Opening Statement To Joint Oireachtas Committee for Education and Skills
Review of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), 5th July 2018
Thank you for inviting ETBI to attend today’s Committee meeting. As mentioned in our submission, we welcome the opportunity to engage and collaborate with the Joint Committee and contribute to its review of sexual health and relationship education in schools.
For the purposes of today’s presentation, I wish to outline the underlying characteristic spirit of the schools under ETB patronage that informs our delivery of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum and the role of the Boards of Management of our schools in its development. Each ETB as the patron appoints a board of management to manage the particular school/college.
At the outset I would like to highlight the functions of a school as clearly set out in Section 9.1 (d) of the Education Act, 1998. This is helpful in considering the implementation of the RSE curriculum in our schools.
Functions of School/College –
(d) promote the moral, spiritual, social, and personal development of students and provide health education for them, in consultation with their parents, having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school . . .
- Education and Training Boards and Boards of Management
Education and Training Boards (ETBs) are statutory education authorities with our own corporate identity. ETBs manage and operate community national schools, second-level schools, further education colleges and a range of adult and further education centres delivering education and training programmes. While an ETB is the body corporate for all schools, colleges and centres established and maintained under our patronage, ETBs delegate many management functions and responsibilities to boards of management.
- Characteristic Spirit and Core Values of ETBs and the Delivery of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) Programme
Our ETB schools are State, multidenominational schools. This has a significant impact on the core values and characteristic spirit of the sector. At primary level with the ETB as patron, the core values of our Community National Schools (CNS) are: Excellence in Education; Multi-denominational; Equality-Based and Community Focused. All members of our CNS Boards of Management were provided with extensive training on this to ensure that all decisions at board level are in line with the core values of the school.
There is currently a significant piece of work being carried out across ETB post-primary schools in order to be able to clearly articulate what our core values and characteristic spirit are. Although this work is ongoing, we can say with confidence that all of our schools are committed to the equal respect of all students, regardless of their faith or belief, nationality or any other aspect of their identity. Our approach to the curriculum is influenced by this. For example, Religious Education in non-Designated ETB schools is taught in a pluralist way, without bias towards one religion or belief over another. Similarly, our approach to RSE is not through any particular religious or belief lens. Therefore, RSE is embedded in social, personal and health education in the curriculum at all levels. The content of the RSE programme is delivered in an objective and critical manner that avoids any particular religious bias. In line with our core values and characteristic spirit, we believe that all children and young people have the right to a high quality, holistic and inclusive Relationships and Sexuality Education. The ETB position as communicated to the Boards of Managements of our schools is that RSE is about relationships, emotions and wellbeing. This has been central to our roll-out of wellbeing within the context of the New Junior Cycle. This holistic approach considers not only the sexual health of young people but does so by informing them in a holistic, balanced and factual way.
- Education and Training Boards and Designated Schools
ETBs also manage Community Colleges under a ‘Model Agreement (Designated) College’. This is an ETB school where the management of the school is governed by a specific agreement between the ETB (formerly VEC) and a co-trustee or ‘trustee partner’ – the local diocese and/or a religious congregation or other recognised school patron. The Model Agreement refers to the agreement between the ETB and the co-trustee – an agreement that as well as giving the co-trustee a role in the management of the school, gives the co-trustee a role in determining the school’s characteristic spirit. While Model Agreement (Designated) Colleges involve a co-trustee, the ETB is the patron.
In relation to this type of Designated schools, characteristic spirit can have some impact in terms of the methods chosen to deliver aspects of the RSE Programme. It may also have a bearing on what resources are chosen to assist delivery. However, designated schools do not ‘cherry pick’ or omit aspects of the RSE programme.
- The Board of Management RSE Policy and the RSE Programme
It is important that the Board of Management (BOM) communicates and consults with the key stakeholders about the RSE Policy: students; parents; teachers; school management, and in the case of Community Colleges, the co-trustee. It is our view that these stakeholders have much to contribute in ensuring that a successful and highly effective RSE programme is implemented in a school. The characteristic spirit of a school should not preclude children and young people in any way from acquiring the key messages of an RSE programme.
An extensive training programme to BOM members has been delivered by a cascade model through the ETBI structures to help members effective carry out their role within the BOM. It is useful to highlight that the quality assurance aspect of RSE is managed by the Department of Education and Skills with a subject inspection process that is specifically devoted to Social, Political and Health Education (SPHE) and this looks at RSE. It is also addressed within the Management, Leadership and Learning (MLL) Whole School Evaluation (WSE) process with the BOM being central within the inspection.
The review of RSE by the Joint Committee on Education and Skills is welcomed by ETBI and we very much look forward to seeing the deliberations and findings positively influencing the outcomes of the overall review process. It is important to ensure that the review of the RSE curriculum will identify the changes necessary to meet the needs of young people today.