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Exploring masculinities – the sequel: an examination of the views and attitudes of Irish parents and a sample of journalists towards the exploration of masculinities with young men at senior cycle

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posted on 2022-12-21, 15:09 authored by Orla McCormack
The Exploring Masculinities Programme (EM) was developed and piloted in 19 boy’s schools in Ireland during 1997-1999, with funding from the European Social Fund. The programme aimed, amongst other things to investigate different perceptions and experiences of masculinity and to promote equality among and between the sexes. Following the launch of the programme, EM was the subject of a considerable amount of media coverage, which was mainly critical of the programme. Amongst the most vocal critics of EM were certain parent groups and a number of journalists. In this context, the Minister for Education and Science commissioned the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) to conduct an examination of, amongst other things, the media reaction to EM. The planned dissemination of the programme lost its momentum and in 2005, EM was only being used as a resource in a small number of schools. The current study aims to establish the views and attitudes of Irish parents and a sample of journalists towards the treatment of masculinity related issues with young men at senior cycle. There were four phases to the research. Phase one consisted of a survey of a national sample of parents. Phase two involved interviews with twenty-four of these parents. Phase three consisted of surveys with representatives of the five national parent associations in Ireland. The fourth phase of the research involved interviews with four journalists who had participated in the media debate on EM, together with the Project Coordinator of the programme. The study found that the majority of parents (both the national sample of parents and members of the various parent associations) viewed the primary purpose of education as the holistic development of the child rather than the attainment of Leaving Certificate points. The majority of parents were in favour of the inclusion of EM topics on the school curriculum due to the fact that EM issues were of relevance to young men, with parents suggesting that schools currently are not doing enough to deal with issues such as homophobic bullying. While support for the inclusion of EM issues was high, concerns were expressed by parents. These concerns related to, for example, whether lessons on EM issues would be based on Catholic values; whether teachers had received sufficient development on such issues and whether young men were mature enough to deal with these issues at senior cycle. While two of the journalists viewed the school as playing an important role in the exploration of masculinities with young men at senior cycle, the remainder questioned such involvement. Concerns were raised by the journalists in relation to the ideologies underpinning EM, particularly in relation to the concept of gender as a social construct and the perceived underlining feminist ideology. Based on this, the journalists viewed the programme as selective in nature and imbalanced in its treatment of certain issues. Additional concerns related to the lack of consultation with relevant agencies and individuals during the development of EM. The project coordinator of EM, Peadar King, supported the journalists’ views that the writing group were too narrow in their focus and did not engage sufficiently with other agencies or personnel. However, he questioned their perception of EM as anti-male and tendentiousness in nature. Both parents and journalists advanced some possible suggestions on how EM issues could be examined in the future. Possible suggestions included the adoption of a cross-curricular approach and the inclusion of a positive discourse on masculinity. It was proposed that such issues would be best addressed by an expert external to the school and through the use of active learning methodologies. The importance of related teacher development and adopting a consultative process when developing curriculum for social and personal programmes were also stressed. The findings from the study raise a number of questions in relation to Irish post-primary schooling. For example, how can the differing views of parents be accommodated in relation to whether school-based social and personal programmes are taught within a Catholic framework? What alterations can be made to the current process of curriculum development in Ireland so that new curriculum initiatives do not experience as much controversy as EM and how can the specific social and personal needs of young men be met within senior cycle education?



  • Faculty of Education and Health Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Gleeson, Jim





Department or School

  • School of Education

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