The Implementation Of Relationship Sexuality Education Education Essay

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The focus of this study is to investigate what factors impact on the implementation of Relationship Sexuality Education (RSE) in the school setting. This study was created to highlight student's views on the how RSE is taught in the class room and what impact the teacher has on the topics being taught in relation to the knowledge base of the students.

The researcher will start this investigation by outlining

"Investigation of factors which impact on the successful (or not) teaching and implementation of RSE in the context of SPHE"

Literature review

In April (2000) the department of Education and science approved the junior cycle (SPHE) Syllabus, Schools were advised that Social Physical Health Education must be formed as a part of the core curriculum of the junior cycle. According to the department of education and science (2001) this subject is to provide pupils with opportunities to promote the personal development, health and well-being of the child and to help the child create and maintain supportive relationships which will enable them to become active and responsible citizens in society.

The SPHE programme is made up of 10 modules. One of these modules is Relationship Sexuality Education (RSE). Sex education in Ireland today is delivered through this module in schools up to junior certificate. According to Davidson (1996) sex education has been traditionally a damage limitation exercise.

Educational programmes referring to sex can be associated with the problematic aspects of sexual behaviour. This can be seen for example on the emphasis on the risk of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI'S). These are extremely important but it is also important to promote the normative aspects of people's sexual behaviour and activity. Morgan (2000) states that High quality sex education is essential to enable young people to understand their own development and to prepare for choices and responsibilities in their life.

Introduction of RSE in Ireland

Compared to other European countries the introduction sexuality education in schools is recent. The recognition of the need for RSE can be linked to a number of developments and events that took place during the 1980's and 1990's. The spread of HIV and AIDS was a major factor that was seen to bring about more public awareness of sexually transmitted infections and also the role the government took in trying to combat these issues. In particular the Aids epidemic highlighted how important discussing sexual behaviour is in a range of settings including schools. As well as that child sexual abuse revelations noticeably rose between 1980 and 1988 (Mckeoen & Gilligan, 1988). With this the concern of the health boards led to the development of an education programme 'stay safe' which was introduced into primary schools in 1991. This type of education was seen to have many problems as the education system in Ireland was mostly dominated by the Catholic Church. The position that the Catholic hierarchy's held was that parents need the help and support of schools with educating their children about sex. They had the view that school based sexuality education should adopt a policy that reflects the schools core values and ethos and that children must be told the truth as defined by the Catholic Church (Inglis,1998).

Aim of RSE

The aim of RSE programme in Ireland is according to policy guidelines

"Acquire a knowledge and understanding of human relationships and sexuality through processes which will enable them to form values and establish behaviours within a moral, spiritual and social framework." Department of Education and Science (1997;4)

Each teacher is provided with materials to aid the teaching of RSE. This provides the teacher with a wide range of options with relation to teaching and delivering the RSE programme. There are factors that influence how these materials are used. For example: the school policy on RSE.

RSE includes a wide range of topics appropriate to differing age groups and school years.

But according to the policies mentioned above it is at the discretion of the school at which these topics are delivered.

Experience of sex Education

According to a report published by the Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships (2006) receipt of sex education and the content of this education may be a significant influence on a person's level of sexual knowledge. A survey carried out in the above report by the ISSHR found that 53% of men and 60% of women reported having received sex education. The introduction of RSE was not introduced into Irish schools until 1997. The introduction of this programme is the primary reason why the proportion of people who have received sex education is highest among people under 25. ISSHR (2006) survey found that most people who received sex education did so in school. School has become the predominant source among younger age groups.


In looking at the report By the ISSHR just over half of those individuals who reported receiving sex education said this was 'helpful' or 'very helpful' in preparing them for adult relationships.

Overall, more women (54%) than men (49%) who had received sex education reported that this was helpful.

Under-25s were significantly more likely than all older groups to report that their sex education was helpful.

Even among the youngest age group, 42% of men and 34% of women found their sex education 'unhelpful'.

The government through the Department of Education and science undergoes an inspection on the SPHE programme delivery in secondary schools by evaluating the quality of teaching and learning in SPHE class. One barrier to the effective implementation as expressed in the report on RSE (2007) is that of the status of SPHE in schools. This report found that SPHE struggled to gain recognition. A concern that was expressed in undertaking this study was the tendency for some teachers to omit or ignore the RSE module due to the level of discomfort that they feel. Also the report noted that some teachers viewed the subject as an add-on or a doss.


In looking at the aim of RSE as set by the department of education is to "acquire a knowledge and understanding of human relationships and sexuality." RSE also encourages discussion and reflection and to provide an understanding of one's own sexuality and all that goes with it. The research suggests that because policies are left up to the schools own initiative that schools may be leaving out certain topics. This may be due to the status of the SPHE programme within the school. Because it is left up to the discretion of the school the standard of teaching and levels of knowledge of the students may be questionable. How does this impact on students? Due to it being left up to the school as to what topics are being taught the student's level of knowledge may be different across all schools. Also another barrier to efficient SPHE teaching is that some teachers teaching the subject feel uncomfortable in certain topics. Does this impact on the process of teaching RSE? Levels of comfort in teaching the topic may impact on the content being taught and also how the students engage with the teacher and the content of RSE. Is it the content of RSE that impacts on the students or is it also the process of teaching the subject that predominately impacts on the students?


Ireland has seen changing attitudes and behaviours in a delayed sexual revolution during this the 21st century. A survey conducted by the ISSHR (2009) has found that 90% of people support sexual education for young people. The legal age of one's first sexual experience has fallen in recent years for both teenage boys and girls from 20 to 18 for girls and 19 to 17 for boys. Due to the changing attitudes of people nowadays towards sex RSE has been implemented in schools throughout the country.

Every school must have a set of guidelines that include RSE and its implementation, according to the guidelines set by the department of education (REF) this should reflect the ethos of the school. The usefulness of this policy can be questioned and it isn't clear of its effectiveness on pupils. However, what is known is that the standard of delivery across all schools may differ. What factors influence this?

The investigation into the factors that impact on the successful (or not) teaching and implementation of RSE came from my own experience of receiving RSE education. In researching this topic I found that there is not a standardised level of implementation. This interested me as I had a very positive experience and soon realised that it is not the same for everyone. On reflection of discussions with my lecturer I realised that it was the process that may impact on the student's level of knowledge of RSE. For me and my experience it was about engaging with the teacher. It's not just the programme but how the teacher teaches the topic and how the teacher engages with students. This is why this topic for study was chosen to help inform teachers to improve on their own RSE class and to show that it's not only the content of the programme but it's the process of teaching the topic.

In the report on RSE (2007) it was found that professionals from both health and education sectors at both regional level expressed doubt about the quality of RSE delivery across many schools. In this report attention was brought to discrepancies in how RSE is prioritised and taught. It is known that for effective implementation proper teacher training is needed to develop the personal skills of the teacher when delving into an issue which has become increasingly important in today's society. It has been highlighted and according to policy guidelines (Department of education, 1997) a teacher's level of comfort when teaching RSE is vital in the full implementation of the programme. What is not known is how this impacts on students?



In this section the researcher is going to outline the research approach that will be taken for the proposed study and the design that will be used. The researcher will then outline the methods and tools of the proposed study. Such as: instruments that will be used, the samples that will be used in the research, limitations and delimitations and also ethical considerations that may arise when carrying out this piece of research.

Aims and Objectives:

Aim of this research is to investigate factors which impact on teaching of RSE which is in the context of SPHE. In investigating this topic the researcher aims to see what level of knowledge the students obtain in receiving RSE in the school setting. The author aims to see what barriers may impact on successful teaching of RSE and overall to investigate if it is the process of teaching RSE rather than the content of the lesson which impacts on the students.


The researcher is taking an epistemological approach in terms of post-positivism. Post positivism is an epistemological position that promotes the application of the methods of the natural sciences to the study of the social reality (Grix, 2004). Research paradigms are based on our understanding of what we know about something and how we might gather information and knowledge about it.

There are three broad paradigms in which a paradigm refers to a pattern, Post-positivism lies between positivist and interpretivist. Positivism and post-positivism are seen to share a realist. The term realism describes the paradigm between positivism and interpretivisim, which is a foundationalist epistemology. Positivism leans towards empirical realism and post-positivism is interested in leaning towards critical paradigms.

The researcher's position in this piece of research is post-positivism. Post- positivism can be seen to represent the traditional form of research and these assumptions according to Creswell (2009) hold true more for quantitative research than qualitative research. According to Creswell (2009) post-positivists hold a deterministic philosophy in which causes probably determine effects or outcomes. In the authors piece of research the author will aim to identify the factors that influence teaching RSE and assess the outcomes in terms of perspectives on the RSE programme and knowledge base of the students.

"The knowledge that develops through post positivist lens is based on objective reality that exists out there in the world" Creswell (2009)

By developing a survey to measure the impact of factors that positively or negatively impact on delivery of RSE this is paramount for post-positivism because post-positivism sometimes deals with studying the behaviour of individuals. According to Bowling and Ebrahim (2005) quantitative research is appropriate:

"in situations where there is pre existing knowledge about the phenomena of interest which permits the use of standardised methods of data , collection, such as the survey."

Research design

In conducting this proposed piece of research a survey design will be undertaken. In using this design a quantitative approach will be used. The most common quantitative methods are surveys, documentary methods and observation and experiments. The quantitative method ensures accuracy reliability and validity. Sarantakos (2005) showed the purpose of quantitative is to show variables and to produce figures which will in turn allow judgements as to the status of the variables in question, because the researcher is using a survey this will allow the researcher to summarise vast amounts of information. In using a survey Creswell (2009) states that it provides a quantitative or a numeric description of trends, attitudes or opinions of a population by studying a sample of that population. The researcher will aim to use a cross sectional survey in terms of a questionnaire to distribute to four secondary schools. Cross sectional survey was chosen as to collect data at one point in time.

Methods/Tools and Analysis

The research method that was chosen is quantitative. Quantitative approach was primarily chosen because the author wants to analyse the views of the target group which is transition year students. A Quantitative study is seen to provide attitudes and opinions of the population by studying a sample of the target group in question. Due to the study being on a small scale this target group cannot be generalised to all secondary schools. Method of collecting data that will be used will be a survey in the form of a questionnaire. The author will use both closed and opened ended questions as to give the author a more informed view.

In choosing a survey the researcher will be using a cross sectional design with the data collected at one point in time. The reason for choosing a survey as opposed to other methods is so the researcher could collect large amounts of data at one point in time and by choosing a cross sectional design it allows the researcher to collect all data together leaving the researcher with sufficient amount time to analyse the data.

The population that was chosen is transition year students from the ages of 15-16 years of age. The researcher felt that this was the best age group as the topic in question is only taught up to junior cert level the students. This particular group would have experienced the class for three years which is mandatory in all schools in the country (Department of education and science 2000). The reason for these specific schools is because the first school the researcher attended and that is where the interest of the topic originated. The reason for the limited number of schools is primarily based on time constraints. Given the time for selecting the topic and researching it there remained limited time. The researcher felt that by only selecting four secondary schools it will give a general view of the views and opinions of the students in relation to the question being asked. This will allow the author to analyse the data in the time provided for completion.


The author in researching this topic has six months in which to complete this piece of research. First the researcher chose a topic of interest and began to read about the topic. After this the researcher began to question the topic of research this lead to the question being asked. The reason for this piece of research is to find out what factors impact on the teaching of RSE and inevitably is it the process of teaching or is the content that impacts on the students.



8 weeks

Research of topic completion of Literature review

2 weeks

Researching of question for analyse

1 week

Research of methods of carrying out questionnaires

1 week

First draft of questionnaire


Second draft of questionnaire

1 day

Contacting organisations for permission to distribute questionnaires

4 days

Personal distribution of questionnaires, Collection of questionnaires on the same day.

4 weeks

Writing up of research approach and design

2 weeks

Analyse of data

2 weeks

Writing up of methods and tools used

1 week

Writing up ethical considerations

1 week

Proof reading

In completing this piece of research in a six months timeframe the researcher feels that this is sufficient time. Also the college year is spread over from the middle of September to the end of May. In completing this piece of research by April 2011 it gives the researcher time for analysing the data. Exams begin in May and the researcher could not complete this piece of research during the summer as all secondary schools will be on summer holidays beginning the end of May so the distribution of questionnaires would be impossible.

Reliability and validity

Reliability refers to if the study was carried out at one point in time and it was done again at another time then it would show the same results again and again. The research instrument plays a vital role because if there is any variation in the research instrument this may result in giving one set of results at one time and a different set of results at another occasion when there has been no real changes in the topic and items that are being measured. In using reliable instruments it leads to the same results collected again and again and any differences in results collected through using the instruments is entirely down to differences in things being measured. By choosing a sample of a small size and a mix of different schools which would have different ways in which they teach RSE the researcher would hope that this would make the results reliable. Validity refers to the term that the methods that will be used are valid. In terms of research data that will be collected in carrying out this research the data collected should reflect the truth and also reflect reality. In using questionnaires that will be filled out during class time these are confidential and the participants would feel confident in answering the questions more honestly. This would mean that the results of the questionnaire would more likely be valid.

Sample participants

In choosing participants the researcher chose random sampling. A list of secondary schools in a west Cork area was complied and it consisted of four secondary schools. The reason the researcher chose random sampling is because it involves selecting participants at random and may result in the sample representing a cross section of a whole. In relation to this topic of study the researcher feels that to include huge numbers of participants isn't feasible because the author does not have enough time to contact all the secondary schools in the country to carry out this piece of research.

To carry out this piece of research the researcher chose stratified sampling. By applying boundaries to the process of selection it leads to the application of randomness within the boundaries that have been applied. According to Denscombe (2007) stratified sampling can sometimes be a mixture of both random selection and selection on the basis of specific identity or purpose. The researcher felt that by using the stratified method the researcher will be able to have more control over the selection of the sample. The population that was identified for this piece of research is that of four secondary schools in the west Cork area. The first secondary school that was chosen consists of 86 students the second consists of 80 students the third consists of 60 students and the fourth consisted of 76 students. The reason behind choosing these schools was because they each had a large number of transition year students and the more students that may be willing to share their views.

In carrying out this piece of research the researcher would choose two classes in each school to fill out the questionnaire. The reason for this method is because each class consists of 12-14 students and in each school each class has a different RSE teacher. The reason for choosing two classes is due to receiving information on the views of students in one class and comparing it with that of students of another.

Instruments used and procedure

For this piece of research the study involved the development of a questionnaire to distribute to four secondary schools. In gaining permission to distribute the questionnaires the researcher will first send a letter to each school outlining who the researcher is and what degree the researcher is doing. It will then explain the title of the research and its purpose. Also the researcher will include how long the questionnaire will take to be filled out. Included in this letter will be details of a proposed phone call to the school from the researcher to possibly arrange a date as to when the questionnaires could be filled out. The researcher will also include contact details if the school has any queries. A copy of the questionnaire will also be included with the letter.

In carrying out the research the researcher will personally hand deliver the questionnaires as the schools in question are close to where the researcher lives. By using this method the researcher would be able to cover two schools in one day which would result in the process taking two days in total. The researcher chose this option because it wasn't very time consuming and it is cost effective as two schools are in the same town and the remaining two schools are in neighbouring towns. Also the researcher would not have to wait for the return of the questionnaires which might take some time as teachers may be busy with other classes and may not have time to hand them out to their students and return them by post. By ringing the school and finding out what class time would suit the school and it doesn't necessarily have to be SPHE class time because transition year students have more free class time then other years. The researcher would arrange a time with the school and distribute the questionnaires.

Data analysis

The method of data that will be used to analyse the data collected from the distribution of the questionnaire will be the computer system SPSS. SPSS stands for "Statisical product and service solutions. In using this system it involves entering the questions that will be asked in the questionnaire and the data that will be collected from those questions will then be entered into this computer system. After entering all the data into the system the researcher will then be able to get descriptive data from the system. This will be in the form of bar charts to represent the finding from the questionnaires. This will allow the researcher to see whether there are relationships forming from the four different schools regarding the student's views and opinions. If any similarities are recognised then they can be observed and highlighted. The findings that may be highlighted after analysing the data that may impact on the teaching of RSE and impact on students regarding its content and also what changes the students may suggest to improve if any the RSE implementation in the classroom.

Limitations and delimitations

One limitation that the researcher found was when developing the questionnaire. According to Parahoo (2006) there is no opportunity to ask respondents to clarify or elaborate more on their answers. As well as that the researcher is a student and the methods used may not be as advanced because the student is new to the field of research. Likewise respondents may not understand fully which may lead to the respondents interpreting the questions differently from the researcher which may lead to some confusion amongst the researcher when analysing the data collected.

A delimitation of the research is that the short time the researcher has to conduct the study. Due the time constraint the researcher chose a small sample in one county opposed to more counties being included in the study. This confined the research to only using four secondary schools in the county choosing a small sample making the response rate lower than would be got from a larger number of schools.

Ethical considerations

The research will be using children in the study to answer questionnaires. The participants in the study will be aged 15-16. It is very important that the participants are aware and understand the nature of the study and also that each individual participant answers are confidential. The participants will be given a consent form to sign from there school to because they are under 18. This ensures the participant's right will be protected when collecting the data. In writing a cover letter to the principal of each school this ensures that the participants would become aware of the nature of the study by clearly outlining the reason for the research and attaching a copy of the questionnaire to ensure that the questions being asked are appropriate for transition year students and also to get approval from the principal. A copy of a concent form will also be attached with the cover letter. The letter would also include who the researcher is and the benefits of the research and a contact number if there are any queries.

Confidentiality is very important in any research. In ensuring confidentiality this may benefit the research as it may lead to the participants answering the questions honestly.

According to Parahoo (1997) confidentiality of all information collected from all participants must be respected. After the researcher gathers all questionnaires the data will be kept private and secure. The data will be represented with codes rather than using the schools original names. All the questionnaires that will be used will be coded with reference to numbers rather than the names of the school and the name in each school.

When all the data is collected and the results are analysed it is important that the results are represented fairly and honestly and bias from the researcher will be avoided. When the researcher will analyse the data the researcher will ensure that no names will be used in the process of analysis so this will ensure the anonymity of the participants. The researcher will also ensure the language used in the questionnaire will not contain any bias against the schools used in the study and the researcher.