PCI responds to new RSE regulations

6.6.2023 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs, Education

Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, has responded to the decision of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to lay regulations today regarding relationships and sexuality education (RSE) in schools.

Dr Kirkpatrick said, “Earlier today I received correspondence from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland advising of his decision to lay regulations which will impose a requirement on the Northern Ireland Department of Education to introduce a new RSE curriculum for post-primary schools here, without any consultation or prior warning.

“It is deeply regrettable that the legislation laid today is almost impossible to amend or change in Parliament, and that neither the Secretary of State, nor his officials, found time to consult or engage in a meaningful way with any of the key stakeholders within education.

“The Secretary of State’s actions today are based on the flawed CEDAW report (United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) which claimed that RSE is ‘underdeveloped or non-existent’. Such judgements were, and are, unfair and unfounded, and do not correspond to the reality of existing legislative or curricular requirements. Nor indeed do they reflect the experience of many schools which have an RSE policy implemented in consultation with parents and governors, and RSE provision in place,” he said.

Dr Kirkpatrick continued, “It is disappointing that the NIO has swallowed the findings of the CEDAW report as a whole without any discernment or sensitivity. The consistent outworking of the CEDAW recommendations by the Secretary of State and his predecessors, has been a patronising imposition of a series of measures on the people of Northern Ireland with little or no consideration of their wishes and views.

“The Secretary of State is insisting upon the teaching of RSE in what he calls ‘a factual way’, in other words without a particular view on moral or ethical considerations. Surely he does not himself need to go back to school to realise that every approach to RSE will be shaped by a larger worldview, as there is no ‘neutral’ understanding of human identity and human sexuality. He is seeking to impose a particular worldview on the education of children in Northern Ireland. What has happened today, seriously undermines a school’s ability to link RSE to its agreed values and ethos, in line with current Department of Education guidelines.

“In an increasingly pluralistic context, RSE of course should be taught in a sensitive and inclusive manner, where teaching is reinforced and supported by policies and processes that schools have in place around safeguarding, bullying and pastoral care. Young people should have the opportunity to explore their own personal morals, values and beliefs including the moral and ethical considerations around sensitive issues like abortion and contraception. The Secretary of State’s actions run contrary to these aspirations,” he said.

Dr Kirkpatrick concluded by saying, “Our children and young people are too valuable to be used as a political football and their education too important to get wrong. I am profoundly saddened that the Secretary of State has taken these decisions today which amount to a cavalier approach to the education of Northern Ireland’s children and young people.”

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