The UK Government is updating the requirements for Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris has announced today (Tuesday 6 June).
The Secretary of State is under a statutory duty under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 to implement recommendation 86(d) of the Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW).
The Regulations will amend the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, and the Education (Curriculum Minimum Content) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007 in relation to Key Stage 3 and 4.
They will make age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion, a compulsory component of curriculum for adolescents.
They will also place a duty on the Department of Education to issue guidance on the content and delivery of the education to be provided by 1 January 2024.
The Department will also be under a statutory duty to make Regulations about the circumstances in which at the request of a parent, a pupil may be excused from receiving that education, or specified elements of that education.
Consultation with parents on Relationship and Sexuality Education is already common practice in Northern Ireland and we expect the Department of Education to ensure schools afford parents the opportunity to review relevant materials.
The Regulations, in practice, will result in educating adolescents on issues such as how to prevent a pregnancy, the legal right to an abortion in Northern Ireland, and how relevant services may be accessed.
This should be done in a factual way that does not advocate, nor oppose, a particular view on the moral and ethical considerations of abortion or contraception.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Right Honourable Chris Heaton-Harris, said:
“It is fundamental for their wellbeing that adolescents in Northern Ireland have access to age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights that covers access to abortion and contraception.
“Today I have made Regulations that will amend the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, and the Education (Curriculum Minimum Content) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007 to introduce compliant education, in line with recommendations from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
“I look forward to working with the Department of Education to ensure the delivery and implementation of these measures, which will include meaningful engagement with young people, teachers and parents.”