Northern Ireland schools criticised for teaching pupils that homosexuality and casual sex are wrong

The commission says sufficient relationships and sex education in schools is vital.
The commission says sufficient relationships and sex education in schools is vital. Copyright AP Photo/Jon Super
By Scott Reid
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One third of schools said they would present heterosexual relationships as the 'main' or 'ideal' context for intimacy, and some went further.

Some schools in Northern Ireland have been teaching children that homosexuality is wrong, during relationships and sex education classes - known as RSE - according to a new report. 

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The report, from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, found that around one-third of schools stated they would teach pupils that heterosexual relationships were the "main" or "ideal" context for sex. 

But some schools go even further, to explicitly "outline their beliefs that homosexuality is wrong in their policies."

One example given in the report from a school stated “the belief that homosexual acts are against the nature and purpose of human relationships will be presented to pupils.”

The report also found that some schools "contributed to the shame and stigma surrounding unplanned pregnancy and abortion" by making statements such as "those who knowingly engage in casual sex must bear the consequences of their actions.

It added that some schools said they would "present the Catholic teaching that 'the use of any artificial means of preventing procreation is not acceptable."

Three-quarters of post-primary schools provided evidence to the commission, with most supplying copies of their teaching policies in these subject areas.

The NIHRC said that while their investigation showed some schools provided "comprehensive and scientifically accurate" relationship and sex education, the majority in Northern Ireland did not.

Alyson Kilpatrick, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, said: “Comprehensive and accurate Relationships and Sexuality Education is essential to the fulfillment of a range of human rights including the right to education, the right to health and even the right to life. It also has an important role to play in preventing abuse and violence against women and girls and promoting gender equality.

“The commission carried out an investigation to determine whether or not children’s rights are being realised in this regard, and unfortunately the findings make it clear that there is still a long way to go.”

However, the Transferor Representatives’ Council, which represents the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church and Methodist Church in education issues, accused the human rights commission of a "paper-based exercise".

"It is very disappointing that during the course of their 16 month-long investigation the NIHRC did not speak to teachers, students, governors, or parents, or find time to observe the teaching of RSE in the classroom," said Dr Andrew Brown, chairman of the council.

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He was also critical of the idea that such education could be delivered in a "value-neutral" way, adding: "High–quality RSE within our schools is much more than just information based on legal, biological or medical facts. It involves consideration of behaviours, values and attitudes that bring meaning and purpose to our understanding of healthy and flourishing relationships."

The report emerges as the UK government laid out new regulations in Parliament to make teaching topics like abortion and prevention of pregnancy in Northern Ireland compulsory. This followed an intervention from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 2018, which said such education in Northern Ireland should be compulsory and comprehensive.

The UK government's intervention faced criticism from some quarters. 

The Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, told the BBC he was worried those not offering such lessons would be "criminalised". 

He added: "If anyone wants to find out about abortion you get something called Google and you type in abortion."

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