Inclusive, comprehensive RSE should be taught in all schools – Northern Ireland Government panels

16 March, 2021

The Northern Ireland Department of Communities’ advisory panels on gender and LGBTI+ equality have published their Gender Equality Strategy and LGBTQI+ Strategy, respectively. Both recommend that inclusive relationships and sexuality education (RSE) should be taught in a comprehensive and standardised way across all schools and that the subject should not, as is currently the case, be ‘dependent on school ethos’.

Northern Ireland Humanists – which campaigns for compulsory, objective teaching about relationships and sex in all schools – has welcomed the reports, saying that children and young people are entitled to RSE that will keep them healthy, happy, and safe regardless of their background or the type of school they attend.

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has developed a comprehensive range of resources and guidance for the teaching of RSE that includes subjects such as healthy relationships, consent, sexual violence, and contraception, and that is LGBT inclusive. However, individual schools are legally entitled to determine what to teach and how to teach it. They are also expected to teach RSE ‘in harmony with the ethos of the school’ and ‘reflect the moral and religious principles held by parents and school management authorities’. Given that almost all schools in Northern Ireland are religious in nature, this poses a significant barrier.

In practice, teaching in line with a specific ethos means issues deemed to go against religious ideology are taught in a distorted way or even omitted altogether. The gender equality strategy report notes that this ‘bespoke’ approach ‘inevitably results in different and inconsistent learning experiences and outcomes for young people’, often leaving important topics like misogyny, gender-based violence, sexual harassment, and online abuse unaddressed. The LGBTQI+ strategy report adds that the ‘invisibility’ of LGBTQI+ people in the curriculum means that many don’t feel welcome, safe, or valued. It argues that all young people should have access to fully inclusive RSE which is ‘universal and not dependent on school ethos.’

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented: 

‘We strongly welcome these expert reports, which make it crystal clear that current RSE provision in Northern Ireland is not fit for purpose. Children and young people are entitled to RSE that will help them grow up healthy, happy, and safe regardless of their background or the type of school they attend.

‘We therefore urge the Government to take heed of these recommendations and make RSE a compulsory subject with an inclusive, standardised, and fact-based curriculum for all pupils in Northern Ireland.’


For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at or phone 02890 029946.

Read the Gender Equality Strategy report.

Read the LGBTQI+ Strategy report.

Read our most recent article on Education Committee criticism for ‘perverse’, ‘archaic’, and ‘unfair’ law allowing religious discrimination against teachers.

Read our exposé of Catholic RSE resources being used in England and Wales saying men were created to be ‘initiators’ in sexual relationships.

Read our article on the independent Northern Ireland education review set to consider ‘single education system’.

Read more about our work on schools and education.

Read more about our work on RSE.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.