Good practice sexuality education supports student wellbeing

The Education Review Office (ERO) has found that a common theme among 10 schools who exhibit good sexuality education practice is the involvement of students, parents and whānau in improving sexuality education.

An ERO report released this month, Promoting Wellbeing through Sexuality Education: 2018, has reviewed how sexuality education is delivered at 116 schools. Secondary students consistently said that they want more coverage of sexuality education related subjects, including consent, issues surrounding pornography, and the dynamics of respectful relationships.

Photo of student with a teacher.

Several of the good practice colleges had involved seniors in strengthening the junior health programme and its sexuality education content.

A common theme among 10 schools who exhibit good sexuality education practice is the involvement of students, parents and whānau in sexuality education delivery.

“The commitment of school leaders and teachers to comprehensive sexuality education is also encouraging to see in these 10 case studies,” says ERO’s Chief Review Officer Nicholas Pole.

“The content of their programmes is well informed by genuine community consultation, and regularly updated through cycles of internal evaluation.”

At one large coeducational school, senior students helped to introduce a stronger focus on consent and factors in healthy and unhealthy relationships, rather than simply concentrating on puberty.

Recognising diversity

The report found that school leaders, trustees and teachers in the good practice schools also recognise there is a diversity of views within their communities. Schools found that – when fully consulted and involved – most parents and whānau accept that comprehensive programmes support student wellbeing.

Such programmes cover a range of subjects including gender and sexuality diversity, communication skills, consent and coercion, and online issues such as pornography and sexting. Other areas included at secondary level are anatomy, physiology and pubertal change, conception and contraception, friendships skills, relationships, sexually transmitted infections, sexual violence, and alcohol and drugs as they relate to sex.

Annual wellbeing days are a feature at one co-ed school and students told ERO they want more.
Annual wellbeing days are a feature at one co-ed school and students told ERO they want more.

The report found that of all the schools visited, there was an inconsistency in overall curriculum. Most met minimum standards, especially in teaching the biological aspects of sexuality and puberty. Only 20 per cent covered the full breadth of sexuality education well or very well.

In particular, many schools were not properly meeting the needs of their Māori and Pacific students, international students, and those with strong cultural or religious beliefs or those with additional learning needs. Gender and sexuality diverse students were also not having their sexuality education and wellbeing needs met sufficiently at some schools.

Sharing experiences

At one good practice college – a large, urban school – the deputy principal worked with the mother of a former student to set up a panel of gender and sexuality-diverse adults from the community to talk to staff. The panel told staff stories of their own experiences at school and what could have been done differently to improve them.

The panel also helped develop a survey for students and advised on how to keep students safe from harassment. For example, a classroom is now unlocked at lunchtime so students have a safe place to go if need be.

The deputy principal says that seeking to improve and become more inclusive has “become part of who we are”.

Promoting inclusiveness

In one medium-sized, co-ed college, leaders walk a tightrope reconciling traditional church teachings with the reality of current society. The school board’s policies and procedures demonstrate a Catholic perspective while also promoting an inclusive environment, designed so that all students feel safe.

Examples of their responsiveness to students include supporting a transgender student to change their name on the school roll, and considering how to provide gender-neutral toilets. Senior students were open about their sexuality and say bullying is not an issue at the school.

This school also consults regularly with their parent community through whānau hui, Pacific fono, other parent meetings and surveys. Meanwhile teachers use a wide mix of teaching strategies, including role play, and students can submit questions anonymously to be answered during the unit. Teachers encourage students to debate and explore different attitudes and values.

Wellbeing days

Annual wellbeing days are a feature at another co-ed college, with guest experts speaking on a range of subjects and answering questions. Students told ERO they want more days like these.

Social justice is also a common theme across many student-led groups, which each have a teacher as a support person.

A support group for gender and sexuality-diverse students has led awareness activities, including a ‘Day of Silence’ and ‘Pride Week’. The group also invited other schools and Members of Parliament to take part in a debate.

In another large co-ed college, students elected to have a same-sex couple as the main characters in their student-directed Shakespeare production. The school also had gender-neutral events at athletics days.

Hui for parents

Teachers wanted to consult more with parents and now arrange whānau hui every term. One parent told ERO they are grateful that the school teaches sexuality education because students are more likely to listen to their teachers than parents. Meanwhile students appreciate the teachers’ efforts to make them feel comfortable learning about sexuality.

ERO found that teachers at the school do not shy away from challenging topics. For example, geography students were interested in issues surrounding human trafficking, and diseases such as HIV and AIDS. History students wanted to learn about the history of abortion in New Zealand and homosexual law reform. And in media studies, students explored how gender roles were represented.

ERO recommends schools use this report, along with the Ministry of Education’s 2015 Sexuality Education guidelines, to review their programmes. ERO also recommends the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health works together with expert partners to provide greater support for the implementation of the Ministry of Education’s Sexuality Education guidelines, reviewed and updated in 2015. Secondary schools also need to be reminded about a guide recently developed to support students who identify as LGBTIQA+*.

These resources can be viewed and downloaded.

Teaching in HPE – Sexuality education: a guide for principals, boards of trustees, and teachers

* LGBTIQA+ is an umbrella term for gender and sexuality diverse people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and asexual.

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