Discussion

Since ERO last evaluated sexuality education in 2007, the social and technological context around sexuality and sexuality education has shifted quickly and profoundly. Overall, the quality of schools' sexuality education programmes have not kept pace with this shift.

The ubiquity of internet-connected smartphones and the growing influence of social media create an environment in which young people are exposed to a broader range of sexuality-related content at an earlier age than previously. Without the knowledge and skills to navigate this context, young people are at risk of developing unhealthy attitudes toward sexuality, increasing risks to mental and physical wellbeing for themselves and others. There have been a number of high-profile issues related to sexuality, including the Roast Busters scandal, and the protests sparked by misogynistic language used by some students on social media, as well as the broader #MeToo movement with its focus on exposing the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. These show both the risks young people face when a healthy understanding of consent is not widely held, and the increasing demand from school students for effective sexuality education to address these issues.

International research[2] suggests that pornography is becoming an increasingly accepted and prevalent aspect of young people's sexuality experiences. However, research also identifies a range of negative outcomes associated with viewing pornography, including mental and sexual health issues. Pornography rarely depicts meaningful consent, and often includes coercion and/or violence, particularly towards girls and women, as a normal part of sexual encounters.

Upcoming draft survey findings from the Light Project[3]suggest that these patterns are also visible in the New Zealand context, and highlight that many young people in New Zealand are learning about sex through pornography. This creates unhealthy views about sex and relationships, and is leading young people to engage in physically and emotionally risky behaviours. It is therefore of some concern that ERO found pornography was one of the least well covered aspects of sexuality education. ERO therefore recommends further investigation into the impact of pornography on young people.

In New Zealand, performance against several high-level indicators of sexual health for young people has improved. The rate of teenage pregnancy declined between 2001 and 2013 (Statistics New Zealand, 2013), and young women are having fewer abortions (Statistics New Zealand, 2017). The rate of sexually transmitted infections also decreased for young people between 2010 and 2014 (The Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd., 2015). While this is encouraging, sexuality education is intended to contribute to a broader range of wellbeing outcomes than these negative proxy indicators can capture.

Furthermore, these improvements are not yet equitable. Māori are more likely to become teen parents than non-Māori (Marie & Fergusson, 2011). Māori women aged between 15 and 19 have a higher rate of abortions than any other ethnicity of the same age group (National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, 2015). Gonorrhoea and chlamydia are 2-3 times more common in Māori women aged 15-19 (The Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd., 2015) and young people from neighbourhoods with high levels of deprivation are less likely to regularly use contraception (Clark et al., 2013).

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. Additionally, since ERO's data collection for this evaluation, the Ministry of Education has published a guide to supporting LGBTIQA students. This is timely, and ERO suggests that the Ministry of Education review schools' awareness of this document to make sure it is reaching the intended audience.

In primary schools, the sexuality education programme is generally delivered in the form of Life Education Trust visits and the New Zealand Police's Keeping Ourselves Safe programme. In most secondary schools, sexuality education is taught as part of compulsory health education in Years 9 and 10, and then optional after that for students who take health as an NCEA subject. Some schools augment this with opportunities for students to learn about aspects of sexuality education from externally provided programmes (especially ACC's Mates and Dates) or peer educators. Evaluating these external providers was beyond the scope of ERO's evaluation, but ERO found that only a few schools were conducting internal evaluation of the effectiveness of the programmes in meeting their students' needs.



[2]    See for instance: The Office for the Children's Commissioner UK. (2013). "Basically...Porn is everywhere" - A Rapid Evidence Assessment of the effects that access and exposure to pornography have on children and young people. Available from: http://www. childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/publications/basicaNy-porn-everywhere-rapid-evidence-assessment-effects-access-and-exposure; Australian senate inquiry into harm towards children through access to internet pornography. Available from: http://www.aph.gov.au/ Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/Onlineaccesstoporn45/Report

[3]    Pearson L., Powell M., Denholm N., Robertson J., Porn and Young People - what do we know? NZ Youth Stakeholder Survey. Auckland: The Light Project; 2018.