Characteristics of effective implementation

When sexuality education was well taught, school leaders recognised the importance of this aspect of the curriculum for student wellbeing. Leaders made sure students had opportunities to learn from teachers or external providers with relevant expertise and experience. Trustees and leaders worked together to make sure they consulted with the community on how the school planned to give effect to sexuality education as part of the health curriculum, and that students and parents/whanau were able to have meaningful input into the content and delivery of the sexuality education programme.

Sexuality education was well planned, age- appropriate and provided opportunities for students to work towards developing empathy and, at senior levels, to engage in critical thinking about sexuality.

Teachers who had responsibility for sexuality education stayed up to date with good practice in sexuality education and broader societal issues relating to sexuality. They shared their expertise with colleagues, to create a whole-school environment of awareness and inclusion. Teachers and others in schools modelled the use of inclusive language and pushed back against homophobic or transphobic language used by students.

Common barriers and challenges

The most common barrier to effective implementation was a lack of specific planning for a comprehensive approach to sexuality education. Contributing factors included:

  • absent, or inadequate, community consultation
  • lack of assessment and evaluation in sexuality education
  • lack of teacher comfort and confidence
  • low prioritisation of sexuality education among other competing priorities
  • school policies not widely understood and implemented.

Only a few schools conducted regular evaluation of their sexuality education provision, or undertook robust analysis of the perceptions and needs of their students in this learning area.

In a few schools, real or perceived community opposition to sexuality education for religious or cultural reasons has meant schools provided inadequate sexuality education programmes that did not address important aspects of the curriculum.

These barriers and challenges led to variability in practice across schools. While some schools offered comprehensive sexuality education that met the needs of their students, others did not adequately provide for students' learning in sexuality education. This variability, and lack of reference to students' needs was also of concern to students, as demonstrated by the student research recounted on the following page.

This narrative is from one school where students contacted ERO on their own initiative after learning of the sexuality education evaluation and wanting their school's good practice to be included.

Student research into the quality of sexuality education

This story is an example of inquiry-based, socially conscious learning around sexuality education issues from outside the health curriculum.

High quality, comprehensive sexuality education can lead to the realisation of the NZC's vision, values and key competencies, as demonstrated by the social action taken by a group of Year 12 students who approached ERO.

These students wanted to share the findings of a survey they conducted around local students' experiences of sexuality education. The girls were concerned about inconsistency in the sexuality education received by them and their peers, and so they conducted a survey for an assignment for their sociology class, where they were required to take a social action.

The survey asked questions such as:


   Do you think the sex education course was specialised for your school (e.g. religion, culture)?

   What area/s of [sexuality education] do you feel you know the most about


  We learned about the physical parts of sex, like always have a condom, but we were never taught about the emotional or social aspects, the sexual interactions of people of the same gender.


           In most schools, sex ed is only taught up to Year 10. Do you think that this is taught up to a high enough year level? Why/why not?


   I think it should be talked about till the end of our school years since like Year 11, 12 and 13 are the years when people become the legal age and that's when they will be experimenting with their bodies and their sexuality. I feel like schools avoid the topic because they don't want to encourage sexual activity in young people, but they will do it anyways but they will just have to teach themselves.

   It's important to know from ages like in Year 10 and 9, just in case a few Year 9s and 10s are actually having sex, nitwits! Sexual education is important in Years 11 and 12 at least, because it's not enough to tell someone something and hope they remember it for the rest of their life. Why do you think we do REVISION for exams?

Students from nine different secondary schools completed the survey, and most were in Year 12. Only 10 percent thought their sexuality education programme was tailored to their context and needs. Most remembered learning about the physical side of sex, but many felt other aspects of sexuality education could be strengthened. They provided suggestions about how sexuality education programmes could be improved to better meet students' needs.

Survey respondents wanted their school to:

    • Teach us more about the emotional impacts of a physical and emotional relationship with another person and to be open minded.
    • Cater to everyone's needs whether it be religious or cultural beliefs.
    • Cover the emotional parts of it as well as the physical.
    • [Use] more realistic scenarios, all the videos and much of the coursework was way outdated.
    • Take safe sex within LGBT communities seriously and enforce nondiscriminatory attitudes within the classroom as well as theoretically, e.g. not allowing slurs.
    • While the basics were covered, it was the bare minimum. The way it was taught was made to scare students instead of inform them. We need to be informed about the 'harder' subjects.
    • Do it in older years, consider people's religious and cultural beliefs, and make sure it covers everything in the context of real life situations.

The girls were passionate advocates for improving the quality and consistency of sexuality education. Their survey findings showed that students did not feel their needs were met by the sexuality education they received. The girls felt empowered to advocate for themselves and others, and were critical, informed, active and responsible citizens.