ERO report on school-based sexuality education finds ongoing inadequacies and inconsistency

Image: Kevin Laminto on Unsplash

The Education Review Office (ERO) has published a report on their review of sexuality education in schools.

The review identifies examples of good practice in sexuality education but a continued need for improvement and action in schools.

The report, Promoting wellbeing through sexuality education (September 2018), explores the question "How well does the school use sexuality education to support and promote wellbeing for their students?" ERO was also particularly interested in the extent to which schools were providing an inclusive environment for sex-, gender- and sexuality-diverse students to support their wellbeing.

The review examined practices at 116 schools as part of ERO's regular external evaluation. ERO also visited ten schools that had been identified by external stakeholders as having good practice in sexuality education, and/or doing a good job of including sex-, gender- and sexuality-diverse students.

The review found ongoing concerns with school sexuality education, stating "overall ... curriculum coverage is inconsistent. Some schools are not meeting minimum standards of compliance with current requirements. Most schools are meeting minimum standards, but many have significant gaps in curriculum coverage."

The two least often covered topics in sexuality education are sexual violence and pornography. These are covered in less than half of the secondary schools examined. The report states more in depth coverage is needed for aspects such as consent, digital technologies and relationships. Biological aspects of sexuality and puberty are well covered.

The review found teachers have a range of experience, training and capability to deliver programmes and variability in evaluating and using external providers. In a few schools, "... teachers were not aware of the policies and procedures around reporting abuse or handling disclosures."

The most common barrier to implementation was not planning for a comprehensive approach to sexuality education. Only a few schools conducted regular evaluation of their sexuality education provision, or undertook robust analysis of the perceptions and needs of their students in this learning area.

In addition, the 2007 review had identified that schools were not meeting the needs of Māori and Pacific students, international students, students with strong cultural or religious beliefs, students with additional learning needs and students who were sex-, gender- or sexuality-diverse. The 2017 review finds these students"... remain less well catered for, despite being at higher risk of negative wellbeing outcomes."
 
Some school leaders told ERO they appreciated the publication of the Ministry of Education's 2015 Sexuality Education guidelines. However "ERO found wide variance in their level of uptake and implementation. A few school leaders were not aware of the guidelines."

In discussing the findings, the authors write:

"To meet the needs of young people in our current context, sexuality education needs to be more comprehensive and the variability across schools needs to be reduced. This evaluation found some schools were failing to meet minimum standards of effectiveness, and many more were only just meeting these standards. Given the complexity of the issues involved, and the impact sexuality issues have on young people’s wellbeing, this performance is not good enough. The publication of the Sexuality Education guidelines is a good starting point, but ERO recommends the Ministries of Education and Health provide more support for implementation of the guidelines and targeted professional learning and development to increase teacher confidence and capability to deliver sexuality education."

The report also documents "narratives of good practice." These narratives typically paid attention to the voices of their communities, and especially their students, around what they knew and what they wanted to learn more about. These schools found that most parents and whānau were supportive of comprehensive sexuality education once they were fully consulted and informed. It states that some parents' choice to withdraw their child from sexuality education should not impede the development of a comprehensive programme for other students in the school.

Additionally, leaders in these schools had established an environment of collective responsibility for inclusion of sex-, gender- and sexuality-diverse students. These schools were proactive, rather than reactive, and did not simply rely on more general policies and practices but made this explicit.

The report concludes with 14 recommendations for government agencies and schools. These include recommending that the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health work together with expert partners to:

  • provide greater support for implementation of the 2015 Sexuality Education guidelines, including teachers’ professional learning and development needs
  • promote sustainability by prioritising funding and support for external providers of sexuality education that include a focus on building teachers’ and other school staff capability
  • support the development of sexuality education resources and programmes that address the needs of diverse populations currently under-served by existing provision
  • over time, evaluate the use and usefulness of the recent guide to supporting LGBTIQA+ students
  • further investigate the impact of pornography on young people in New Zealand
ERO has also published a two page summary and a series of short information sheets for whānau, Boards of Trustees and senior students.

Background

Sexuality, relationships and violence prevention education come under Health and Physical Education in the New Zealand Curriculum (2007). However schools can decide how they teach it, after consultation with their school community which they must carry out every two years. The last Education Review Office audit of sexuality education was in 2007 and found that most sexuality education programmes were not meeting students' needs effectively. 

In 2015, the Ministry of Education released a revised guide on Sexuality education: a guide for principals, boards of trustees, and teachers. This updated the previous edition published in 2002. However, students, advocates and academics have continued to call for mandatory education in schools focused on consent and healthy relationships.

In 2017, the Ministry of Education released new guidelines to help support the inclusion, safety and wellbeing of LGBTIQA+ students. The guidelines cover: understanding sex, gender and sexuality diversity; creating a school culture where all students are included, visible and valued; addressing immediate environmental, physical and social needs of students; and creating an inclusive classroom that supports all students to achieve. 

Related news

In July 2018, ACC committed $18.4 million to make the Mates & Dates healthy relationships programme available in more schools nationwide. Mates & Dates is a healthy relationships programme for secondary school students in years 9 to 13, delivered over five years.

The Office of Film and Literature Classification recently launched the research project Youth and Porn: How and why young New Zealanders are viewing pornography.

Te Whāriki Takapou has made two resources available online to support inclusion of te reo Māori and te ao Māori in sexuality education:

Netsafe launched an updated Kit for schools and kura in July 2018. The Kit includes a set of tools and resources to create and maintain a safe online environment. Netsafe also published a two page guide to help schools respond to online digital incidents, such as bullying, harassment, threats or other harmful behaviour. NetSafe is the Government appointed key agency for online harassment, information and support for victims.

The New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association / Te Wehengarua (PPTA) released a discussion document, Affirming Diversity: Inclusion for sexuality and gender minorities (2017) about achieving safe, welcoming and inclusive schools for all young people, community members and teachers. 

Selected media

Lizzie Marvelly: I wish I'd been taught about same-sex relationships at school, NZ Herald, 10.11.2018

Why do we keep getting sexuality education in schools so wrong?, Opinion: Jackie Edmund, Family Planning CEO, Stuff, 12.09.2018

Education Review Office tells schools: teach more about porn, NZ Herald, 12.09.2018

NZ sex ed was bad in 2007 - it's still just as bad, report shows, Stuff, 12.09.2018

High school students should be taught about pornography and sexual violence, report says, One News, 12.09.2018

Sex education inadequate at many schools - report, Radio Live, 12.09.2018

Sexual violence and non-consensual sex rising due to porn, finds survey, NZ Herald, 12.09.2018

Principal: Schools can't fix social issues such as pornography, Newstalk ZB, 12.09.2018