Petition Repeal Relationships and Sexuality Education (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023

We want the Government to repeal the Relationships and Sexuality Education (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2023, which require secondary schools to deliver education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion.

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We believe schools should not have to teach this content if they feel it is inappropriate or unnecessary.

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Government responded

This response was given on 8 February 2024

The Government has no plans to repeal the Relationships and Sexuality Education (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2023.

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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has a statutory duty in section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 to ensure that the recommendations in the 2018 Report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (the CEDAW Report) are implemented in Northern Ireland. This duty is specific to implementing the CEDAW recommendations and does not venture into other education related matters which are devolved to Northern Ireland.

This legislation thereby placed a duty on the Secretary of State to make age-appropriate, comprehensive, and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights (covering contraception and access to abortion) a compulsory component of the curriculum for adolescents in grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland, and to monitor implementation of this.

The Government did not take the decision lightly to bring forward this legislation, and remains fully committed to protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions. However, the devolution settlement does not absolve this Government of its clear statutory duty.

Further to this, it was always the Government’s preference that the Northern Ireland Department of Education should update the curriculum. However, with nearly four years having passed since the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, and adolescents in Northern Ireland still not receiving comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, the Government decided to act.

The Government understands this is a sensitive subject and that people have strong opinions when it comes to educating our children about these issues, and recognises that some parents may wish to teach their child about sex education or make alternative arrangements for sex education.

The Department of Education has now published its statutory guidance for schools on these amendments to Relationship and Sexuality education, and laid the Curriculum (Circumstances in which a Pupil may be Excused from Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Education) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2023. The published guidance includes information in respect of the circumstances in which a parent can request to have a pupil excused from the new elements of Relationships and Sexuality Education.

On the specific point in the petition about schools, the statutory guidance published by the Department outlines that ‘the legislation does not prevent teachers and pupils discussing and considering moral, ethical and spiritual issues alongside the age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate teaching and associated learning resources.’

Responsibility for implementing this important policy in Northern Ireland rests firmly with the Department of Education. The Government will continue to work closely with the Department to monitor its implementation.

Northern Ireland Office

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