The Irish bishops’ conference has approved a new relationships and sex education programme for primary schools in Northern Ireland.
“Flourish” is a teaching resource developed for schools in the Republic by the conference’s Council for Catechetics and the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, introduced in 2021. It aims to teach children “the importance of loving themselves, the power of love within a family and the joy of loving others in a Christian, respectful way”.
It has been adapted to the Northern Ireland curriculum by the Catholic Schools Trustee Service and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, both chaired by the Bishop of Derry, Dónal McKeown.
Bishop McKeown said that the programme would “promote the dignity and worth” of every pupil and help them “to recognise the importance of healthy relationships and develop the skills needed to form and sustain them in the future”.
The materials cover topics including conception, bullying, same-sex attraction and puberty, with an emphasis on encouraging “healthy, age-appropriate dialogue in a safe environment” while according with “the ethos of Catholic education”.
The programme caused some controversy in the Republic, where some parents complained that it discriminated against LGBT relationships and created a disjuncture between primary and secondary teaching on the subject. A number of schools declined to use the resources.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Education requires individual schools to develop policies on relationship and sex education. They do not have to use centrally-produced materials, a situation which many have criticised as inconsistent.
Sir John Gillen, the retired judge who led the reform of rape trials in 2018, has said that “children as young as five and six should be introduced, at a child-friendly level, to the concepts of consent, to the concepts of responsibility in relations with the opposite or same sex”.
In a statement accompanying the new “Flourish” programme, the chief executive of the Catholic Schools Trustee Service, Fintan Murphy, said: “We are confident, from feedback already received, that schools will find the resources extremely valuable in enhancing the work they already undertake in this important area of the curriculum.”