A row has emerged between Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, and the Irish Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA), which has an oversight role in 89 per cent of the primary schools in Ireland.
In a letter to Irish government children’s and education ministers, the schools association challenged views expressed by the minister for children in Ireland, Roderic O’Gorman, that children in primary school should be taught about “what it means to be transgender”.
In a strongly worded letter sent in January, seen by the Irish Independent, the Association argued that teaching primary school 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”.
The group claims it would be “counterproductive, generating unnecessary divisions in school communities where none now exist,” and “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.”
The CPSMA argued that 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.”
CPSMA general secretary Seamus Mulconry said that 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”.
Indicating that schools are managing the issue, he added: “It is not, in general, a major issue or source of controversy in our schools” but the “CPSMA believe that it is neither prudent, nor age-appropriate to attempt to teach primary school children about ‘what it means to be transgender.'”
In response to the letter, Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, weighed in on the issue:
“I think the purpose of the education system is to prepare children for life and to teach them about the world. Trans people exist. They have always existed and I think it makes more sense in schools to just inform children about the world around them.”
“This does not have to be a value judgment as to whether it is right or wrong. But it just makes sense to me that education is about teaching children about the real world. Trans people exist in the real world so why not just give them information and facts?”
Deputy Prime Minister, Micheal Martin, also felt it necessary to become embroiled in the discussion:
“I think letters of that kind are not the way to deal with these issues. I think that there has to be a sensitivity around this and the broader context is the “Relationships and Sexuality programme” which is in our primary schools. That will be modernised to deal with issues in the age-appropriate way. The curriculum experts are best deployed to create the right curriculum programme and to facilitate that.”
The Relationships and Sexuality Education programme in Irish schools is currently being revised at both primary school and secondary school level. Education Minister, Norma Foley, is set to launch the framework for a redeveloped curriculum at primary level later this week.
The letter from the CPSMA is clearly designed to engage this process in a proactive manner as both the children and education ministers have been strong proponents of a curriculum that would be at odds with the ethos of Catholic schools but also risk bringing divisive issues into the school grounds where currently they are managed with sensitivity, locally.
Prime Minister Varadkar asserts that “trans people exist” but provides no argument as to why it is necessary to bring this into primary education. The argument of fact does not address why these particular facts need to be brought into the education of primary school children.
A curriculum has limited space and not all facts in the world can be crammed into it. The selection of which facts make it into the curriculum is not a neutral act just as “evidence-based” teaching is never value-neutral however it is presented.
While Varadkar claims that the inclusion of the subject matter “does not have to be a value judgment in either direction to challenge anyone’s personal or religious opinions”, the emergence of issues highlighted by the CPSMA and recently covered in depth by Hannah Barnes in a new book “Time to Think”, highlighted the hubris of the assumed certainties, in relation to transgenderism, what it is, what causes it and how best to manage it.
In disagreeing with the CPSMA, the question for both the Irish Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister ought to be what exactly the curriculum plans to teach and why.
From reading Barnes’ book, the approach of the CPSMA reflects better the caution of the whistleblowers than the well-meaning but poorly-evidenced approach of the Directors of the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS)a t the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in north London which has recently been shut down.
The Prime Minister may indeed be correct in saying “Trans people exist. They have always existed”, but the social contagion that has seen huge increases in children and adolescents, particularly girls, struggling with their gender, means that the issue ought to be treated with more care and caution than currently expressed by those in government.
Politicians in Ireland would be advised to learn from the experience in the UK which also involved sending Irish children across the sea to be treated at the GIDS. Hannah Barnes ends her book returning to the question raised by clinician Anna Hutchison who worked at GIDS in 2017: are we hurting children?
“Yes” she says she now knows. Some. But today we are left with a new question. How many?
Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, is the latest to add his voice to the discussion, believing also that transgender issues should be taught in schools in an age appropriate manner.
“I believe in providing people in our country with facts and with science.”
The unspoken tragedy is that the facts and the science are not agreed
by well-meaning scientists and clinicians and children have suffered
because ideology was mistaken for science.