Domains of practice

The following sections report in more detail on the performance of schools in each of the School Evaluation Indicator domains as they relate to sexuality education.

Each section begins with a graph showing the percentage of schools in the sample whose performance was unsatisfactory, compliant or good. It is important to note that achieving compliance means that the school met defined minimum standards of quality for that domain (see Appendix 1). To be effective and to implement the intent of the 2015 sexuality education guidelines in these areas, these schools still required substantial improvements.

Stewardship

 

As part of their stewardship role, boards of trustees (boards) have the responsibility to make sure they scrutinise the delivery of sexuality education in the curriculum. Boards are also responsible for making sure school policies are inclusive and support student safety and wellbeing. Uniforms and bathrooms were the most commonly cited issues around inclusion of sex-, gender- and sexuality- diverse students.

In the schools with good stewardship, school leaders and teachers reported to trustees regularly on programme delivery. In a few cases, trustees also attended parent information evenings, and/ or requested and received reports from pastoral staff like guidance counsellors and nurses on common sexuality issues, and used this to review programmes and resourcing.

These boards also demonstrated a positive view of sexuality diversity and developed policies that promoted diversity, both for students and also for staff who identified as sex-, gender- or sexuality- diverse. One board chair told ERO they took their responsibilities to their students very seriously, going on to say: it's hard enough going through school as a teenager. If there's anything a school can do to support with additional stressors, they should. It doesn't matter how many it's an issue for, if it's an issue, it's an issue.

In a few secondary schools, trustees were active in supporting student LGBTQI groups. Some of these schools had adopted a gender-neutral uniform policy or dress code. This could be as simple as providing the same range of uniform options as before, but dropping the designation of certain items as being for boys or girls.

In the schools with compliant stewardship performance leaders reported information to boards at a general level about what the sexuality education programme covered, rather than more detailed information on student needs, learning and progress.

The boards in most of these schools had good child protection policies in place for reporting on bullying or harassment, but did not necessarily have policies that promoted inclusion for diverse students. Support for sex-, gender-, and sexuality-diverse students was often implicit and reactive rather than explicit and proactive. Some schools provided gender-neutral bathrooms for students, but in many, leaders and trustees saw this as being prohibitively expensive or not possible with current property arrangements.

Some boards reported they did not have any such students, or these students were covered by more general diversity policies. However, research suggests strongly that sex-, gender- and sexuality- diverse students are present in the vast majority of schools. Where leaders or teachers felt this was not an issue for them, it could be that these students' voices were not being sought, and their needs were not being recognised. Furthermore, student voice gathered through ERO's good practice visits highlight that without explicit support, these students perceive the school environment as indifferent or hostile. To be truly inclusive, schools should consider how their policies and practice can support these students before they are prompted by a specific enrolment.

In the schools with unsatisfactory stewardship performance, sexuality education was a low priority for boards. Some of these schools had no planned sexuality education programme. In some other schools, there was a programme in place, but the board did not scrutinise the delivery. In many of these schools, the board was unaware of their responsibilities to make sure they consulted with the community about the implementation of the health curriculum.

Leadership

In schools with good leadership for sexuality education, leaders took a crucial role in both ensuring the comprehensive coverage of sexuality education as part of their school's curriculum, and leading the development of an inclusive school culture in which sex-, gender- and sexuality-diverse students feel welcomed and do not face barriers to their learning and wellbeing.

Leaders in these schools committed resourcing to support delivery of sexuality education. This could include:

  • developing clear curriculum guidelines and expectations about topics to be covered
  • allocating sufficient classroom time for teaching
  • holding meetings to make sure that all staff understood the programme
  • providing access to high quality teaching resources.

When external providers were used to deliver parts of the programme, leaders were deliberate and discerning in their selection of providers and/ or programmes, using internal evaluation to assess whether the programmes were meeting the needs of students. In secondary schools, a few leaders made sure there were opportunities for students who were not taking health at the senior level to be engaged in ongoing learning, through seminars or workshops from external providers, or through exploring sexuality issues in other curriculum areas.

Another aspect of good leadership, particularly at secondary school level, was support for student leadership groups. ERO found secondary students were empowered to create groups for peer support and peer education. Peer support groups (e.g. queer-straight alliance groups) helped students to feel included and safe at school, while other groups (e.g. Thursdays in Black, or feminist groups) played a role in raising awareness of sexuality-related issues among staff and students, raising money for local charities or non-governmental organisations, or working with health teachers to provide peer education in a classroom context.

In schools with compliant leadership, sexuality education was planned for, but was not a high priority. ERO's previous (2007) report suggested that around 12-15 hours of classroom time per year was necessary to provide comprehensive sexuality education at the secondary level. Only a few schools met this benchmark. Some leaders cited a crowded curriculum as a barrier to providing this level of time.

In primary schools, ERO found some reliance on school culture and environment to teach friendship, communication and relationship skills, rather than planning for explicit teaching with a view to building towards the requirements of the higher levels of the curriculum as set out in the Sexuality Education Guidelines.

In almost all schools, leaders spoke of a commitment to including sex-, gender- and sexuality-diverse students in their schools, which was reflected in school values and policies. However in many schools, the level of inclusion varied, with some teachers using inclusive language and demonstrating sensitivity to the wellbeing needs of diverse students, while for others this was not evident.

In schools with unsatisfactory leadership for sexuality education, this aspect of the curriculum was not valued. Consequently, there was little coherent and sequential planning of the sexuality education programme, and in some of these schools the term 'sexuality education' was not used. There were few clear expectations for curriculum coverage. Some leaders in these schools brought in external providers, but without a clear rationale for why they were selected and without evaluating their effectiveness.

Connections

Schools must consult with their community about what is taught in health programmes, including sexuality education (Section 60B Education Act 1989). Parents may ask the principal to ensure their child is excluded from the sexuality education parts of the health curriculum (Section 25AA Education Act 1989).

In schools with good connections and relationships for sexuality education, trustees and leaders made sure their community were kept well informed about the sexuality education programme and had opportunities to provide input to the programme. In these schools, there were a variety of avenues for consultation. Leaders and trustees were well aware of the cultural diversity of their schools and made sure consultation was conducted in appropriate ways. They built on their well-developed pre-existing connections with communities. In many of these schools there were regularly scheduled whānau hui, or similar meetings, and the school used these opportunities to engage in face-to-face consultation on the health curriculum. In some schools, teachers who had links with specific communities conducted home visits to make sure parents/whanau understood what was going to be taught in sexuality education. Another school engaged a community liaison worker to facilitate communication with parents.

In most of these schools, parent/whānau and student perspectives gathered through the consultation process were taken into account when developing the sexuality education programme.

In this way, these schools were able to make sure the programme addressed the needs of their student population and reflected the values of their communities.

These schools also had strong connections with a variety of external groups like iwi, health services, Police and a few of the schools had engaged with non-governmental organisations with a specific focus on sexual health, or inclusion of sex, gender and sexuality-diverse students.

In schools that were compliant in this area, consultation tended to be treated as a tick-box exercise, rather than an opportunity for genuine engagement and discussion. Most of these schools provided parents and whānau with a survey, for which response rates were often low. A few schools ran community meetings specifically for health curriculum consultation, or 'piggy-backing' on other events that parents and whānau attended, but did not have the strength of educationally powerful connections that was evident in the more highly performing schools.

In some instances, actual or perceived conservatism on the part of the community led schools to provide less than comprehensive sexuality education. Schools with a strong religious focus were more likely to be explicit about how they considered the interplay of community values and the values of The New Zealand Curriculum, with the special character values generally taking precedence.

These schools were generally good at making sure their students were connected to local community health resources as needed, most commonly a community health nurse.

Some schools had unsatisfactory connections.

In most cases, this was because the boards did not meet their legal obligation to consult every two years, either because they were unaware of the requirement to do so, or because of the low priority afforded to health in the school's curriculum. In a few cases, a lack of specific planning for sexuality education meant there was very little curriculum content on which to consult with parents/whanau.

A few of the schools did consult, but at such a low level (e.g. informing only, or distributing a very short survey) that they were unable to build an informed picture of community needs and preferences.

Curriculum

Sexuality education was generally located as part of the health curriculum, or as part of religious education in Catholic state-integrated schools.

In some of the good practice visits in secondary schools, ERO found there were opportunities for sexuality education topics to be covered in other subjects, for instance, looking at gender roles and stereotypes in social studies, or changing attitudes to sexual identity in history or classical studies. Many schools also brought in external providers to conduct focused sessions on different aspects of sexuality.

In schools with a good curriculum, the sexuality education programme was comprehensive and age-appropriate, covering the areas of:

» anatomy, physiology and pubertal change

» friendship skills

» relationships

» conception and contraception

» gender stereotypes

» communication skills

» consent and coercion

» gender and sexuality diversity

» sexually transmitted infections*

» sexting*

» pornography*

» alcohol and drugs as they relate to sex*

» sexual violence*

(* in secondary schools)

Teachers in these schools were confident and knowledgeable, and were skilled at creating a classroom environment of high trust and safety. Students found it comfortable to talk about sexuality education topics without judgement. Teachers modelled inclusive language and behaviour and dealt well with homophobic or transphobic language used by students when they were made aware of it.

Teachers were also sensitive and responsive to the range of maturity levels in their classrooms.

The sexuality education programme in these schools provided many opportunities for students to explore different values and beliefs. Students were able to undertake a variety of activities, e.g. written tasks, research, surveys, role play.

The sexuality education programme in these schools was also responsive to students' preferences and input. Teachers sought student voice about what should be covered and how, and built this into their planning. In a few secondary schools, students taking senior health were able to have input into the programme by way of their self-directed research and health promotion projects.

In schools that were compliant, curriculum coverage had some gaps. The most commonly covered topics in school curricula were more general communication skills, self-esteem, friendship skills and relationships. This was true for both primary and secondary schools. However, school leaders and teachers provided little detail about how these topics were specifically taught - many leaders stated these topics were 'woven through' all teaching and learning, or were evident in school vision and values. The Ministry of Education is currently finalising sexuality education resources to support schools to strengthen their teaching of friendship, belonging and puberty for levels one to four of The New Zealand Curriculum.

Of the more specific sexuality-related topics, the most commonly covered across primary and secondary schools was anatomy, physiology and pubertal change. Gender stereotypes and gender and sexuality diversity were also more commonly covered relative to other topics, though much more so in secondary schools than in primary schools, with only around one third of primary schools teaching about gender and sexuality diversity, and around half teaching about gender stereotypes.

This rose to around 70 percent for diversity, and nearly 90 percent for stereotypes in secondary schools. The two least often covered topics in secondary school were sexual violence and pornography; both were covered in less than half of the secondary schools ERO visited.

In schools with an unsatisfactory curriculum there were large gaps in coverage. Many of these schools had no specific and planned sexuality education programme at all, while others relied on external providers without integrating provision into their regular curriculum.

Dealing with homophobic language

In one school, the pastoral care team told ERO: youth today are more accepting than we were... there's more awareness, more education, but the hardest thing to tackle was the covert, pervasive language and behaviours. They recognised that students are a product of society and the wider discourses of society. Staff responded seriously when they knew about bullying, but it was often subtle, online, and students did not always tell teachers when bullied.

A senior health class looked at the use of homophobic language, such as 'that's gay' for a health promotion assessment. They thought students using that language did not know or understand that it could be offensive, and a change was needed in the whole school. Senior students told ERO that respecting diversity should be a conversation from Year 9, built into conversations about how we do things here. They thought it was important to be explicit.

Students noticed there had been greater awareness of diversity and the way people speak in the school in recent years. They appreciated teachers calling out students for using homophobic language, and saw that students also monitored each other's language. Senior students were confident that overall culture change would happen. They said we're really lucky to have such a supportive school. We have the means to change.

External providers

In this evaluation, ERO did not take a strong view on whether different aspects of sexuality education were best taught by teachers employed at the school or external providers. Instead we evaluated the extent to which school leaders (or whoever had oversight of external provision) were deliberate and discerning in how they selected external providers appropriate for the needs of their student population.

Most schools need to do more internal evaluation of how external providers support their sexuality education programme. ERO found only a few schools where the selection of external providers and programmes was informed by regular evaluation. School leaders and trustees therefore did not usually have robust evidence of how external providers contributed to valued student outcomes.

In primary schools, the most common external providers were the Life Education Trust and the New Zealand Police's Keeping Ourselves Safe (KOS) programme. These are more general programmes that cover personal safety and pubertal change, along with other health aspects such as food and nutrition and physical activity, and drug education. In many schools, this external provision comprised the majority or totality of their sexuality education curriculum. Full primary and intermediate schools were more likely to be using Family Planning's Sexuality Road programme, for their Year 7 and 8 students.

Secondary schools were more likely to have trained specialist health teachers, and external providers were used more on a supplementary basis. Specific programmes included the Accident Compensation Corporation's (ACC) Mates and Dates programme, the New Zealand Police's Loves-Me-Not programme, and various shorter seminars given by a variety of providers.

Evaluating the quality of this external provision was beyond the scope of ERO's evaluation. However, it is worth noting ERO found a lack of internal evaluation by school leaders of how well these programmes met the needs of their students.

Some students we spoke with suggested they would prefer if sexuality education was provided by teacher they already had a relationship with. Other students said they felt more comfortable speaking with external educators who they would not have to see on a day-to-day basis. It is likely this will vary for students individually and for different aspects of sexuality education. To better meet the needs of their students, schools need clarity on student needs and preferences.

Capability

For sexuality education to be effective, it is critical that it be taught by well-trained, confident and capable teachers or other educators. In secondary schools, it was more common for leaders to employ health and physical education teachers with expertise in sexuality education, but ERO found a few schools where leaders had explicitly looked for this expertise when recruiting. Very few primary schools employed teachers with specific expertise in sexuality education. While some school leaders told ERO they appreciated the publication of the 2015 Sexuality Education guidelines, ERO found wide variance in their level of uptake and implementation. A few school leaders were not aware of the guidelines.

In schools with good capability, there were clear policy guidelines to support staff to have a consistent and informed approach to sexuality education and inclusion. Teachers and other staff supported one another in their areas of strength, and accessed professional learning and development from a variety of internal and external sources, including:

» curriculum leaders

» school guidance counsellors

» chaplains

» social workers

» Sexuality Education guidelines

» Police

» public health nurses

» externally run workshops or conferences.

Many of these schools also made sure any external provision or programming (e.g. Family Planning) included a capability-building focus for staff to improve sustainability and made sure students were receiving consistent, well-informed messages around sexuality education. Many schools had also undertaken specific professional development
focused on inclusion of sex-, gender-, and sexuality- diverse students, and made sure this included all staff, not just teachers. In a few of these schools, professional learning and development was linked to robust internal evaluation to identify staff learning needs.

In one school, when appointing new staff, leaders and the board considered how well candidates fit the inclusive culture of the school. It was important all staff valued diversity and inclusivity. The school then supported all new staff with a strong induction process. The guidance counsellors met with all staff new to the school, to induct them into the culture of the school. The counsellors also worked with staff to help them be aware of their language use, their students' needs, and the importance of not making assumptions about their students.

In schools that were compliant, the quality and quantity of professional learning and development was variable. It was more likely to be informal and internal. In some of these schools there was also a variable level of confidence and capability among staff. One student told ERO reviewers their sexuality education was "dependent on which teacher they had, as some were more comfortable to deliver the whole programme, and others just stayed on physical puberty, reproduction and friendship and stayed away from the stuff that made them uncomfortable."

In these schools, policies for reporting suspected abuse or handling disclosures were well understood and followed, but they were less likely than the schools with good capability to have undertaken specific capability-building for inclusion of sex-, gender-, and sexuality-diverse students. In a few cases ERO's evaluation had prompted leaders to think about how they might improve in this area.

In many of the schools with unsatisfactory capability, there had been no recent professional learning and development in sexuality education. Most of these schools tended to be ones where the sexuality education programme was insufficient or effectively absent. In some cases, teachers appeared not to have an awareness or understanding of the importance of sexuality education in general.

In one school staff told ERO reviewers "there were no issues at the school" and they "would deal with it if it was identified in student surveys but students don't bring it up." In the same school, students told ERO reviewers that a fellow student who identified as fa'afafine was the subject of gossip and homophobic comments.

Of most concern, in a few of the schools, teachers were not aware of the policies and procedures around reporting abuse or handling disclosures.

Evaluation

Internal evaluation is crucial if teachers and leaders are to understand the needs of their student community, and the extent to which their delivered curriculum is meeting those needs. Across schools, evaluation was the weakest of the domains that ERO investigated for this evaluation.

In the few schools with good evaluation students had opportunities to provide substantive input into, and feedback on, the sexuality education curriculum, often through student leadership groups. In these schools there was also clear evidence of assessment of students' knowledge in sexuality education that was reported to the board. In secondary schools, where students took senior health, they were more likely to be assessed in learning about sexuality education. In primary schools, relevant assessment was focused more broadly on students' achievement of key competencies like relating to others and managing self.

In schools that were compliant, students had more limited opportunities to provide input, such as through a postbox for asking questions during sexuality education lessons. Formal assessment of student progress in sexuality education was variable. Very few schools reported to parents on sexuality education achievement. Consequently, evaluation of sexuality education provision, when it did occur, focused mostly on what had been delivered, rather than learning outcomes for students.

In schools with unsatisfactory evaluation, students did not have any say in what was covered in the programme, either because the school relied on external providers, curriculum decisions were made without reference to student voice, or the school was not providing sexuality education at all. Any evaluation that did occur was informal and not well connected with programme development. Some leaders told ERO that their schools were inclusive and welcoming environments, but were not able to show evidence of this.

Some New Zealand research suggests students perceive the sexuality education they receive in school to be insufficiently comprehensive (e.g. Allen, 2011). Teachers, leaders and parents/ whanau may believe enough is being covered, but if schools are not regularly collecting information about what students want to learn and evaluating their programmes, there is a risk that they are not meeting their students' needs. This was reflected in some student comments made to ERO evaluators.

For example, in one secondary school, the curriculum leader stated they thought almost all the aspects of sexuality education were covered, but a group of students told ERO they did not feel all of these aspects were covered or that they were skimmed over. They felt that generally the sexuality education topics focused on puberty, relationships and homosexuality. The students felt the school could do better by finding out what the students wanted to know more about and create a programme that reflected that. Students also thought it should be compulsory rather than optional at Years 11 and 12. The school guidance counsellor felt that what the students were saying to her in sessions was similar to what they had said to ERO and more needed to be done to meet the students' needs in terms of sexuality education.

In another secondary school, senior students ERO spoke with felt their own awareness about issues relating to sexual orientation had increased but identified they would like to spend more time on this. They believed young people were exposed to sexuality through media and from peers without enough relevant education to help them respond to this in a healthy way. A senior student said they wanted the school to be more proactive with sexuality education and to educate students "early before social media does."

These comments, and other similar ones, highlight the need for schools to conduct robust internal evaluation about the extent to which their sexuality education curriculum is meeting the needs of their students.