Relationships and Sex Education: Northern Ireland — June 2021

We opened a short survey for parents in Northern Ireland on Wednesday 2nd June 2021 for five days to capture a brief insight into parents’ knowledge on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in schools.

Key findings 

69% of parents who completed this survey informed us that they don’t know if their school has a RSE policy, and only 6% said that they didn’t feel it would be important for parents to be involved in the design of their child’s school RSE policy. 56% of parents clearly communicated that they feel it is very important for parents to be involved in the RSE policy design.

We continually advocate for parental participation in education. Research evidences how when home and school work together, this leads to improved outcomes for young people, and again, through another survey undertaken by us, we hear once again from parents how they want to be involved in supporting their child’s learning. 

96% of parents told us that it is important for them to be able to access guidance on how to support what their child is being taught in RSE lessons. This affirms to us why it is vital that we continue to work with educational Arms Lengths Bodies such as CCEA in this instance, to ensure that information is produced and easily available for parents. We aim to have this guidance document on RSE co-developed by the end of the Summer.

We are fully aware that RSE is a sensitive and complex topic in Northern Ireland and while the findings of our survey are extremely interesting, we are mindful that the 191 full responses may not be fully indicative of the opinion and experiences of all the parent population in NI. 

More information on RSE in NI 

Since July 2019, CCEA have been working on developing an RSE Hub which aims to provide up-to-date relevant information, resources and support for teachers. Work is ongoing is also develop support materials for parents and carers, and young people.

We have been actively working with CCEA since 2019 and through the All Party Group (APG) – Parental Participation in Education, have organised two sessions where the Programme Manager and Project Lead provided MLAs and parents with an overview of the development of the RSE Hub and ongoing work.

We have continually championed for more engagement and information-sharing with parents on RSE because as parents at the APG told us — they were not aware that every school has the flexibility to develop their own RSE policy in line with their particular ethos. Nor did they know that this policy must have the approval of the school’s governing body, (as set out in Section 5 of the Relationships and Sexuality Education Guidance (2015)) and parents should also be consulted during the drafting of the policy and have access to it at all times. Many told us that they did not know that Primary Schools deliver RSE content (age-appropriately and in line with their school policy).

This jointly drafted guide will be one step in answering these questions and more, for parents on the topic of RSE.

We wish to commend the members of the All Party Group – Parental Participation in Education who have continually sought ways to engage parents in the discussion around RSE and to CCEA who share the same desire to engage with parents and continue to develop clear guidance and information for parents through the RSE Hub.

Background on the RSE Hub and topic areas:

Almost two years ago CCEA began work to carry out an audit, and review existing RSE guidance and resources. As part of this work, they aimed to develop guidance and resources and the starting point was with these areas of priority as identified by the Department of Education:

  • Consent, what it means and its importance
  • Developments in contraception
  • Domestic and sexual violence and abuse
  • Healthy, positive sexual expression and relationships
  • LGBTQ+ matters
  • Safe use of the internet
  • Social media and its effects on relationships and self-esteem

Additional topics:

  • Teen Parenting with focus on young males
  • Menstrual wellbeing
  • SEN

Resources and guidance now have been developed for the priority areas and work has commenced on one of the additional topics – Menstrual wellbeing.