Churches and civic groups clash over who will control future sex education in schools

Northern Ireland Education Minister Peter WeirNorthern Ireland Education Minister Peter Weir
Northern Ireland Education Minister Peter Weir
Churches and civic groups have set out sharply contrasting views on the future shape of sex education in NI.

Yesterday a coalition of civic organisations under the banner ‘Raise Your Voice’ published an open letter to Education Minister Peter Weir calling for “compulsory, comprehensive and standardised relationships and sexuality education (RSE) in schools”.

The group said: “It is time the minister listened to the needs of young people in NI and those who work in education, sexual health and support services, who are asking him to act promptly.”

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The alliance is made up of civil society groups such as the union Unison, the Children’s Law Centre, Amnesty International NI, Rape Crisis NI and LGBT groups.

The Department for Communities recently made recommendations to reform sex education based on input from its panels on gender equality and sexual orientation.

And Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has laid regulations in Parliament which impose on him a duty to implement recommendations on abortion and sex education for NI made by a UN committee.

However, the four largest churches have all argued that the status quo – where schools decide their own approach to sex education – must be maintained.

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A spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland spoke of “the worrying prospect of major changes being made to how Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), is taught in Northern Ireland’s schools through the imposition of a standardised curriculum”.

They added: “We would be highly concerned that changes imposed on schools, either through new powers acquired by the secretary of state that undercuts devolution, or through departmental advisory bodies that are not fully representative of the totality of RSE stakeholders, would seriously undermine the school’s ability to link RSE to its values and ethos, in line with Department of Education guidance.”

In their own statements, the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church of Ireland and Catholic Schools Trustee Service likewise all argued that, in line with current Department of Education policy and associated legislation, RSE should be delivered within the context of the ethos of each school.

The view of the churches has been echoed by the Iona Institute, Evangelical Alliance and CARE NI.

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