Agenda item


            At the previous joint meetings held in January and October 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 Youth Forum representatives advised that the aim of the report was to find out young people’s opinions on RSE in Belfast; how useful young people found their current RSE; and if young people understood their rights in relation to RSE.


            The research had been undertaken in conjunction with the QUB Centre for Children’s Rights and Common Youth (a representative was in attendance at the meeting) who had helped develop an online survey, designed survey questions, collected 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 had 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”.  It 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.  Over half of the respondents had felt that young people and should start to be taught about personal relationships when they were between 11 and 13 years of age.



            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 of the work to date, as follows:


·        August 2020 – BYF representative had met with Health Development Specialist (Sexual Health and Disability) within SEHSCT, with a view to replicating the research outside of Belfast.  They were currently exploring ways that this work could be progressed;

·        December 2020 – BYF representative had met with Joe Harris from BHCT who was responsible for the training of teachers to deliver RSE in schools across NI;

·        December 2020 – Correspondence was sent to CCMS seeking a meeting to present the RSE the report. They were currently awaiting a response;

·        Representatives from the BYF now sit on the ‘Gillen Education and Awareness Working group’ set up by DoJ.  The aim of the Working Group was to try and progress a number of recommendations made by Sir John Gillen in his review into the handling of serious sexual offences.  Part of these recommendations included the need for an extensive public awareness and school education campaign and some of this included RSE in school.  The working group was aware of and had read the Any Use report and its recommendations and were keen to use it for reference; and

·        January 2021 - BYF members informally presented the ‘Any Use?’ report to the Stormont Education Committee. 


            Discussion ensued in regard to how the RSE programme could potentially be progressed within the school curriculum and for the need for it to be taught by specialised, qualified and trained staff.  The huge variances in the way RSE was taught throughout schools was highlighted and there was a general consensus that it would be better to have a more aligned approach.  The Department of Education (DoE) referred to the RSE Hub information which it had available for educators and which provided relevant and credible information.  The representative from QUB advised that, whilst there was useful information available on the hub, there was no actual statutory requirement for schools to access the resource, which resulted in very different approaches being adopted.


            A DoE representative referred to the New Decade, New Approach Agreement and the fact that an independent review of Education had been commissioned as part of this document and stated that it might be possible, with lobbying, for this to be considered as part of this review.  He did, however, caution that any change to the teaching of RSE would require legislative change through the Assembly, which would take time.


            A number of Elected Members commended the Youth Forum for their excellent research and concurred with the need for sexual education to be taught by trained individuals, they highlighted the importance of all relationships and the need for different sexualities to be discussed from an early age to help remove any stigmas that existed.


            Detailed discussion ensued with the representatives during which it was noted that a multiagency approach to progress the RSE initiative was required, it also noted the impact that proper RSE training could have on young people’s emotional health and wellbeing (which would be further discussed as part of the next agenda item).


            Given the length of discussion and volume of information presented by the various organisations, it was agreed that the DoE, PHA and the QUB Centre for Children’s Rights would each forward a summary of their current procedures and a synopsis of the points raised for circulation to the Elected Members and the Belfast Youth Forum Members. 


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