But UUP councillor and former GP Dr John Kyle has warned that the content of such any standardised Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum remains a matter of debate and that consensus will be difficult to achieve.
He was speaking after the Alliance Party critiqued a new (RSE) curriculum launched by Catholic Bishop Donal McKeown for the church’s primary schools across NI. ‘Flourish’ includes topics like conception, bullying, same-sex attraction and puberty, although contraception is not included as the Catholic Schools’ Trustee Service said that the resource was designed to encourage “age appropriate” conversations.
However the Alliance Party was not satisfied with the resources and called for a standardised curriculum across NI. At present individual schools have great autonomy when deciding what to teach, however a standardised UN-approved currciulum was legislated for by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis as part of NI abortion legislation last year.
Alliance MLA Nuala McAllister said the church’s new curriculum highlights the pressing need for standardised RSE across NI. “A number of topics were previously absent from RSE in Catholic primary schools, so steps being taken to address that is welcome,” she said. “However, it once again highlights the need to ensure such teaching is standardised and evidence-based across Northern Ireland.”
The News Letter asked the Northern Ireland Office if the new Catholic curriculum would in any way hinder Mr Lewis from imposing his own UN-approved RSE curriculum on Catholic schools? The NIO did not appear to directly answer the question, but instead affirmed that he has announced instructions to ensure abortion services are commissioned across NI. However it is understood that Mr Lewis holds that he is under “a clear legal duty” from his own abortion legislation to ensure that the recommendations from the 2018 Report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women are implemented in full. These recommendations include;-
:: “Make age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights a compulsory curriculum component for adolescents, covering early pregnancy prevention and access to abortion”
:: “Intensify awareness-raising campaigns on sexual and reproductive health rights and services, including on access to modern contraception”
:: “Adopt a strategy to combat gender-based stereotypes regarding women’s primary role as mothers”
But Dr Kyle warned that although RSE is an increasingly important part of the curriculum, “the content and age appropriateness of the programme remains a matter of debate and discussion, and on some elements I think consensus will be difficult to achieve”.