New sex education programme for Catholic primaries describes sex and puberty as a ‘gift from God’

5 May, 2021

Northern Ireland Humanists has expressed alarm about a new Catholic RSE resource describing sex and puberty as ‘a gift from God’ and claiming puberty shows ‘we are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him’.

The resource, called Flourish, was developed by the Irish Bishops Conference for Catholic primary schools and is designed for children from junior infants to sixth class (year six). It aims to teach RSE via ‘a framework based on the teachings of Jesus Christ’ and makes it clear that children should be taught the ‘traditional’ view of marriage, stating ‘the Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted’.

Despite being produced in Ireland, Flourish is badged as being for use ‘on the island of Ireland’ leading to concerns that it will be used in Catholic schools in Northern Ireland. Currently, schools in Northern Ireland are permitted to teach RSE in line with their religion. Recently the Northern Ireland Department of Communities advisory panels on gender and LGBTQ+ equality published reports saying that RSE should be taught in a standardised manner, arguing the current system is not ‘fit for purpose’. However, the DUP (who currently control the Department of Education) subsequently claimed the Sin Fein-controlled Department of Communities was attempting to ‘impose’ compulsory sex education and has ‘no power or authority’ to do so. It concluded that ‘it is right the ethos of schools is respected’ and said this ‘will be maintained’.

Flourish is not the first Catholic RSE resource to raise concerns. Earlier this year, Humanists UK revealed worryingly misogynistic and homophobic content in a Catholic RSE resource named A Fertile Heart which teaches that contraception is wrong, that gay and lesbian people cannot marry and must entirely abstain from sex, and that men were ‘created to initiate sexual relationships’ and women to be ‘receiver-responders’.

The Welsh Senedd recently passed a law guaranteeing that all 3-16-year-olds will receive fact-based RSE lessons. But as in Northern Ireland, English schools are legally permitted to teach RSE in line with their religion and, to date, neither the Welsh or UK Governments have condemned A Fertile Heart. In Ireland however, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said that all publicly funded schools ‘should include LGBTI+ relationships in sex education’ and that the Minister for Education Norma Foley will make a statement on plans for sex education in primary schools in the near future.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘We are appalled that yet more religiously biased RSE resources may end up being used in schools in Northern Ireland. We believe this kind of teaching only seeks to amplify intolerance towards LGBT people and perpetuates a narrow and discriminatory view of relationships.

‘We call on the Government to accept the findings of the recent Department of Communities advisory panels, and take steps to make sure every child receives comprehensive, fact-based lessons on sex and relationships that are free from religious interference and dogma.’


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

Read the Flourish resource.

Read our recent article on the Department of Communities reports.

Read our exposé of A Fertile Heart.

Read more about our work on relationships and sex education

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