Transferor Representatives’ Council responds to Human Rights Commission’s RSE report


Responding to the launch of a report by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) on a case for reform of Relationship and Sexuality Education in Schools (RSE), the Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC), which represents the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church and Methodist Church in education issues in Northern Ireland, has criticised the Commission for ‘a paper based exercise’ that doesn’t reflect the day to day reality of how RSE is taught in many of Northern Ireland’s schools.

Speaking about the report, Dr Andrew Brown, Chair of the Transferor Representatives’ Council, said, “TRC will take time to consider the report from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and its recommendations. However, a few issues immediately stand out for comment.

“That the NIHRC was able to access RSE policies from over 120 post primary schools across Northern Ireland is in stark contrast to claims within the 2018 CEDAW Report, which formed the basis for the Commission’s investigation, that RSE is ‘underdeveloped or non existent’.”

“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. The recommendations put forward in the report are based on a paper exercise and not at all reflective of the day to day reality in many of our schools, or of the professional competence and capabilities of our teachers.”

Dr Brown continued, “It is also highly concerning that the NIHRC is advocating that RSE can be delivered in the classroom in a way which is value neutral and outside the parameters of school ethos. 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.

“As an organisation committed to our schools, their governors, teachers, and pupils, TRC also remains committed to supporting the delivery of excellent RSE within our schools, which respects the needs of young people, and provides them with the opportunity to explore their own personal morals, values and beliefs.”

Last week, the TRC expressed deep concern at the Secretary of State’s announcement on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) and highlighted several flaws in a process of making policy for local schools from Westminster.

Dr Andrew Brown, Chair of the Transferor Representatives’ Council, said then: “Laws and policies for Northern Ireland should be made in Northern Ireland by ministers who have been locally elected by its citizens; an electorate which includes parents, teachers, carers and guardians. The announcement’s timing, right in the middle of the exam season for schools and before the summer holiday, is questionable and greatly reduces the time available for any meaningful consultation with teachers and boards of governors.

“The value judgments made in the 2018 CEDAW Report that RSE is ‘underdeveloped or non-existent’ were unfair and unfounded, and run against the evidence reported by the Education and Training Inspectorate. All schools are required to develop their own RSE policy, based on the ethos of the school, with each policy subject to consultation with parents and pupils.

“We are supportive of high-quality RSE at age-appropriate levels in line with the Department of Education’s current guidance and would welcome an updated curriculum, to cover issues such as consent and attitudes to women. We remain supportive of this approach which respects the needs of our young people and the communities in which we live.