The application of a conceptual model of school-based implementation to the Relationships and Sexuality Education programme at Irish post-primary level
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Purpose – The purpose of this study was to explore the practice of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in-service training and subsequent RSE delivery in schools. This involved examining the implementation process of training and lesson delivery and the identification of facilitating or impeding factors. This study also explored teachers’ conceptualisations of school-based programme implementation which is part of the overall study but was also compared to a published model of school-based implementation. Design/methodology/approach – Using an implementation science conceptual framework, this research study was conducted from a pragmatic viewpoint and subsequently a Mixed Methods (MM) approach was adopted; specifically utilising a triangulation design convergence model from the field of MM research. Resulting from this approach, a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods were used to assess: (i) trainers’ implementation of in-service training; (ii) teachers’ experience of in-service training; (iii) teachers’ implementation of RSE lessons; (iv) students experiences of RSE lessons; and (v) contextual level factors at both training and school level. Teachers’ conceptualisations of programme implementation were explored through a participatory research process. Findings – Overall the findings of this study indicate that RSE in-service training was implemented as planned and teachers reported positivity about the training process upon completion of training. Almost all teachers felt equipped to deliver RSE. At school level, students reported positively on RSE lesson delivery. However, the delivery of RSE at the school-level was more complex than at training level and barriers were much more evident. This prompts questions about the degree to which teachers were actually equipped with the adequate skills for School-Based Sex Education (SBSE) delivery post-training completion and/or to what extent teachers were supported in RSE delivery. Furthermore, outdated programme content and materials with no evidence of effectiveness or in-built evaluative processes contribute to lessons that lack relevant content and are not updated with regards sexual rights and citizenship. The teacher-developed schemas identified a number of major categories but the concepts of leadership and support for school-based implementation processes were prioritised. Practical implications –The results from this study confirm the important role of teacher training for SBSE implementation, particularly in relation to teacher feelings about confidence and preparedness. It also, however highlighted a need to ensure that teachers do not just feel positive about SBSE delivery but are truly equipped with the necessary skillset and operate within a supportive environment. Another implication of this study relates to the important role the school context plays in SBSE programme delivery and should be incorporated in the pre-planning, implementation, and sustainability phases. The findings further emphasised the need for leadership and support at various levels. Originality/value – Unlike previous SBSE studies focusing on teacher training, this study is unique as it specifically explored implementation fidelity and context at both training level and school level which is an under-researched area. In addition, this study specifically studied a group of teachers’ experiences of SBSE training and subsequent experience of delivery in the classroom, incorporating pupils' views, which is a relatively unique approach to the exploration of SBSE implementation. The results of this exploration highlight that it is not enough to just explore teacher training but also the translation of such training into practice, remaining aware of the various implementation components that impact on delivery.