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Consulting with communities

The Education Act defines the school community as:

  • in the case of a state-integrated school, the parents of students enrolled at the school and the school’s proprietors
  • in the case of any other state school, the parents of students enrolled at the school
  • in every case, any other person whom the board considers is part of the school community for the purpose of this section.

Boards consult with their community to:

  • inform the school community about the content of the health curriculum
  • ascertain the wishes of the school community regarding the way in which the health curriculum should be implemented, given the views, beliefs, and customs of the members of that community
  • determine, in broad terms, the health education needs of the students at the school.

Not all community members will be comfortable discussing sexuality education, and a sensitive and culturally-responsive approach is needed. Consultation involves listening to others, considering their responses and then deciding what should be done. It is important to use appropriate protocols when engaging with Māori, Pasifika, Asian, and other communities if the diverse needs of students are to be understood and provided for.


  • has no universal requirements as to form or duration (the Education Act 1989 [as amended in 2001]) 
  • allows the board of trustees to adopt any method of consultation that it considers will best achieve the purposes outlined in Section 60B of the Act
  • involves providing a draft statement so that those being consulted know what is being proposed
  • must provide a reasonable period of time for people to respond
  • requires that the process is seen to be undertaken in good faith, with a genuine willingness to take account of feedback received
  • does not necessarily involve negotiation
  • does not require that there be agreement
  • requires more than just a notification of what is to happen.

Parent-teacher associations, college associations, whānau, hapū, iwi, and aiga support groups, church groups, home and school committees, and parent/caregiver groups at local early childhood centres are some important sources of community opinion.

In any consultation it is important to not assume that the school is the best venue to hold the meeting. Students should be consulted as part of the formal process. 

How might consultation occur?

The Education Act 1989 (as amended in 2001) states that the board of trustees may adopt any method of consultation. In many cases an existing framework for consultation can be used, as long as it caters for the diversity of the school community and provides an effective vehicle for parents/caregivers and whānau, as well as students, to have genuine input.

Consultation that engages the community in convenient and in timely ways could include:

  • Email responses.
  • Consulting when parents are engaging in other school-based activities (for example, parent-teacher meetings, sports and cultural events).
  • Engaging local community leaders to hold meetings with their groups (iwi leaders, church leaders, matai and other community leaders).
  • A “test run” of the curriculum content for parents where teachers deliver content as they might in a classroom. In this way parents can contextualise the content their children will receive, with opportunity for discussion and feedback afterwards.
  • A special newsletter for parents inviting them to a meeting about the draft programme.

Sharing a draft of the school’s health education programme, including sexuality education, before consultation provides parents/caregivers with a starting point for discussion. The draft might be the current programme for review or a restructured programme. It is useful to make links between the school charter and other key documents, and the programme’s objectives. 

Consulting with whānau Māori and Māori communities

The following suggestions may be helpful when consulting with Māori:

  • Having a strong relationship with Māori parents and the Māori community is important before consultation starts.
  • Asking parents what success looks like for their child, and linking success to their child taking part in sexuality education, will help to make a good connection with this area.
  • Consider inviting whānau to a consultation meeting at the local church hall, marae, or community centre.
  • Holding a consultation meeting after a whānau event, or a sports or cultural event and including refreshments has been successful for many schools.

Consulting with Pasifika communities

When engaging with Pasifika communities, schools might consider the differences between Pasifika groups and engage leaders in the various communities to assist with consultation. The following suggestions draw on the Ministry of Health literature review on Pasifika sexual health and may be useful for schools to consider:

  • Involve Pasifika peoples from the outset. The solutions need to be driven by them.
  • Provide information in a way that is culturally sensitive and acceptable. For example, tailoring sexual health promotion messages to refer to "healthy relationships" rather than to "safe-sex" will enable more effective engagement.
  • Have an awareness of cultural protocols and etiquettes (it may be inappropriate to have a brother and sister, pastor and church member in the same group).
  • Incorporate communication mediums that Pasifika peoples respond to, such as ethnic radio stations, ethnic-specific languages, drama, and music.
  • Coordinate and consolidate services that can maximise effectiveness for Pasifika groups.
  • Schools might also consider identifying Pacific non-government organisations and Pasifika experts in the sexual and reproductive health sector to help facilitate consultation meetings with Pasifika families.
  • It may help to form partnerships and clarify roles for consultation meetings beforehand.
  • Evaluations of these meetings (by school members and Pasifika experts) can help inform the process.
  • Senior school Pasfika students are consulted, involved, and have a part to play in these meetings (especially in secondary schools).
  • Where possible, Pasifika teachers and non-teaching professionals are encouraged to be part of the consultation meetings.

(Veukiso-Ulugia, A., 2013, p. 3)

These suggestions for consulting with Pasifika communities may also be useful when working with Māori, and Pākehā/Palagi communities. 

Discussions with parents, caregivers, and whānau

Some parents/caregivers and whānau have strong views about sexuality education in schools. Some may think that the draft programme is not comprehensive enough, and others may object to the whole programme. Issues like this should be worked through during the consultation process, but they may also arise during the programme's implementation. Although quoting research findings may not always be sufficient to allay concerns (for example, those in section 1), these can help to illustrate the basis for sexuality education programmes. The established place of sexuality education in The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) also needs to be kept in mind.

Boards of trustees may need to consider some of the ways that parents/caregivers might react to health education, particularly to sexuality education, and develop appropriate ways to respond that will support the principal and teachers. These general principles for making an appropriate response may be helpful:

  • Listen to the concerns of parents/caregivers and acknowledge their points of view.
  • It is important that parents/caregivers and students have an opportunity to express their values and beliefs. The values on which school programmes are based should be those promoted in The New Zealand Curriculum.
  • Refer to The New Zealand Curriculum and the established place of sexuality in it.
  • Refer to the school's charter and values, the achievement objectives of the curriculum, and to the learning intentions of the school’s draft programme.
  • Refer to the learning intentions listed in this document (see tables in section 3).
  • If issues remain unresolved, inform the school community that the statement on the delivery of the health curriculum that has been adopted by the board of trustees specifies how sexuality education will be implemented. However, they may withdraw their children from specified parts of the health education programme relating to sexuality education by writing to the principal.

Within any community there is likely to be a diversity of responses. Some initial reactions to sexuality education are based on anxiety about possible content (and developmental appropriateness) and misinformation about what is taught. Open and honest conversations between community members and schools will ensure that misunderstandings are addressed and do not inform decisions. 

Engaging parents and caregivers

Boards should consider the following strategies, which have been used successfully to increase involvement in consultation about health education. 

The Education Review Office report: The Teaching of Sexuality Education in Years 7-13: Good Practice (2007) also offers good guidance in this area.