Revised guidelines on sexuality education in schools released

Image: Jorge Royan

The Ministry of Education has released a revised guide, Sexuality education: a guide for principals, boards of trustees, and teachers (2015). This is the first time the guide has been revised since 2002.

The aim of the guide is to support school boards, principals, and teachers to deliver effective, quality sexuality education programmes. The guide states, "All young people need access to information and opportunities to think about, question, and discuss issues related to relationships, gender, sexual identities, sexual orientation, sexual behaviour, sexual and reproductive health, and societal messages. Sexuality education provides a framework in which this can happen."

Ministry of Education (MOE) Deputy Secretary for Student Achievement, Dr Graham Stoop, said the guide directly addresses issues of consent, coercion, and cultural differences for the first time.

The guide explains, "'Sex education' and 'sexuality education' are different. The New Zealand Curriculum supports a holistic approach to sexuality education as defined by the hauora model, which includes physical, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. This is much broader than 'sex education' which relates only to the physical aspects of sexual and reproductive knowledge."

The guide says sexuality education sits within the broader area of relationship education, which also includes social and emotional learning (SEL), and violence prevention education. It states, "Programmes for the prevention of sexual violence are an important part of health education. Issues of coercion, consent, and safety in intimate relationships are important aspects to explicitly teach in sexuality education programmes. Assertive communication skills and awareness of personal values, ethics, and respect for the feelings and decisions of others are vital in this regard."

The revised guide includes examples of Māori and Pasifika models such as te whare tapa whā and fonofale, and protocols for consulting with parents and school communities.

Responses to the guide

Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond described the new guidelines as comprehensive, sensible and "rooted in the issues facing young people today such as pornography, sexual bullying and bullying via social media." She said the guidelines bring together the overwhelming evidence that supports sexuality education in schools, and across all year groups.

Family First said "most schools along with the parents in the school community will rightly reject the extreme elements of the new sexuality education guidelines" and that resources should be targeted at parents to help them educate their own children.

Decisions on content still left to individual schools

The guide was revised after a 2013 Health Select Committee report said the state of sexuality education in schools urgently needed to be "investigated and standardised" (p.29). It cited 2007 Education Review Office findings that most sexuality education programmes were not meeting students’ needs effectively.

The Select Committee recommended that the Government amend the National Education Guidelines to require all schools to deliver sexuality and reproductive health programmes that meet the criteria for success set out in a 2008 Ministry of Health review. It said this should be achieved within two years.

The Select Committee also recommended that the Government require the Education Review Office to actively monitor and report on all schools’ application of the best-practice criteria for sexuality and reproductive health education programmes. It said this should be achieved within three years.

Sexuality education is part of Health and Physical Education in The New Zealand Curriculum (2007). The curriculum has not changed and despite the guide being updated, schools can still choose what they teach. Dr Stoop said, "While sexuality education is a compulsory part of the health curriculum, schools are free to decide how they teach it, in consultation with their school community. They must consult every two years on how they teach it."

Health education is the only part of the school's curriculum for which the law specifically requires the board of trustees to consult with the school's community, including parents. Parents or caregivers can also have their child excluded from sexuality education. MOE has produced a brochure for parents.

Accordingly, there remains no required teaching around consent and sexual violence prevention. Sexual violence prevention advocate Kim McGregor said she was impressed by the guidelines, but they needed to be mandatory. "I would like sexuality education and sexual violence prevention to be mandated to all schools, because we know that a lot of schools have a lot of problems with sexual violence" she said.

Secondary Principals' Association and principal of Baradene School in Auckland, Sandy Pasley, disagreed saying it was important schools reflect the wishes of their community when it comes to sexuality education. She said, "For a school like ours it's really important that students know about an issue, that they know everything about an issue and also that they know the church's teachings."

Speaking in January 2015, Family Planning's director of health promotion, Frances Bird said, "We know that some schools do a great job of it and others don't do such a good job … It depends on where you go to school, about the quality of what you're getting. Good comprehensive sexuality education makes a real difference." Ms Bird said access to good sex education shouldn't be a "lottery."

Further research and resources

Aotearoa New Zealand

In 2007, the Education Review Office released two reports: The Teaching of Sexuality Education in Years seven to 13 and The Teaching of Sexuality Education in Years seven to 13: Good practice.

In response, a Literature Review and Critical Appraisal of Sexuality Education: Best Practice (Learning Matters Limited, 2008) was commissioned by the Ministry of Education or Health.

The Ministry of Education has also published Implementing relationship education programmes: Guidelines for schools (2013).

Further research, resources and media coverage is available in these previous NZFVC news stories:

International

US based Prevent Connect reports on a review that has found addressing gender and power should be considered a key characteristic of effective sexuality and HIV education programs. Prevent Connect summarises:

"All students who get comprehensive sex ed learn about the biology of sex, related health risks, and ways to reduce the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. But only some comprehensive sex ed programs explicitly discuss how gender and power play into health risks and risk reduction. The recent study compared these broader, 'empowerment based' sex ed programs to those that don’t include content on gender norms and power. Amazingly, the study found that 'while 17 percent of the traditional sex education programs lowered rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, 80 percent of the programs that address gender and power lowered rates. All told, programs that addressed gender or power were five times as likely to be effective [at reducing negative health outcomes related to sex] as those that did not.'

These impressive findings could be really helpful for making a case for supporting and partnering with sexual violence prevention programs, which focus on exactly these gender and power dynamics, to schools and other organizations that provide comprehensive sex ed. Not only will these kinds of partnerships create more robust sex ed programming that includes sexual and intimate partner violence prevention, but it will also make the sex ed itself more effective."

Study: Haberland, N.A. (2015). The case for addressing gender and power in sexuality and HIV education: A comprehensive review of evaluation studies. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 41(1), 31-42. doi:10.1363/410315

Media

New resource helps create safer schools for transgender students, Stuff, 06.04.2016

Lessons in sex: making the taboo topical, Stuff, 02.04.2016

Ministry working to improve sex education, NZ Herald, 08.11.2015

New research shows students want LGBTI education, Stuff, 16.07.2015

Educating for diversity,

How to talk to your kids about sex and what they should know, Radio NZ, 11.06.2015

Teachers back new sex education guidelines, Radio NZ, 30.05.2015

Sex ed changes praised, 3 News, 29.05.2015

Schools Will Reject ‘Extreme’ Sex Ed Guidelines, Press Release: Family First, Scoop, 29.05.15

Sexuality education guidelines, Press release: Family Planning, Scoop, 29.05.2015

Updated sexuality education guide for schools released, Press release: Ministry of Education, Scoop, 28.05.2015

Sex education guidelines updated by Ministry of Education, Stuff, 28.05.2015

Sex ed classes add consent and coercion, NZ Herald, 28.05.2015 

Should boys be wearing skirts?' Designer rubbishes gender-neutral school uniforms, TVNZ, 29.05.2015

Taking gender out of the equation, NZ Herald, 29.05.2015

Should schools have gender neutral uniforms?, NZ Herald, 29.05.2015

Call to make new sex ed guidelines mandatory, Newstalk ZB, 29.05.2015

Women in de facto relationships 'cheap prostitutes', children told at school, Stuff, 18.05.2015

More support needed for teachers of sexuality education, Media release: University of Canterbury, 10.03.2015

Students have say on sex education messages, News: University of Auckland, 05.03.2015

Condoms given out at school, Stuff, 01.03.2015

Porn culture warning to parents, Stuff, 21.02.2015

Teen birth rate down, but more education urged, 3News, 20.01.2015

Sex education programmes to combat rape culture, Media release: The Parenting Place, 11.12.2014

Sex Education: teaching kids about coercion and consent, Radio NZ, 08.12.2014

Feature: Tackling rape culture in NZ, Radio NZ, 07.12.2014

Youngsters urged to talk about sex, Radio NZ, 07.12.2014

Teen views on sex concern educators, Bay of Plenty Times, 23.11.2014

State rejects sex ed changes, NZ Herald, 16.11.2014

Let's talk about sex ... and love, respect and consent, NZ Herald, 16.11.2014

Let's talk about sex - but not with 7-year-olds, Stuff, 16.09.2014 

Sex education overhaul welcomed, The Nelson Mail, 27.03.2014

Māori communities want best sexuality education for children, Press release: , Scoop, 26.11.2013

Image: 19th Century Auckland classroom by Jorge Royan Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons