An exchange between Education Minister Norma Foley and Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll McNeill about sex education in schools turned tetchy today.
s Foley was appearing before the Oireachtas committee on gender equality to discuss issues including relationships and sexuality education (RSE) .
Their exchange ended on his note:
Ms Foley: “If the answer is correct the first time and if the information I give you is correct the first time, it will be correct the second and third time, irrespective of how you frame it”.
Ms Carroll McNeill “Oh my goodness…”
The committee was discussing the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality report on norms and stereotypes in education, including a recommendation for an RSE programme covering consent, gender power dynamics and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
Ms Foley told the committee that access to sexual and health education was an important right for students and that RSE was required at all levels, from primary through to senior cycle.
She referred to the current overhaul of the RSE curriculum, the roll-out of which is still awaited, and the interim measures in place to deepen teachers’ understanding and skills so that they feel more confident in addressing sensitive topics.
Under questioning from committee members Ms Foley said pupils were entitled to factual and inclusive education and the curriculum was the bedrock.
“Every school has an absolute obligation to implement the curriculum as laid down by the department, she said, adding that Department of Education inspectors had oversight of that.
The minster said she had seen some excellent examples of good practice, from “very caring staff who want do the absolute best for their students
At one stage, People Before Profit/Solidarity TD Brid Smith accused Ms Foley of not answering a question about the role that school ethos may play in how RSE is taught.
Subsequently, Ms Carroll MacNeill asked whether the obligation on schools to follow the curriculum meant that “every child would receive an identical education with no opt-out for parents or schools”.
Ms Foley replied that what was “laid down in the curriculum will be followed ”
Ms Carroll MacNeill said “that’s the answer that you gave to Deputy Smith and I’m asking a clarifying question, which is, does your answer mean that every child will receive an identical education with no opt-out for parents or schools.”
Ms Foley again replied that the curriculum would be followed as laid down when it came to factual, appropriate and up-to- date information.
Ms Carroll McNeill said the Minister “didn’t answer my question”.
Ms Foley: “If the answer is correct the first time and if the information I give you is correct, the first time it will be correct the second and third time, irrespective of how you frame it”
Ms Carroll McNeill: “Oh my goodness…”