Draft guidelines for introducing a national Relationships and Sexuality Education programme in Irish schools have been criticised for being in conflict with Roman Catholic teaching.
All primary and second-level schools will be obliged to have an RSE course, but there will be an opt-out provision for parents who are not happy with it. The Irish National Teachers' Organisation, which favours such a programme, said there should also be an opt-out clause for teachers in primary schools.
Interim guidelines have been prepared and these are likely to be subject to much debate when individual schools hold consultative meetings with parents and teachers.
Much of the programme is non-contentious, covering topics such as self-esteem, feelings and emotions, personal hygiene, friendships, portrayal of sexuality, relationships, and roles of males and females. However, two of the illustrative lessons may cause some controversy.
In one example for infant classes, the lesson says that "the words penis and vagina can be taught and mention can be made that both the boy and girl have a bottom and a navel. The children are also made aware that all males and females have these body parts, that they are usually kept covered and that they are referred to as our private parts."
The guidelines suggest that the use of proper terms for parts of the body and body functions should be encouraged from the earliest age so that these terms are given a status and an acceptability.
Another example for fifth- and sixth-level classes suggests the use of an appropriate video which could be supplemented with charts and books to explain sexual intercourse. Accurate, yet simple information on how intercourse takes place should be provided, some of the language concerning intercourse should be explained as should the link between intercourse and conception. The guidelines add that it is important that primary-school children receive some information about HIV and AIDS.
Reaction to the draft guidelines has been muted so far. The Catholic Church said it accepted the assurances of the education minister, Niamh Bhreathnach, that each denomination could teach RSE in accordance with the ethos of the particular school. But they have been criticised by the right-wing Christian Solidarity party which claims they are in conflict with Catholic teaching. The minister, however, remains hopeful that a programme will be introduced into all schools by next year with substantial public support.