New Relationships and Sexuality Education guidelines

Tue 06 Oct 2020

The Ministry of Education has published updated Relationships and Sexuality Education guidelines for schools.

The Relationships and Sexuality Education guidelines are designed to support teachers, school leaders, and boards of trustees to implement the New Zealand Curriculum. The updated guidelines reflect a focus on relationships as an essential part of sexuality education.

Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said “For the last decade, Education Review Office (ERO) reports on this area have shown that some schools teach this subject very well, but that the majority struggle. We have to do better than that for our children.”

She also said, that the new guidelines “... respond to a recent Education Review Office (ERO) report noting that our curriculum would benefit from more information around sexuality issues such as consent, the use of digital technologies and relationships.”

The Ministry of Education provides information about what is new in the guidelines, noting:

"This update is informed by an awareness of changing family structures, shifting social norms in relation to gender and sexuality, the rise of social media, and the increased use of digital communications and devices. It acknowledges the increased calls for social inclusion and for the prevention of bullying, violence, and child abuse. It recognises the importance of social and emotional learning for healthy relationships."

The new guideline place greater emphasis on inclusion in relation to Māori, Pacific and LGBTQI+ communities.

The Relationships and Sexuality Education guidelines replace the previous guidelines published in 2015. The new guidelines are in two separate documents: guidelines for Years 1 to 8 and guidelines for Years 9 to 13. Both guidelines cover:

  • an overview of why relationships and sexuality education is important, considerations for Māori and Pacific ākonga (students), recognising Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Human Rights Act
  • information and guidance on a whole-school approach
  • information and guidance on relationship and sexuality education in Levels 1-8 of the NZ Curriculum including the strands and achievement objectives that must be taught as well as other areas where this information could be included 
  • approaches for Māori, Pacific, LGBTQI+ and disabled students 
  • an explanation about the requirements for schools including obligations under the Human Rights Act
  • rights and responsibilities for different groups involved
  • consulting with communities
  • glossary, references and resources.

The guidelines were updated in response to the 2018 Education Review Office report into sexuality education in schools and the Kōrero Mātauranga (Education Conversation).  

The guidelines do not directly address violence. The Preface for both guidelines state:

"Learning about relationships and sexuality is part of the New Zealand Curriculum and is one aspect of health education (within health and physical education). Other learning in health education includes mental health education, drug and alcohol education, safety and violence-prevention education, and food and nutrition studies."

Our previous news story on healthy relationships education has a list of related research, reports and guidelines.


Family Planning Chief Executive Jackie Edmond welcomed the new guidelines, however said: 

“The guidelines are an important document providing schools with certainty and surety in this curriculum area. However, unless they are fully and nationally implemented and teachers and school leaders are provided with professional development and other support, we won’t see progress."

“My worry is that it’s close to 20 years since we first developed guidelines and we’ve had no meaningful change since then. The guidelines alone won’t deliver the fundamental change we need – we’re going to need more from the Ministry to support schools to deliver this work.”

Related news

Update: Dr Analosa Veukiso-Ulugia has received $442,000 in Health Research Council funding for a Pacific Postdoctoral Fellowship to research sexuality education for Pacific communities.

Update: The Ministry of Education has put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking development of resources to support the implementation of Relationships and Sexuality Education: A guide for teachers, leaders and boards of trustees (2020) in ways that are effective, safe and inclusive. These will provide capability building for users of the guide. The RFP (MOE09966) is on the Government Electronic Tenders Service (GETS). The deadline to apply is 4 December 2020.

In June 2020, the Government announced up to 40 new "Curriculum Leads." These roles will work directly with schools, kura, early learning services and kōhanga reo to support the teaching of mental health and healthy relationships.

Thursdays in Black Aotearoa have launched a petition calling for compulsory consent education for first-year tertiary students, saying:

"Such education should be a research-based program, created with and facilitated by subject matter experts and the sexual violence sector, it should engage student leaders, operate on a bi-cultural model that upholds Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and reflect an intersectional approach that respects the disproportionate impact sexual violence has on specific groups." 

Young people have launched a petition calling on parliament to pass legislation requiring New Zealand high schools to teach LGBTQ+ education in health studies/sexual education.

Related media

Māori And Pacific Wellbeing Focus For Health Research Council Award Winners, Press Release: Waikato University, 29.10.2020

Sexual assault among university students in New Zealand a 'really concerning', NZ Herald, 09.10.2020

The dark side of university: 28 per cent of students experience sexual assault, Otago study finds, Stuff, 09.10.2020

Group calls for mandatory sexual consent education for tertiary students, Stuff, 25.09.2020

Emily Writes: Why parents needn’t fear the new sex ed guidelines, The SpinOff, 11.09.2020

School sex ed update tackles consent, inclusion, online porn, RNZ, 09.09.2020

New relationship and sexuality guidelines announced to make schools more inclusive, Stuff, 08.09.2020

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