Sex and Sexuality Education

Sex and Sexuality Education (Edge Hill University College, England) 1995

This research project, with Karen Corteen, explored sex education policy and practice in ten primary schools in one local education authority based on policy analysis, questionnaires, and interviews with Headteachers, Governors, Year 6 Teachers, and Key Stage One Teachers.

  • Report: Haydon, D. and Corteen, K. (1998) “Just Not A Priority” Sex Education Policy and Practice in Primary Schools, Centre for Studies in Crime and Social Justice, Edge Hill, England
  • Chapter: Haydon, D. (2002) ‘Children’s Rights to Sex and Sexuality Education’ in B. Franklin (ed) The New Handbook of Children’s Rights. Comparative Policy and Practice, Routledge, pp182-195
  • Chapter: Haydon, D. and Scraton, P. (2002) ‘Sex Education As Regulation’ in B. Goldson, M. Lavalette and J. McKenzie (eds) Children, Welfare and the State, Sage, pp152-168

Relationships and Sexuality Education [RSE] in Northern Ireland, 2023 

In Northern Ireland, beyond the statutory minimum content for RSE, schools have flexibility in what they cover – giving each school the scope to make decisions on meeting pupil needs. The Department of Education’s 2015 Circular regarding RSE states that each school is required to develop an RSE policy “which is relevant to the lives of pupils today”, based on the ethos of the school. The Circular states that “best practice” includes “clear linkages and explicit connections” with the “aims, values, ethos, moral and ethical framework” of the school. The teaching guidance and resources provided by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment [CCEA] cover issues including consent, contraception, healthy relationships, internet safety, LGBT matters, social media and self-esteem. However, regarding ‘sensitive issues’ (eg abortion, same-sex marriage, gender identity, sexual abuse), the CCEA guidance states that “Schools may wish to deal with such issues differently, depending on their distinctive” ethos. Consequently, particularly in faith-based schools,important RSE content may be excluded because it does not fit with the school’s ethos. While there is no legislative provision permitting parental withdrawal of children from sex education, the CCEA guidance states that schools are allowed to grant such requests on the basis that “parents or carers have the right to have their children educated in accordance with their wishes”. Thus, some children are denied their right to access RSE.

In its inquiry into rights violation as a consequence of restrictive access to abortion for girls and women in Northern Ireland, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW] recommended that the State Party should make “age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights a compulsory curriculum component for adolescents, covering early pregnancy prevention and access to abortion” (CEDAW, 2018: para 86d). In its 2019 Concluding Observations to the UK Government, CEDAW recommended that measures should be taken to introduce mandatory, age-appropriate education on sex and reproductive rights, including gender relations and responsible behaviour, together with implementation of the 2018 House of Commons Women and Equality Committee Report recommendations on sexual harassment of girls in public spaces, including schools (CEDAW, 2019: para 42b and c). Legislation passed by the Secretary of State required that schools in Northern Ireland teach RSE in line with the CEDAW recommendations and required the Department of Education to bring forward regulations regarding the parental right to have their child excused from receiving age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion. 

Between 1 September and 24 November 2023, the Department of Education conducted a consultation focused on the circumstances and arrangements which would enable parents/carers to excuse their child from this element of RSE at Key Stages 3 and 4, to which I submitted a response.

Consultation Response: Consultation on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), Response from Dr Deena Haydon, 24 November 2023
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