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Schools in Northern Ireland fail to educate on LGBTQ+ issues, report shows

A new report finds schools in Northern Ireland are failing LGBTQ+ students. The image shows the backs of primary school pupils with their hands raised in a classroom setting.
A new report finds schools in Northern Ireland are failing LGBTQ+ students. The image shows the backs of primary school pupils with their hands raised in a classroom setting. Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock

A new report has found that the vast majority of schools in Northern Ireland are failing to provide any teaching about LGBTQ+ issues, sexual orientation or gender identity, and almost half are providing inadequate teaching on consent.

The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) report was based on a survey of more than 14,500 primary and post-primary students from 500 schools, 50 of which were visited by inspectors.

The ETI inspectors reported a lack of lessons covering a range of topics, including gender and transgender issues as well as contraception, pregnancy, abortion, menstrual health and wellbeing, consent and domestic abuse.

According to the research, one pupil told the inspectors that “sexuality education has never been discussed other than in religious studies”. While another student said that relationships and sex education (RSE) in their school was “only for heterosexuals”.

Although students expressed a desire to learn more about “sensitive issues” such as gender identity and sexual orientation, over 80% failed to deliver sufficient teaching on these subjects.

Pupils also expressed concerns over school support for LGBTQ+ students, with only two-thirds saying that people with different sexual orientations would be welcomed in their school.

One student described, “We have not been taught acceptance of sexualities in this school and there are quite a lot of homophobic pupils as a result of this.”

 

The ETI report stated, “Clearly, there is a disconnect between the topics that pupils want to learn about and the reality of the curriculum which they experience.”

One of the key findings from the research was that there was a huge discrepancy between what each school chose to cover or not cover.

While all schools in Northern Ireland are required to teach the RSE curriculum, it is at the institutions’ discretion which parts of the curriculum it will cover and how. This is determined by the schools’ individual ethos.

As a result of this, a number of post-primary respondents suggested that “teachers regularly skip teaching certain sensitive subjects”.

As well as the damming findings on the failings regarding the RSE curriculum, the majority of schools reported that their biggest safeguarding concern was for students’ mental health.

They highlighted the increased waiting times to access Children and Adolescence Mental Health Services as being of particular concern.

The ETI stated: “A significant number of pupils exhibit difficulties with anxiety, social interaction, concentration and attachment, and schools/centres report that they encounter lengthy delays in accessing appropriate external support for those pupils who need it.”

The schools identified “a growing number of online bullying and digital safeguarding incidents, such as sexting and sharing related images”, as playing a part in mental health issues.

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