Northern Ireland relationship and sex education plans (RSE): Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Methodist churches reject Human Rights Commission report on need to implement CEDAW recommendations

Churches have rejected a Human Rights Commission report on plans for UN-directed sex education in NI as "a paper based exercise" which failed to observe teaching on the ground.
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The churches also suggested that the fact the commission was supplied with Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) policies from 120 post primary schools strongly undermines UN claims that current teaching on the subject in NI is "underdeveloped or non-existent".

They were speaking after the NI Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) published a report which concluded that RSE in NI schools does not meet the required human rights standards.

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Last week the commission backed plans by Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris to impose compulsory RSE on all children aged 11 to 16 in grant-aided schools.

The main Protestant churches in Northern Ireland say the Human Rights Commission’s sex education findings are 'paper based only'.The main Protestant churches in Northern Ireland say the Human Rights Commission’s sex education findings are 'paper based only'.
The main Protestant churches in Northern Ireland say the Human Rights Commission’s sex education findings are 'paper based only'.

The lessons are to be based on 2018 recommendations for NI from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is based in New York.

The NIHRC carried out the investigation to assess the extent to which post-primary schools - including state and Catholic schools - in NI are providing “age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion”.

This was the standard recommended by CEDAW, which has now been incorporated into law for NI by Westminster.

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The NIHRC found that some schools provide satisfactory RSE but that the majority do not.

Chief Commissioner Alyson Kilpatrick, said: “Comprehensive and accurate RSE is essential to the fulfilment of a range of human rights including the right to education, the right to health and even the right to life.”

She said the findings make it clear that there is "still a long way to go" and hopes the report will start a conversation about reform - and provide practical guidance for schools and public authorities.

However the Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC) , which represents the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church and Methodist Church in education issues, accused the NIHRC of "a paper-based exercise".

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Chairman Dr Andrew Brown noted that the NIHRC secured RSE policies from over 120 post-primary schools - both state and Catholic - out of a total of 194.

This stands in stark contrast, he said, to the claim from the CEDAW report - upon which the Commission’s investigation was based - that RSE in Northern Ireland is "underdeveloped or non-existent".

He also claimed the commission did not speak to teachers, students, governors, or parents, or observe any RSE teaching. The commission's recommendations are "based on a paper exercise and not at all reflective of the day-to-day reality in many of our schools" he added.

However SDLP Childrens Spokesperson Cara Hunter said the report shows the need for uniform, age-appropriate RSE.

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"While I am not surprised at many of the findings, people will be shocked and angry to learn that some schools are teaching pupils a number of harmful views, including that homosexuality is wrong," she said.

The Rainbow Project also welcomed the report - however spokeswoman Playford was also concerned about the finding that some schools are teaching that "homosexuality is wrong".

She was also concerned that schools are "omitting the experiences of LGBTQIA+ young people" and that they can face "shame, stigma and discrimination" as a result.