How well are NZ schools promoting wellbeing for their students through sexuality education?

ERO's report Promoting wellbeing through sexuality education, shows sexuality education is an area many schools struggle with.

Sexuality education is a key learning area of New Zealand’s Health and Physical Education curriculum and must be taught in all primary and secondary schools.

ERO Group Manager Evaluation Services Dr Deirdre Shaw says sexuality education is important because young people need the knowledge and skills to navigate a context where they are exposed to a broader range of sexuality-related content at an earlier age than previously.

“Without appropriate knowledge and skills, young people are at risk of developing unhealthy attitudes towards sexuality, increasing risks to mental and physical wellbeing of themselves and others.”

ERO evaluated sexuality education in 116 schools in Term 3, 2017. It last evaluated this part of the curriculum in 2007.

“We found the quality of many schools’ sexuality education programmes have not kept pace with social and technological changes, and overall do not reflect best practice, or the full intent of The New Zealand Curriculum or the Ministry of Education’s Sexuality Education Guidelines.

“Little has changed, yet we know that in those ten years the world our kids navigate has changed significantly,” says Dr Shaw.

“We’ve seen positive trends with decreases in teenage pregnancy, abortion and Sexually Transmitted Infections, but we haven’t seen such trends in unwanted sexual contact, youth suicide and depression.”

“Good sexuality education can have a significant impact on student wellbeing, achievement and success - at all year levels of the curriculum there’s a strong focus on respectful relationships.

“The Ministry of Education’s Sexuality Education Guidelines are excellent but we found that many schools are struggling to implement them and need more support.

“Most schools are teaching the mechanics of sex and safe sex, but there’s a lack of focus on relationships, consent, gender identity, digital technologies, sexual violence and pornography.

“Students and young people are telling us they want the knowledge and skills in advance so they know what to do when something happens and where to go for help. They don’t want to be relying on social media.

Only a fifth of schools evaluated taught sexuality education very well and a further third were meeting minimum requirements and covering some of the curriculum.

As in 2007, ERO found that many schools were not effectively meeting the needs of the diversity of students in their school, particularly Māori and Pacific students, students with strong cultural or religious beliefs, students with additional learning needs and students who are sex, gender or sexuality diverse.

“In the schools where sexuality education is taught very well, there’s a strong focus on wellbeing for all students, meaningful community consultation, and student voice is sought, listened to, and acted on.

“Our recommendations for schools focus on meaningful community consultation, and inclusive and welcoming environments for gender, sex and sexuality diverse students.

“We have recommended the Ministries of Education and Health work with expert partners to support schools to implement the guidelines at all year levels.

“We want all schools to be engaging in meaningful consultation with their communities and providing comprehensive, high quality sexuality education for our children and young people,” says Dr Shaw.

The full ERO report is available here