PCI's submission to the Department of Education's RSE Public Consultation

20.11.2023 | Public Affairs,

In June 2023 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP, laid regulations in the House of Commons that required Northern Ireland’s Department of Education to introduce a new Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum for post-primary schools. This was done without consultation or prior warning.

The Secretary of State’s decision was based on the Report of the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, known as CEDAW. The Report, which the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) considers to be flawed, claimed that RSE is ‘underdeveloped or non-existent’ in Northern Ireland. In PCI’s statement at the time, the then Moderator, Dr John Kirkpatrick, said that these claims, “…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.”

Mr Heaton-Harris has called for the teaching of RSE to be undertaken in ‘a factual way’, in line with the CEDAW Report. In other words, without a particular view on moral or ethical considerations. PCI believes that there is no ‘neutral’ understanding of human identity and human sexuality and that the Secretary of State is seriously undermining a school’s ability to link RSE to its agreed values and ethos, in line with current Department of Education guidelines.

In September, Department of Education launched a consultation ‘on the circumstances and arrangements, which would enable a parent/carer to excuse their child from receiving age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion.’

You can read PCI's submission to the Department of Education's RSE Public Consultation here.