Northern Ireland Humanists has today told the Department of Education NI that Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) must be factually accurate and scientifically grounded.
It should not advocate religious moral perspectives on abortion or contraception, or teach these views as fact. The focus, Northern Ireland Humanists said, should be on unbiased information, allowing pupils to form their own opinions based on evidence and personal values in a supportive and non-judgemental environment.
RSE taught from a ‘faith perspective’
The call came as part of a response to a consultation on the parental right of withdrawal from the subject. At present, RSE in Northern Ireland can be taught from a faith perspective, and parents have the right to withdraw their children from some or all of the teaching. Northern Ireland Humanists campaigns for compulsory, objective teaching about relationships and sex in all schools. Not all children will have the opportunity to learn about consent, equality, what a healthy relationship is, contraception, or reproductive rights at home. Northern Ireland Humanists stated that consultation was ‘a welcome opportunity to push for much needed reform’.
What does the evidence say?
Northern Ireland Humanists cited evidence supporting the abolition of religious carve-outs in RSE teaching – a position further endorsed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which, in its last set of Concluding Observations for Great Britain and Northern Ireland recommended that state parties:
‘Integrate comprehensive, age-appropriate and evidence-based education on sexual and reproductive health into mandatory school curricula at all levels of education and into teacher training, and ensure that it includes education on sexual diversity, sexual and reproductive health rights, responsible sexual behaviour and violence prevention, without the possibility for faith-based schools or parents to opt out of such education.’
The consultation also asked whether parents should have the right to view RSE materials. Northern Ireland Humanists said, in the interests of transparency, that they should have this right. However this right of access should not be allowed to lead to outside religious biases influencing content.
Other parts of the UK have reformed RSE in recent years. In Wales the teaching of the subject is now a compulsory part of the new curriculum, and the parental right of withdrawal has been abolished. In England RSE was made mandatory in 2020, but faith based carve-outs remain.
Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:
‘This consultation is a welcome opportunity to set out why the teaching of RSE in Northern Ireland needs reform. For too long children have been vulnerable to religious bias in the teaching of crucial RSE topics, for example on LGBT inclusivity, safe sex, and abortion.
‘We have made it clear to the Government that the faith-based carve outs to RSE teaching must end, and with them the removal of the parental right to withdraw. Our education system needs to give all children, regardless of their background or the religion of their parents, the opportunity to learn the facts about these crucial topics.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at email@example.com or phone 07918 975795.
Read more about our work on RSE.
Read more about our work in Northern Ireland.
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 110,000 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.