RSE Northern Ireland: TUV leader demands to know if schools must embrace a child's self-declared gender identity against parents' wishes

One of the flags and symbols used by the transgender movement (Photo: /)
One of the flags and symbols used by the transgender movement (Photo: /)

The TUV leader has been engaging in correspondence with the top civil servant in the Department of Education, Mark Browne, about the issue of their RSE (relationships and sexuality education) lessons, and has now shared contents from that exchange.

The government’s current revamping of the curriculum in NI schools will see pupils from keystage three upwards taught about their entitlement to have abortions, and a consultation is now underway into the rights of parents to opt out of such lessons.

Whilst transgenderism does not form part of this current push to revamp the curriculum, the pending changes have thrown a light more widely on the kind of relationships and sexuality content Northern Irish children are taught.

There has been pressure from activist circles for years for a wider re-writing of the curriculum.

For example, the NI Human Rights Commission recently said that NI schools must go further in promoting what it called "gender diversity" (meaning acceptance of the idea that children can swap gender or belong to some new gender like "non-binary gender-queer" or "neutrois").

Mr Allister has now called for the department to give a clear answer to this specific question:

"Will – indeed, does – the department accommodate a male child who wishes to be referred to by female pronouns and a female name in school when the parents object? Is the parental view secondary and to be overruled?"

He is awaiting a response.

Meanwhile on the more general issue of whether a parent can withdraw their child from teaching on “LGBTQ+ issues”, Mr Browne told Mr Allister: “This would not be a statutory right in the same way it is for education about sexual reproductive health and rights including contraception and access to abortion.”

And on the further question of whether teachers will be afforded a “statutory right” to refuse to teach abortion lessons, Mr Browne wrote: "There is nothing in the regulations made by the Secretary of State to provide for this right on a statutory basis.

"Any changes to the current position would require primary legislation in the Assembly with prior agreement in the Executive and consultation."

Leaving aside the RSE curriculum itself, there is already official advice to schools which tells them that they can keep parents in the dark about the transgender status of their child.

The Education Authority – an arms-length public body – issued the guidance in 2019 to both primary and secondary schools.

It said “staff should give a transgender pupil access to toilets which match their gender identity, unless there is a good reason not to do so” – with the same applying to changing rooms and sports teams.

“While some staff or parents may wish to know the pupil’s transgender status, this information is confidential,” it added.