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Relationships and Sexuality Education in the Catholic School

On Wednesday 10th March a cluster meeting for teachers involved in the teaching of RSE in CEIST schools, in the South East, was held in the Kilkenny Education Centre. Teachers from five counties, Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Tipperary Waterford and Wexford, were present. The aim of the afternoon was to address the uncertainty felt by many teachers regarding balancing relationships and sexuality education with the Catholic ethos of their school.

The afternoon began with a short introduction by Margaret Farrell, CEIST, who set the context for the work of the afternoon by addressing the necessity of ensuring that students are given a positive and well informed grounding in relationships and sexuality education which will enable them to form values based on a sound moral, spiritual and social framework and to develop properly formed consciences in order to make well informed decisions and behavioural judgements throughout their lives.

Three teachers from our CEIST schools then spoke to the group about the approaches they take to relationships and sexuality education in their schools.

Ms. Joan Colbert, from Presentation Secondary School, Loughboy, Kilkenny, began by emphasising that, in order to be able to make informed decisions, and to behave in a sexually responsible manner, the young people in our schools deserve to be given clear, unambiguous information as required by the RSE component of the SPHE syllabus. She proceeded to outline her approach through a programme which is cognisant of the fact that senior cycle is the last opportunity to address the area of RSE in a formal educational setting.

The programme developed by Joan begins with considering questions of conscience, and examines Church teaching with regard to relationships. She then explores Identity and Relationships, Masculinity and Femininity, making decisions around sexual behaviour, sexual health concerns, AIDS, and safety – including sexual harassment, assault and alcohol and sexual behaviour.

Ms. Georgina Maher from Presentation College, Carlow then addressed the group giving very thorough information regarding approaches with different student groups, resources, programmes, and speakers on such issues as AIDS, homophobia, addiction etc. She also spoke of the necessity of providing good in-service for whole staffs in relation to engaging with, understanding and challenging the prevailing culture of our time.

The last of the teachers to speak was Ms. Laura Howard from St. Mary’s Secondary School, New Ross, where she is SPHE co-ordinator. She spoke of the legal requirement of timetabling a minimum of twelve classes of RSE at senior cycle. There is no requirement as to how an individual school does this and St. Mary’s has taken a very refreshing approach by implementing senior cycle RSE as a cross curricular undertaking eg - sexual health is addressed in PE, the Sacrament of marriage in RE and so forth. Laura also gave very useful references with regard to resources etc.

The second part of the afternoon consisted of speakers from local agencies giving input with regard to the programmes they will provide for schools and the supports that are available to schools. The speakers were Mrs. Mary Kavanagh from ACCORD in Carlow, Ms. Helen Dunne from the South Leinster Rape Crisis Centre who spoke about their KAS (Knowledge Awareness and Safety) Programme, Mrs.Mary Murphy from CURA in Kilkenny and Ms. Claire Frisby representing the Carlow-Kilkenny Teen Parent Support Project.

All four speakers were greeted with huge enthusiasm by all the teachers present who were delighted to be made aware that there is such support available from their local communities. While the speakers were all from the Carlow-Kilkenny area, lists of numbers for agencies in the other areas represented at the cluster were also given.

The feedback from those who attended was very enthusiastic and all appeared to be delighted to have had the opportunity to hear how other schools approach the teaching of relationships and sexuality education in the context of the Catholic school. Comments received included appreciation of the reassurance that was received during this time of sharing; of the openness experienced; of the knowledge and expertise in the room and of the huge amount of information given and resources shared. The general consensus was that this was an introductory session and that further such clusters would be appreciated.

Resources and information are currently being collated and useful contacts etc will appear shortly on the CEIST website.

For further information contact Margaret Farrell
Tel: 086 0437141 / E-Mail: mfarrell@ceist.ie