , but later on page 24 it states that .. "70.2% of students said they felt unsafe at school in the past year about one third (29.6%) because of their body size or weight" ?. It is also acknowledged in the report that there was an issue with LGBT - "allies" - completing the survey and 148 responses had to be removed (pg17) , and that the Survey was circulated within Belong's own network of friends , something which is frowned upon in terms of impartial market research results ... "our communications team engaged our internal contacts with young people within our services, teachers with whom we had worked with previously or trained, and educational organisations who we had ongoing relationships with" .
OTHER LESSONS - We all belong
Another RSE Resource available to Primary School teachers is the "we all belong" resource developed by the SPHE network . Aimed at junior infants to sixth class children its purpose is to teach children .."Gender Expression , Gender Identity and LGBT families" through a series of short story books and discussion with teacher .
Books include such titles as "My Princess Boy" , a story about a boy who likes to wear girls dresses , "red a crayon's story" , a story about a crayon that is red on the outside but feels blue on the inside , "10,000 dresses" , the story of a transgender child who was born a boy, but identifies himself as a girl . The resource also instructs teachers to tell children "There's no such thing as boys or girls clothes , haircuts, toys , colors"
Extracts from the 'We All Belong' RSE resource for primary schools
At present , the type of RSE lessons taught in our Primary Schools are decided on by the school and parents have the option to remove their child from the lesson .
This opt out mechanism is enshrined under section 9d of the Education Act 1998 which states ... "A recognised school shall use its available resources to promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students and provide health education for them in consultation with their parents having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school" .
However , A Bill currently before the Dail , sponsored by Ruth Coppinger , Paul Murphy and Mick Barry entitled - "The Provision of objective sex education bill 2018" is seeking to remove the right of schools and parents to opt out of RSE lessons in school. In addition a new subsection will be inserted into the education act making it mandatory that all RSE lessons include a range of LGBT and Transgender issues ...
When prescribing the curriculum for relationships and sexuality education the Minister shall ensure the Curriculum is : Not gender normative, includes the following : consent to sexual activity ,different types of sexuality, different types of gender, methods of contraception and termination of pregnancy , the curriculum is delivered in all schools regardless of the characteristic spirit of the school , the rights of students to access factual and objective education on reproductive healthcare is guaranteed, protected and upheld in all schools
- The Provision of objective sex education bill 2018
The proposal has led to widespread concern among parent groups here with an online petition attracting thousands of signatures https://www.change.org/p/richard-bruton-protect-parental-childrens-rights-no-compulsory-rse
In the UK , similar proposals to introduce mandatory lgbt and transgender lessons on young children resulted in large scale parent protests outside Schools in Birmingham and saw parents remove more than 600 children between the ages of 4 and 11 from classrooms . In one instance Birmingham city council secured an injunction to stop parents protesting outside Anderton Park primary school in Birmingham. The protests at Anderton Park began after a child brought home a copy of the book "My Princess Boy" , a story designed to introduce transgenderism to children . A spokesman for the protesters at the time - Shakeel Afsar explained - "We don't allow our children who are girls to believe they are boys, or boys to believe they are girls . We only believe in the two genders, which is male and female" explained Afsar who was leading the parent protest .
In November 2018 , The Daily Mail reported on how one school in the UK had 17 children changing genders the majority of which had been diagnosed with autism . The story came to light after a teacher at the school decided to blow the whistle in the interests of pupil safety . According to the teacher , the pupils were autistic pupils being tricked into thinking they are the wrong sex .The majority are girls who claim to be ‘non-binary’ (no gender) or ‘identify’ as boys and a small number of boys who identify as girls. The teacher did not want to be named for fear of losing her Job but told the mail that in the current climate she would ‘not dare’ suggest to a pupil who said they were ‘trans’ that they may be mistaken because ‘If there was a complaint, I could be dismissed.’ The teacher told the mail that schools and some politicians have swallowed "hook, line and sinker’ a politically-correct ‘fallacy’ peddled by a powerful transgender lobby".
In June 2019 , the Daily Mail reported on the story of a 17 year old Aberdeen student who was suspended from school after telling his teacher there are 2 genders male and female . The pupil filmed the incident on his phone . According to friends, the boy spoke out to let people know what is going on in the education system. One friend told The Mail on Sunday: ‘He decided to film the teacher because he wanted to show what was going on in schools today for simply stating there are only two genders. He has nothing against anyone who identifies as LGBTQ, but completely disagrees that there are more than two genders and that it’s a social construct. He believes telling kids that boys are girls and girls are boys is a very dangerous thing and wanted to get his views across to the teacher' said the boys friend .