At the previous joint meeting held in January 2020, the BYF had presented its piece of research to the Elected Members of the People and Communities Committee on Relationship and Sexual Education (RSE). This was entitled ‘Any Use?’
The aims of the report were to find out young people’s opinions on RSE in Belfast; how useful young people find their current RSE; and if young people understand their rights in relation to RSE.
The research had been undertaken in conjunction with the QUB Centre for Children’s Rights and Common Youth who had helped develop an online survey, designed survey questions, collect surveys from young people and analysed the findings. 771 young people had taken part in the survey and some of the main findings included the following:
With regard to the right to receive RSE:
· 72% of young people said they knew they had a right to receive RSE in school;
· 52% of young people said they felt their right to RSE was not being met;
· Only 23% felt that adults trusted young people to make their own choices about relationships and sex;
· The proportion of 14 – 16 year olds saying their right was met (56%) was significantly higher than the proportion of those 17 or over saying this (43%); and
· 58% felt that adults did not trust them and one in five (20%) said they did not know if adults trusted them in this regard.
The report then highlighted how young people described their RSE and, overall, negative word associations dominated those answers with the four most common being basic, unhelpful, useless and bias.
With regard to learning about sexual relationships, the three most popular sources from which young people said they learned about relationships and sex were through friends and peers (62%); social media (55%); and lessons in school (54%).
The survey then asked a range of questions about RSE in schools and how useful it was. The vast majority of young people (86%) felt that school was the best place to receive RSE, yet only 60% of respondents said that this actually occurred. In relation to how useful their RSE in school was, 66% of young people felt that the information they received was either “not very useful” or “not useful at all”, with only 10% saying that they thought the information they received was “very useful”. The report then highlighted through which subjects RSE was taught in schools and questioned how the young people felt RSE should be delivered in schools and who should deliver it, with the most commonly given response being a qualified RSE teacher. The survey also sought views on what should be taught to young people in RSE, with the most popular subject young people wanted to learn about was personal relationships.
The representatives of the forum then presented its recommendations for government and policy makers which were:
1. To adopt a rights-based and proactive approach to relationship and sexual education;
2. Work with young people to co-produce a RSE curricular programme for schools; and
3. For such a curricular programme to be taught by specialised, qualified and trained staff.
The Committee was advised that following the last meeting, where the findings had initially been presented, the Youth Forum been approached by representatives from the South Eastern Health and Social Care Board who had also been in attendance at the ‘Any Use?’ presentation in the City Hall. They had expressed an interest in replicating the research in other council areas in Northern Ireland. The Youth Forum was pleased with this opportunity, as they felt it would provide them with more substance when lobbying government to support and implement its recommendations. They were currently looking at progressing how this research could be replicated effectively. In addition, the representative reported that Joe Harris, Sexual Health Co-ordinator for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, had been invited to attend the BYF December meeting to discuss the findings.
The Committee noted that, unfortunately as a result of the current restrictions, the official launch of the report which had been scheduled for March had been delayed. He advised that the BYF were now investigating a digital launch as well as a digital presentation to the Education Committee in Stormont.
Members of the Committee commended the Belfast Youth Forum on its RSE campaign and the production of the report.