Vara Initiates RSE to Educate Young Minds

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 Shailesh Vara, the Northern Ireland secretary, has said that he will consider introducing compulsory relationship and sex education (RSE) in schools if the Department of Education does not.

 

BBC News NI has learned that Mr Vara has written to the department to inform them of his intention to act.

 

Mr Vara said he had a legal duty to act on the recommendations of a United Nations (UN) committee report on RSE.

 

It said RSE in Northern Ireland should be compulsory and comprehensive. It said it should cover topics such as access to abortion and prevention of early pregnancy.Currently, RSE is only taught in a few schools in Northern Ireland and is not compulsory.

Mr Vara’s intervention comes after the Department of Education said it was “reviewing” its position on RSE.

 

The department said it would “engage fully” with Mr Vara on the issue.

 

The department said it would “announce due course”.

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RSE is currently compulsory in England, Wales and Scotland.

 

It is due to become compulsory in primary schools in England from September 2020.

 

In Scotland, the Scottish government has said it will make RSE compulsory in all schools from August 2020.

 

The Welsh government has said it will make RSE compulsory in all schools in Wales from September 2020.

 

Sir John Gillen’s review of RSE in Northern Ireland was published in December 2018.

 

He made several recommendations, including that RSE should be made compulsory and that it should cover topics such as abortion, sexting and online pornography.

 

However, the Department of Education said at the time that it would not be making any changes to its current policy on RSE.

 

Since then, there have been calls from some MLAs and experts for the department to reconsider its position.

 

Shannon Daly from the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre in Belfast said making RSE compulsory was ” essential”.

 

“If we want to see a change in the culture around sexual violence, we need to start with education,” she said.

 

“We know that education plays a key role in prevention. It can challenge harmful attitudes and behaviours and promote positive attitudes and behaviours.”

 

Ms Daly added that it was “imperative” that any RSE curriculum was “trauma-informed”.

 

“It is also imperative that any RSE curriculum is trauma-informed, which means taking into account the experiences of survivors of sexual violence,” she said.

 

“We would be happy to work with the Department of Education on this.”

 

Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald, who sits on the Assembly’s education committee, said she would be “fully supportive” of making RSE compulsory in schools.

 

“We know that relationship and sex education is not currently being taught consistently across all schools,” she said.

 

“That means some young people are not getting the information they need to make informed choices about their sexual health and wellbeing.”

 

Ms Archibald added that any RSE curriculum should be “age-appropriate and inclusive”.

 

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) has said it would support introducing a “compulsory, age-appropriate RSE curriculum”.

 

In a statement, the party’s education spokesperson, Aodhán Connolly, said: “We believe that every child deserves to be taught about keeping themselves safe, both physically and emotionally.”

 

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