Research Newsletter - Issue 80: Spotlight

Research Spotlight on Relationships and Sexuality Education

This spotlight presents the research of Dr Catherine Maunsell, Dr Ashling Bourke, and their colleagues at the School of Human Development, DCU Institute of Education in the area of Relationships and Sexuality Education.

As developmental psychologists, we bring expertise in child and adolescent development and sexual health and wellbeing to our research and scholarship, with a particular focus on teacher professional development in Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE).


We purposefully adopt relational and rights-based approaches, such as in our recent published work on the realisation of children’s rights under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, where we argue for the fundamental right of children and young people to comprehensive, inclusive sexuality education (Bourke, Mallon and Maunsell, 2022).


In 2019, we were successful awardees of a prestigious Irish Research Council (IRC) Coalesce Award supported by the Health Services Executive - Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme (HSE-SHCPP) to undertake the TEACH-RSE research study. This research, the first of its kind to explore RSE in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Ireland, addressed a core societal challenge, identified nationally and internationally, in relation to teachers’ professional development in the area of sexuality education.


We, with our research team, adopted a systemic, phased approach to the research study which garnered the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. Findings identified future teachers’ confidence and competence to deliver RSE and teacher educators’ views on current RSE provision in teacher education across Ireland. Aligned with International Guidelines on sexuality education, a suite of recommendations for the professional learning and development of teachers to deliver RSE were created (Maunsell, Bourke, Costello, Cullen and Machowska-Kosciak, 2021).

In terms of impact, the TEACH-RSE research study offered an evidence-based, stakeholder-informed foundation for progressive policy and practice development on RSE provision in ITE. A key recommendation for teacher professional learning and development for RSE was the provision of RSE as a continuum with a model of core input, plus elective/subject specialism, at ITE to ensure a clear SPHE/RSE pathway for graduate teachers, together with further, specialist teacher professional learning and development programmes post-ITE.


Our cutting-edge scholarship and research contributed, in part, to the DCU Institute of Education’s success in the recent Department of Education request for tender for the design and provision of a post-graduate programme in Social, Personal and Health Education and Relationships and Sexuality Education (SPHE/RSE) for post-primary teachers.


Together with a core programme team of experienced teacher educators and academics, working within DCU's IOE, Dr Catherine Maunsell, as Programme Chair, led in the design and development of the innovative DCU Graduate Diploma in SPHE/RSE programme, the first professional development qualification in this area for post-primary teachers in Ireland. The programme addresses a long-standing need identified in governmental, educational, and academic spheres for such teacher professional development.  In a historic milestone for education, we will welcome the first cohort of teachers to the programme in early February 2023.

Our research in this area makes significant contributions to meeting global and national strategic objectives for the realisation of lifelong optimal sexual health and wellbeing for all children and young people. This is inextricably linked to our work in the DCU Institute of Education, which supports future and current teachers in their role as enablers of children and young people’s rights to, in and through sexuality education in Ireland, today and into the future.


Please reach out if you wish to collaborate or find out more about our ongoing research:


Catherine Maunsell photo

Dr Catherine Maunsell

Dr Catherine Maunsell, Associate Professor, School of Human Development,

Ashling Boourke photo

Dr Ashling Bourke

Dr Ashling Bourke, Assistant Professor, School of Human Development,