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“Scandalous” – Allister slams Secretary of State’s “meddling” in NI’s education system

TUV Party Leader Jim Allister

TUV Leader Jim Allister has slammed the intervention by Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris in Northern Ireland's education system.

It comes after Heaton-Harris announced on Tuesday (6th June) his intention to implement an update to requirement for Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum for schools across the Province.

The Secretary of State (SoS) said he is under "statutory duty" to implement a recommendation from the Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW).

The update relates to Key Stage 3 and 4, schoolchildren between the ages of 11 and 16, and will put the onus on the Department of Education and schools to "make age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion, a compulsory component of curriculum for adolescents."

Criticising the move, North Antrim MLA Jim Allister said the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) was prepared to underfund education impose left wing ideology when it comes to RSE.

“The decision of the NIO to impose the teaching of access to abortion in Northern Ireland, regardless of the ethos of schools, speaks volumes about their priorities," said Mr Allister.

"At the very time when the NIO has introduced a mean budget which has put pressure on schools across the Province, they find time to meddle in such matters.

"I would remind parents that they retain the right to absent their children from the teaching of RSE and with these latest changes I would positively encourage them to exercise that right.

“While one can certainly make the argument that the Government may see this as another attempt to cajole Unionists back into being Protocol implementers, it is worth remembering that the Government had no regard for devolution when imposing abortion upon Northern Ireland. Furthermore, with the current makeup of Stormont it is highly likely that similar proposals would pass there anyway.

“It is scandalous that the NIO is prepared to underfund education but impose left wing ideology when it comes to RSE.”

Northern Ireland's Department of Education is now under duty to issue guidance on the content and delivery of the education to be provided by 1 January 2024.

The Department will also be under a statutory duty to make Regulations about the circumstances in which at the request of a parent, a pupil may be excused from receiving that education, or specified elements of that education.

The Northern Ireland Office directive expects the Department of Education to ensure schools afford parents the opportunity to review relevant materials.

"The Regulations, in practice, will result in educating adolescents on issues such as how to prevent a pregnancy, the legal right to an abortion in Northern Ireland, and how relevant services may be accessed," according to the NIO. "This should be done in a factual way that does not advocate, nor oppose, a particular view on the moral and ethical considerations of abortion or contraception."

Speaking on Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris, said:

“It is fundamental for their wellbeing that adolescents in Northern Ireland have access to age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights that covers access to abortion and contraception.

“Today I have made Regulations that will amend the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, and the Education (Curriculum Minimum Content) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007 to introduce compliant education, in line with recommendations from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

“I look forward to working with the Department of Education to ensure the delivery and implementation of these measures, which will include meaningful engagement with young people, teachers and parents.”


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