SPHE Curriculum – Motion

20th July 2011

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and the Minister, Deputy Quinn, for attending the debate. I also thank my fellow Senators for contributing to the debate. We have had a very rich discussion and have shown the reason and basis for the motion. A statistic I would like to add to the evidence put before us this evening is that half of lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by the age of 14 and three quarters by the age of 25. In Ireland, a recent survey conducted by UNICEF, Change the Future: Experiencing Youth in Contemporary Ireland, found that half of all young people aged between 16 and 20 have experienced depression; more than one in 10 anorexia; more than a quarter have felt suicidal; and of those experiencing ongoing mental health difficulties, only 18% are receiving help. The role of SPHE and RSE in schools plays a key part in addressing some of these issues.

During the debate we heard about the report from Dail na nOg and the report of the Department of Education and Skills carried out with the crisis pregnancy agency in 2007. One of the aspects we would like to follow up is an audit on what is happening in schools in regard to SPHE and RSE. That is a specific step we would like taken with, hopefully, the full endorsement of the motion by the House. School principals are a key driver and good teachers play a key role, which the Minister has acknowledged in the reforms he is undertaking, and we would like consideration to be given for the issues we raised to be tied into the Croke Park agreement.

The Minister referred to the junior cycle review and we hope the debate will strongly contribute to it. What he is doing with this review and the literacy and numeracy strategy is essential and important. He referred to unlocking the bridge to universities. We ask him to give equal attention to the senior cycle in secondary education. While we need to focus on the junior cycle, we equally have to focus on the senior cycle. I would like to ensure there is not an imbalance and that we do not say we have ticked the box because this has been done in the first three years of secondary education. It will not have been covered because children are developing emotionally and physically and they said this in the research conducted by Dail na nOg. The senior cycle is equally important to unlocking that bridge.

It is also critical that the training of teachers is not ignored. Many Members outlined their experiences. I recall clearly at the launch of the Dail na nOg report one young teacher sharing her experience. She was in her 20s and she was the last teacher into an all-boys school. She was given the SPHE hours because that is what one gets when one is last in. She had no training in this area and she was expected to uphold the ethos of the school but she was given no direction on how to do that. She had a class of young boys with no training. That does not lead to quality SPHE teaching but she could not say ¬¬¬¬____because she was in a vulnerable position as the last teacher into the school. As Senator Moran said, life experience is essential. While in-service training is needed, life experience is also needed and I ask the Minister to give consideration to this.

I would also like to acknowledge the role of non-formal education and, as Senator Mooney mentioned, the role of Foroige. Many youth work organisations in Ireland play an essential role in non-formal education and they could also play a role in SPHE.

The Independent group will not go away regarding this issue. We hope the motion is fully endorsed and we will come back to this early in 2012 regarding the next steps we have outlined. We will ask what has happened and we hope we can support the Minister in moving this essential issue forward.

Order of Business, 20 July 2011

20th July 2011

I too take the opportunity to congratulate Senator Trevor Clochartaigh on his new addition. Here is another child whose rights we must fight for and I assure the Senator we will continue to do so.

I echo what Senator Darragh O’Brien said in regard to the European leaders summit. I am extremely concerned, as are many citizens, at the way in which Europe has dragged its feet and has not taken the necessary decisions to address the crisis. The latest signals are not encouraging in advance of tomorrows summit. When the Heads of State meet at an EU leaders summit, we expect action. We should send a clear message in this regard.

I join Senator Ivana Bacik in congratulating Mrs. Justice Susan Denham’s appointment as the first female Chief Justice in the history of the State. She is an excellent role model and it is encouraging that the two most senior legal positions in the State are now occupied by women. We are in safe hands for the future.

We have taken a welcome step forward in the provision of a new national children’s hospital with the Minister’s approval of submissions of plans to An Bord Pleanala. I was very much involved in the debate on the location of the new hospital and have come to the position that we need a national children’s hospital and must put our full support behind it. This House must do everything it can to support that process, notwithstanding the many obstacles that will undoubtedly be put in the way.

I remind Members of the Private Members’ motion my colleagues and I will put forward this evening on the important issue of the social, personal and health education programme in schools. This programme incorporates the relationship and sexuality education programme which, despite being a mandatory part of the curriculum, evidence suggests many schools are failing to implement. I encourage Members to contribute to the debate.