This report provides findings from ERO's evaluation of how well schools were promoting and supporting student wellbeing through sexuality education.

It includes high-level findings, examples of good practice and recommendations for schools and policy audiences. It is accompanied by a series of short publications for whānau, students, and trustees.

Comprehensive sexuality education can equip students with the skills, attitudes and understanding necessary to support positive environments for all students, including those with diverse genders or sexuality. It can contribute to the overall health, wellbeing and resilience of young people (Ministry of Education, 2015), as well as improving attitudes to gender and social norms, and building students' self-efficacy. Wellbeing is important for students' success, for example, a student's sense of achievement and success is enhanced by a sense of feeling safe and secure at school. It is important to develop young people's resilience from an early age: to increase their educational achievement and quality of life, and prevent youth suicide (Gluckman, 2017).

International studies have highlighted the benefits of comprehensive sexuality education for sexual health, including reducing risky behaviours and improving the rates of contraceptive use. Comprehensive sexuality education presents abstinence as a legitimate and safe choice, and has been shown to lead to delayed sexual debut for young people. Programmes that focus on abstinence as the only moral choice, however, can sometimes delay sexual debut, but also create risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections by withholding information about contraception, and fail to address issues relevant to sex-, gender- and sexuality-diverse students.[1]

The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007) (NZC) includes sexuality education as one of seven key learning areas in health and physical education. Health and physical education in the NZC is based on four concepts: hauora, attitudes and values, the socio-ecological perspective, and health promotion. The focus is on the wellbeing of the students themselves, other people, and society through learning in health-related and movement contexts (Ministry of Education, 2007. p 22).

In 2015, the Ministry of Education published Sexuality Education: a guide for principals, boards of trustees and teachers (Ministry of Education, 2015). This document is a revised version of an earlier guide (2002). The revision considers recommendations in the Health Committee's (2013) report on improving child health outcomes, as well as recent research and changing understanding and social climate towards sexuality and sexuality education. The guide lays out examples of what kinds of content students should learn at each level - from Year 1 through to Year 13 (see Appendix 3).

For this evaluation, we visited 116 schools that had their regular ERO external evaluation between May and August 2017. In each school we asked: How well does the school use sexuality education to support and promote wellbeing for their students? Additionally, a specialist team of evaluators visited 10 schools identified by external stakeholders as having good practice in sexuality education and inclusion.

This evaluation took a broad approach, investigating the sexuality education curriculum within the whole school context. ERO was also particularly interested in the extent to which schools were providing an inclusive environment for sex-, gender- and sexuality- diverse students to support their wellbeing. A group of external experts supported ERO to develop indicators of quality sexuality education (Appendix 1) for each domain of ERO's School Evaluation Indicators:

  • stewardship
  • leadership for equity and excellence
  • educationally powerful connections and relationships
  • responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunity to learn
  • professional capability and collective capacity
  • evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building for improvement and innovation.

ERO last reported on schools' provision of sexuality education in 2007. The evaluation found many schools were not effectively meeting the needs of students. In particular, schools were not meeting the needs of Māori or Pacific students, international students, students with strong cultural or religious beliefs, students with additional learning needs and students who were sex-, gender- or sexuality-diverse.

In the 2017 evaluation, ERO found that, overall, curriculum coverage remains inconsistent. Some schools are not meeting minimum standards of compliance with current requirements. Most schools are meeting minimum standards, but many have significant gaps in curriculum coverage. Although biological aspects of sexuality and puberty are well covered, more in-depth coverage is needed for aspects like consent, digital technologies and relationships. Sexual violence and pornography were covered in fewer than half of the secondary schools ERO visited.

Furthermore, the groups identified as being disadvantaged in the 2007 report remain less well catered for, despite being at higher risk of negative wellbeing outcomes.

[1]   See for instance: Stanger-Hall KF, Hall DW (2011) Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S. PLoS ONE 6(10): e24658. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0024658; Kohler PK, Manhart LE, Lafferty WE (2008) Abstinence-Only and Comprehensive Sex Education and the Initiation of Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy https://doi.org/10.1016/j. jadohealth.2007.08.026.