controversy | 

Primary schools reject Roderic O’Gorman view that kids should be taught ‘what is it to be transgender’

Body representing 89pc of primary schools challenges views of Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman

Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Enoch Burke. Photo: Frank McGrath


Catholic primary school managers say their pupils should not be taught what it means to be transgender in a strongly worded letter sent to Government ministers.

Amid controversy over how the gender identity issue should be addressed for post-primary students, they have sent a clear signal about what they deem appropriate for primary pupils.

The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) has argued there is a lack of scientific consensus on the issue, that it would create division in schools, and that it might add to “a growing psychological contagion” among children.

This is in contrast with those who have campaigned for increased teaching of gender diversity in primary schools.

In a recent interview with the Irish Independent, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said young people, including primary pupils, should have an “understanding” of ­diversity and should be taught more what it means to be transgender. But the CPSM, representing 89pc of primary schools, is strongly challenging the views expressed by the minister.

The CPSMA says teaching primary children “what it means to be transgender would require to teach something about which there is neither a scientific nor social consensus to highly impressionable young children”.

It would be “counterproductive, generating unnecessary divisions in school communities where none now exist”.

According to the CPSMA, “more seriously, it might add to a growing psychological contagion amongst young and vulnerable children”.

“We believe a more prudent and sensible policy is to teach children to respect every human being and to allow children to be children,” it added.

“We should not prematurely introduce children to complex and sensitive topics around which there is no scientific or medical consensus.”

The CPSMA, whose schools cater for about 500,000 pupils, set out its members’ views in a letter to Minister O’Gorman and copied to Education Minister Norma Foley.

CPSMA general secretary Seamus Mulconry said that, for many years, the association has worked with a significant number of schools “to ensure children who are gender questioning are treated with respect, consideration and support as they navigate these issues”.

Mr Mulconry added: “It is not, in general, a major issue or source of controversy in our schools. However, CPSMA believe that it is neither prudent, nor age-appropriate, to attempt to teach primary school children about ‘what it means to be transgender’.”

Debate around teaching of transgender issues in Irish schools has become even more high-profile in recent weeks amid the dispute involving post-primary teacher Enoch Burke. The sacked teacher refused to call a transgender pupil at Wilson’s Hospital School, Co Westmeath, by the gender-neutral pronoun “they”.

Already, gender identity has emerged as a divisive issue in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) public consultation on the new curricula for Leaving Cert students, with a view to it being introduced to schools in September 2024.

Some parents and teachers have objected to gender identity being included on the revised programmes for the junior and senior cycles.

But the curricula for social, personal and health education and relationships and sexuality education (SPHE/RSE) for pupils are being overhauled all the way from primary school to Leaving Cert. There is a commitment that they will be age-appropriate, allowing for differentiation in the treatment of sensitive topics for pupils at various stages in the education system.

A new junior cycle curriculum is being finalised ahead of roll-out in September.

There have been no formal discussions or consultation yet on the new SPHE programme for primary pupils, which will follow an overhaul of the entire primary curriculum, due to be unveiled soon.

The CPSMA’s comments are a response to Mr O’Gorman, rather than a challenge to anything that has been mooted by the NCCA, but they leave the curriculum advisory body in no doubt about its position.

Its letter says: “There is no scientific consensus on the cause [or causes] of gender dysphoria and there is currently an intense international debate on the appropriate treatment of children with gender dysphoria.

“For example, the affirmative care model has recently been rejected in Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and the UK.

“Secondly, there is mounting evidence of psychological contagion. In the UK the numbers of children referred to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) rose from 50 a year in 2009 to 25,000 in 2020.

“Significantly, this increase in referrals was accompanied by a change in the case-mix from predominantly birth-registered males with gender incongruence from an early age, to predominantly birth-registered females presenting with later onset of reported gender incongruence in early teen years.

“In addition, approximately one-third of children and young people referred to GIDS have autism or other types of neurodiversity.

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