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SPHE must be made mandatory to tackle gender-based violence

Published: Monday, January 09, 2023

The National Women’s Council (NWC) says religious influence must be removed and better teacher training provided

The National Women’s Council has called for SPHE (social, personal and health education) and RSE (relationships and sexuality education) to be made mandatory for all senior cycle students. The call comes as we publish our submission on the Senior Cycle SPHE Curriculum Redevelopment, which outlines the need for an objective and up-to-date curriculum, free from religious influence, that can meet the needs of all students and prevent gender-based violence. The submission also recommends that teachers receive ongoing training to ensure they feel confident and competent in delivering this new, evidence-based curriculum.

Speaking on the submission’s publication, NWC Director Orla O’Connor said:

“Education is a powerful tool in the prevention of gender-based violence. The new government strategy on GBV strongly recommended a reformed school curriculum which can focus on issues like gender stereotypes, intimate partner abuse, and the harms of pornography. The curriculum should address the very real impact of GBV on girls, and support students to develop healthy behaviours based on consent and mutual respect. Catcalling, unwanted sexual messages, inappropriate touching, and harassment can all be accepted as normal by teenagers if we don’t challenge these behaviours” 

How this is done is as important as what’s on the page. Comprehensive teacher training in SPHE and RSE needs to be provided from the beginning and expanded on an ongoing basis. A once-off in-service day is not enough. Confident, competent teachers create engaging, supportive spaces, allowing students to feel comfortable discussing difficult topics such as sexual violence or mental health.

NWC Women’s Health officer Fay White said:

“We’re encouraging a whole school approach – objective and up-to-date information on relationships and sexuality should be integrated into all relevant subjects and school activities such as assemblies and awareness weeks. It’s also crucial that this curriculum be free from religious influence. Over half of secondary schools in Ireland operate with a religious ethos. The UN Human Rights Committee has raised concerns about teachers’ legal obligation to uphold the ethos of the school and has recommended amending the law to end this practice. We strongly support this call.”

Schools are only required to provide a minimum of six RSE lessons in Senior Cycle per year and timetabling of SPHE in Senior Cycle is not mandatory, which results in a lot of variation between schools. Six lessons of RSE are not enough and this needs to be extended in the redevelopment process.

The SPHE curriculum in schools has the potential to transform children and young people’s perceptions of gender and gender stereotypes, and is a crucial opportunity to advance the movement for gender equality.

The National Women’s Council is this year celebrating 50 years since its foundation with a special calendar of events and campaigns.


Find here the NWC Submission on the Senior Cycle SPHE Curriculum Redevelopment

For comment: Orla O’Connor or Fay White

For information: please contact Catherine Hearn, NWC Digital Communications and Fundraising Officer, 087 1965300 or catherineh@nwci.ie


About NWC

The National Women’s Council is the leading national representative organisation for women and women’s groups in Ireland, founded in 1973. We have over 190 member groups and a large and growing community of individual supporters.

The ambition of the National Women’s Council is an Ireland where every woman enjoys true equality and no woman is left behind. This ambition shapes and informs our work, and, with our living values, how we work.

We are a movement-building organisation rooted in our membership, working on the whole island of Ireland. We are also part of the international movement to protect and advance women’s and girls’ rights. Our purpose is to lead action for the achievement of women’s and girls’ equality through mobilising, influencing, and building solidarity. Find out more on www.nwci.ie