Relationships and sexuality classes for pupils at a Co Down primary school have been put on hold following concerns raised by some parents.
Lessons had been due to begin at Killinchy Primary School on Wednesday (January 15) but have now been suspended indefinitely.
Principal Chris Currie said he believes parents are overwhelmingly in support of the programme of lessons he described as “basic biology” and “nothing to do with sex”.
The CCEA describes Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) – for school pupils aged 4-16 – as “helping children and young people acquire knowledge, understanding and skills, and develop attitudes, beliefs and values about sexual identity, relationships and intimacy.”
However, Mr Currie said only a small number of subject modules are suitable for the primary school children.
“We are dipping our toe in the water on basic biology, in order to start laying the foundations for the further development of that subject in the school, but before we can do that we need to go in very gently with the approach that we were taking.
“They are not ‘sex education’ lessons, they are lessons on pupil biology and standard biological terminology. There is nothing to do with sex in it.”
Mr Currie also said schools can choose to avoid some of the more controversial topics on the lesson list, such as same-sex relationships.
“It’s all in there but we aren’t touching that,” he said.
“There are three sections in the Northern Ireland curriculum that require schools to treat them particularly sensitively. Same-sex relationships and equal marriage is one of them. Another one is sexual reproduction which we are also not touching. The only remaining one is the one that is appropriate to primary school which is the use of proper, accurate scientific language for body parts and the relevance of teaching that language in preparation for puberty and personal hygiene discussions in P6 and P7.”
A statement issued to the media by Killinchy Primary School said: “We are working to develop a Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) Policy which has been informed by detailed consultation with parents, teachers and the Board of Governors.
“Best practice guidelines published by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) and the Department of Education have been followed throughout this process, which began in 2017.
“The first formal RSE lessons were scheduled to commence in January 2020 and regular communications have been issued to parents to keep them informed. However, due to a small number of concerns raised in recent days, the Board of Governors has taken the decision to temporarily pause the planned delivery of lessons pending a further consultation exercise.”
A Department of Education spokeswoman said schools have “as much flexibility as possible to develop approaches that best suit the needs of their pupils and also to update and align curricular learning to reflect contemporary issues and changing societal requirements”.
The spokeswoman said the current school curriculum includes a prescribed minimum content for RSE within the Personal Development and Mutual Understanding (primary) and the Learning for Life and Work (post-primary) areas of learning, which “is a minimum entitlement that all children of compulsory school age (4 to 16) must legally receive”.
She added: “It is a matter for schools to decide how the curriculum should be delivered, which resources to use, and which specific topics should be covered”.