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One in 10 schools not giving sex education
Boys' secondary schools least likely to teach subject

Irish Times 14/03/2007

By Carl O' Brien

One in 10 secondary schools does not teach any form of sex education despite it being a required part of the curriculum, it has emerged.

A major study on the implementation of sex education in secondary schools has found that while 90 per cent of schools are teaching the subject, it is often being done in a selective or inconsistent manner.

Single-sex boys' secondary schools are the least likely to teach the programme.

The relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) was introduced to secondary schools a decade ago to help young people to develop a healthy attitude towards sex.

However, the report commissioned by the Department of Education and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency identified a rang of barriers towards it being taught properly. These include a lack of leadership from school principals and boards of management, an overcrowded curriculum, discomfort among teachers with the content of the programme and the competing pressures of exam subjects.

The likelihood of schools teaching sex education declined as teens grew older. For example, 11 per cent of schools said they did not teach the subject in first or second year, rising to 20 per cent in third year and 33 per cent by Leaving Certificate year. The desire among students to learn more about sex education was clear, with Junior Certificate level students wanting to learn more about issues such as contraception and safe sex, condom use, sexually-transmitted infections and sexual orientation.

Many said they felt embarassed talking about these subjects with their parents. School represented a neutral zone in which the issues could be discussed. Minister for Education Mary Hanafin said that while the vast majority of schools were implementing the programme in some form, it was clear that challenges remained. In order to address the lack of teaching in some schools, she said there will be inspections on the teaching of the subject and clearer policies on how it should be implemented.

"My own priority will be to increase the levels of inspection of RSE in all second-level schools and promote consistency in how the content is addressed," she said. She said her department will work in conjunction with the Heatlh Service Executive (HSE) to draw up templates for lesson plans, while a new DVD will be issued to help address the issue of inconsistencies.

The chairwoman of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, Katharine Bulbulia, said the need for good quality sex education at school was becoming increasingly important as the average age of intercourse decreases.

She called on parents to support their children's schools in implementing sex and relationship education, and on principals to look at how other schools have overcome traditional barriers to teaching the programme. The study involved a survey of some 187 schools along with interviews with principals, teachers, parents, students, and policy makers.

The authors were Dr Paula Mayock, senior researcher at the Children's Research Centre, Trinity College; Dr Mark Morgan, head of education at St Patrick's College Drumcondra, and Karl Kitching, researcher and lecturer at St Patrick's College Drumcondra.

To download a copy of the report, go to www.crisispregnancy.ie and click 'reports' or go to www.education.ie

Sex Education In Schools: by the numbers

10% The percentage of secondary schools that do not implement any form of sex education at all

40% The percentage of schools that are implementing sex education "very effectively"

17% The percentage of young men who had sex for the first time before they were 17 years of age

22% The percentage of young women who had sex for the first time before they were 17 years of age

82% The percentage of schools that feel the overcrowded curriculum is a barrier to fully implementing sex education

71% The percentage of schools that say the discomfort of teachers is a major barrier to implementing sex education

73% The percentage of young men who do not know the correct time limit for using emergency contraception

37% The percentage of young women who do not know the correct time limit for using emergency contraception

Source: Relationships and Sexuality Education in the Context of Social, Personal, and Health education (2007) and the Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships (2006)