Speaking about the submission, Karen Jardine, the Committee’s Acting Convener, said, “In the Presbyterian Church in Ireland certain core beliefs are foundational to our understanding of God’s design for the world and ourselves, our relationships with each other, and how they are expressed. This includes sexuality, and how that can be expressed in appropriate ways according to God’s design whether people are married or single.
“We recognise that the delivery of RSE, including how it is taught, will cover sensitive and personal issues. The primary objective of everyone involved in discussions and policy-making about RSE, however, should be that students in schools receive excellent Relationships and Sexuality Education, which allows them to explore their own moral frameworks and sets of values, and equips them to have healthy, respectful relationships in all aspects of their life.
“In an increasingly pluralistic context RSE should be taught in a sensitive and inclusive manner, in line with a school’s ethos. In our submission, we make the point that 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,” Miss Jardine said.
“PCI does, however, deeply regret the Secretary of State’s continued “pick ‘n’ mix” policy approach to Northern Ireland, which in this case, has placed unnecessary and unrealistic demands on the Department of Education based on the findings of the flawed UN CEDAW report, insisting upon the teaching of RSE without a particular view on moral, or ethical, considerations.”
Miss Jardine continued, “As we make clear in our response, it is naïve to suggest, that any aspect of education, including these most sensitive of topics, can be presented in a morally-neutral, or value-free environment, as there is no ‘neutral’ understanding of human identity and human sexuality.
“In developing resources, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment will be making value judgments on what facts and what science is presented, and what is understood by ‘age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate’. These resources should therefore also be open to scrutiny, and should ensure that they acknowledge differences in worldview positions, for example, the Christian belief in the sanctity of life from conception,” she said.
“It is also important to remember that the Education (Curriculum Minimum Content) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007, which provides that the curriculum promotes the spiritual, emotional, moral, cultural, intellectual and physical development of pupils, remains unchanged. It continues to be the responsibility of school governors to ensure compliance with this statutory requirement.”
In line with current guidance, Miss Jardine concluded by saying that that every school should have in place its own policy on how it will address the delivery of RSE. “The policy should be developed under the leadership of governors, in collaboration with parents, or carers, and pupils, as well as teachers and other educational and health professionals. Among other things, the policy will set out the aims and objectives of RSE and how teaching will support the school’s ethos and reflect the moral and religious principles held by parents and carers and school management authorities,” she said.
Photo: Karen Jardine, Acting Convener of PCI's State Education Committee.