Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi
Communities
Schools

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:


You are here:

Sexuality education in The New Zealand Curriculum

Sexuality education is one of seven key areas of learning in the health and physical education learning area of The New Zealand Curriculum. It must be included in teaching programmes at both primary and secondary school levels, using the strands and achievement objectives outlined in the curriculum.

Sexuality education is viewed as a lifelong process. It provides students with the knowledge, understanding, and skills to develop positive attitudes towards sexuality, to take care of their sexual health, and to enhance their interpersonal relationships, now and in the future. It includes the concept of hauora, the process of health promotion, and the socio-ecological perspective. Students will consider how the physical, social, mental and emotional, and spiritual dimensions of sexuality influence their well-being. Through the socio-ecological perspective students will critically examine the social, economic, political, and cultural influences that shape the ways people learn about and express their sexuality. Influences may include gender roles, body image, discrimination, equity, mass media, social media in online environments, culturally-based values and beliefs, and the law. Sexuality education is enhanced when supportive school policies and practices are developed, links with relevant community agencies are made, and students are helped to identify and access support. Exploration of personal and societal attitudes and values about sexuality is important.

Students require a range of developmentally appropriate learning opportunities in sexuality education. These include opportunities to develop:

  • knowledge, understandings, and skills relating to sexual health and development: physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual
  • knowledge, understandings, and skills to enhance their sexual and reproductive health, for example, knowledge about the process of conception, contraception, and the skills to make decisions that maintain and enhance their sexual health and experiences
  • understandings and skills to enhance relationships, for example in relation to friendships, intimate relationships, love, families, and parenting
  • critical thinking, reflection, and social-action skills related to issues of equity, gender, body image, sexualisation, risk, and safety.
  • personal and interpersonal skills and related attitudes, including:
    • personal rights and responsibilities, including consent
    • the skills needed to examine people’s attitudes, values, beliefs, rights, and responsibilities
    • attitudes of respect for themselves and other people
    • attitudes of care and concern for themselves and other people
    • ethical values
    • effective communication skills, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

The New Zealand Curriculum sets the direction for relationship and sexuality education across all levels of schooling from years 1–13. 

Sexuality in health education

Most learning about sexuality should occur in dedicated health education where it is a key area of focus. Teaching will align with The New Zealand Curriculum definition of health education:

“In health education, students develop their understanding of the factors that influence the health of individuals, groups, and society: lifestyle, economic, social, cultural, political, and environmental factors. Students develop competencies for mental wellness, reproductive health and positive sexuality, and safety management, and they develop understandings of nutritional needs. Students build resilience through strengthening their personal identity and sense of self worth, through managing change and loss, and through engaging in processes for responsible decision-making. They learn to demonstrate empathy, and they develop skills that enhance relationships. Students use these skills and understandings to take critical action to promote personal, interpersonal, and societal well-being.” (The New Zealand Curriculum, 2007, p. 23)

When considering the amount of time to allocate to sexuality education, schools need to balance content across health education programmes to ensure other key areas of learning from health and physical education are addressed.

The Education Review Office has identified that schools with effective programmes spend at least 12–15 hours per year on sexuality education (ERO, 2007b), with significantly more time allocated in senior secondary programmes.

Classroom programmes must be sensitively developed so that they respect the diverse values and beliefs of students and of the community. Students’ perspectives and requests need to be included in the regular planning and review of sexuality programmes, and students should be consulted about content and approach.

Sexuality in physical education

While most sexuality education will be taught in health education classes, physical education classes have a role to play in establishing a supportive environment and keeping messages consistent with the school’s approach. International research suggests that physical education classes are often not inclusive of diverse students and can reinforce rather than question gender and sexuality stereotypes (Wright, 2004; Sykes, 2011; McGlashan, 2013). Physical education classes, however, present opportunities for exploring and challenging gender stereotypes, and working towards inclusion. Programmes that include a strong focus on values, critical thinking, power sharing, and student voice can enable learning about gender and sexuality issues and be empowering for all students.

Achievement objectives in physical education enable students to discuss and question stereotypes and gender norms. Teachers should also be aware of the limitations of grouping students according to gender. This practice can exclude students who do not conform to gender norms (Sykes, 2011). 

Sexuality education and the underlying concepts of health and physical education 

Hauora

A holistic approach to sexuality education is based on the concept of hauora. This approach recognises that sexuality has social, mental and emotional, and spiritual dimensions as well as physical dimensions. These aspects are interrelated. 

Socio-ecological perspective

A socio-ecological perspective examines the social and cultural influences on how people learn about and express their sexuality. For example, how sexuality is reflected or interpreted in culturally- based values and beliefs, such as body image and attractiveness; how it is treated in peer groups, mass media, or social media; ideas about gender equity and discrimination; and how the law differentiates by gender. 

Health promotion

A health-promotion model means students develop the skills to take care of their sexual health and are helped to identify and access support. Sexuality education should be supported by school policies and practices and by links with relevant community agencies (See the section Sexuality in the wider school). Students can take health promotion action within schools and communities to advocate for access to services, to raise awareness of sexuality and gender issues, and to show support for diversity. Students can be involved in communicating between schools and communities in relation to sexuality issues and programmes. 

Attitudes and values

Here students develop attitudes of respect and of care and concern for themselves and other people. They develop the skills of examining people’s attitudes, values, and beliefs and understanding about rights and responsibilities.

Ethics and social justice are key concerns in this regard. 

Designing a sexuality education programme

The following tables show suggested learning intentions for sexuality education - what students should know or be able to do at each learning level. These may assist schools to design sexuality education programmes. The tables unpack the Health and Physical Education achievement objectives with a sexuality education focus. The letter and number at the start of each indicator reference the relevant strand and achievement objectives. Teachers should refer to The New Zealand Curriculum, 2007, Health and Physical Education Achievement Objective chart, to become familiar with achievement objectives at each level.

Key 

Letter refers to strand:

A – Personal health and physical development

B – Movement concepts and motor skills 

C – Relationships with other people

D – Healthy communities and environments 

Number relates to related achievement objective.

Health and Physical Education in The New Zealand Curriculum – Suggested learning intentions for sexuality education: 
Level 1
Knowledge, understandings, and skills relating to sexual development – physical, emotional, and social  Personal and interpersonal skills and related attitudes Understandings and skills to enhance relationships; think critically about sexuality in society 

A1: Describing changes in growth patterns and identifying body parts 

A3: Identifying safe and unsafe touching and the importance of respect 

B2: Engaging in games and physical activities and including others 

A2 & C2: Playing together in positive ways with others 

A4: Respecting self and others 

C1: Making friends

C1: Relating to friends and classmates 

C3: Expressing ideas and feelings. Listening to others 

D1 & 2: Setting classroom rules 

A4: Describing different types of families 

A4: Describing themselves and their family 

D1 & 2: Dealing with bullying and harassment and speaking out for others 

Level 2
Knowledge, understandings, and skills relating to sexual development – physical, emotional, and social  Personal and interpersonal skills and related attitudes Understandings and skills to enhance relationships; think critically about sexuality in society 

A1: Describing stages of growth and development needs, including hygiene practices 

A1: Describing personal strategies for coping with social and physical changes 

A2 & B2: Playing in positive and inclusive ways with others and describing benefits to well-being 

A3: Identifying risks and planning safety strategies 

A4: Describing unique personal qualities 

A2: Promoting a positive and inclusive body image 

A4: Self worth: identifying gender and social strengths 

C2: Identifying shared and different personal and social characteristics 

C2: Affirming diversity, questioning gender stereotypes 

C3: Expressing and affirming needs and feelings, and listening to others 

D1: Considering and demonstrating respect, manaakitanga, aroha, and responsibility 

B2: Questioning and discussing gender stereotypes in games and physical activities 

C1: Planning and demonstrating ways to enhance family, classroom, and wider school relationships 

D1: Describing different views of gender and families from Māori, Pākehā, Pasifika, and Asian perspectives. 

D2: Identifying locally available health care services 

D3: Contributing to developing a supportive social environment 

D3: Describing school values related to inclusion and diversity 

Level 3
Knowledge, understandings, and skills relating to sexual development – physical, emotional, and social  Knowledge, understandings, and skills to enhance sexual and reproductive health  Personal and interpersonal skills and related attitudes  Understandings and skills to enhance relationships; think critically about sexuality in society 

A1: Developing knowledge of puberty, and growth and development needs 

A2: Developing positive body image 

A3: Identifying risks and planning safety strategies 

D3: Describing locally available health care services 

A2 & B4: Affirming diversity and enhancing relationships in games and physical activities 

A4: Self worth: identifying and affirming the feelings and beliefs of self and others 

A4: Describing personal characteristics and gender identities 

C1: Making friends and supporting others. Being inclusive 

C2: Equity issues: recognising and challenging bullying, stereotypes, and body image messages 

C3: Assertiveness skills: identifying pressures from others and from own feelings. Demonstrating assertive responses to pressure 

D1: Recognising media, social media, and consumer influences 

A1 & C1: Choosing, making, maintaining, and changing friends 

B4: Exploring how media representations of games and sport can reinforce gender stereotypes 

C2: Exploring and critiquing online, social, and popular media representations of gender, sexual orientation, and body image 

C2: Recognising discrimination and acting to support others 

D2: Developing strategies for enhancing family well-being 

D2: Exploring community events that celebrate and affirm diversity 

D3: Developing harassment policies, including strategies for social media and online contexts 

D4: Affirming diverse gender identities 

Level 4
Knowledge, understandings, and skills relating to sexual development – physical, emotional, and social  Knowledge, understandings, and skills to enhance sexual and reproductive health  Personal and interpersonal skills and related attitudes  Understandings and skills to enhance relationships; think critically about sexuality in society 

A1: Developing knowledge about, and adjusting to pubertal change 

A1 & C1: Exploring concepts of love, attraction, and romance 

A1: Developing knowledge about conception and contraception 

A4: Identifying how social messages regarding body image and gender affect self worth 

A4: Describing personal gender identity and critiquing media messages about gender, relationships, and sexuality 

A1: Managing pubertal change 

D2: Accessing health care agencies and evaluating their roles 

B4: Participating in physical activities and reflecting on the links between various physical activities and gender norms 

B4: Exploring different cultural perspectives on gender and sport 

A3: Recognising and dealing with harassment and abuse, including in online and social media contexts 

A3 & C2: Planning strategies for supporting self and others in online environments 

A4: Identifying the influence of gender and sexuality stereotypes on self worth 

C2: Supporting the rights and feelings of self and others 

C3: Identifying pressures in intimate relationships and developing assertiveness skills 

C3: Identifying the importance of positive and supportive intimate and family relationships 

C3: Demonstrating assertiveness and problem-solving skills applicable to family relationships, friendships, and intimate relationships 

D1: Recognising lifestyle factors, media influences, and stereotypes 

A3: Dealing with harassment 

A4: Critiquing dominant messages about body image and body size, and affirming diversity 

C1: Recognising the effects of changing roles on relationships 

D1: Critiquing gendered and sexualised media images 

D1: Critiquing heteronormative messages and practices in the school and media 

D3: Developing policies for supporting diversity of gender and sexual identities 

Level 5
Knowledge, understandings, and skills relating to sexual development – physical, emotional, and social  Knowledge, understandings, and skills to enhance sexual and reproductive health  Personal and interpersonal skills and related attitudes  Understandings and skills to enhance relationships; think critically about sexuality in society 

A1: Developing knowledge about sexual maturation – physical, mental, emotional, social 

A1: Identifying strategies for building resilience 

A2: Describing how physical activity contributes to positive body image 

A3: Developing knowledge about decision making
in intimate relationships, including sexual intimacy, conception, and contraception 

A3: Identifying risks in online and social media environments and acting in ways to enhance well-being 

A4: Self worth: investigating mana, body image, culture, sexual attraction, sexual orientation, and gender 

A1: Managing sexual health 

A3: Investigating safety procedures and strategies for sexual health, including access to health care, contraception, issues of consent 

C3: Assertiveness skills: negotiating intimacy, resisting pressure, care, and respect 

D2: Investigating health services 

D3: Identifying rights
and responsibilities in all relationships, including intimate relationships 

B4 & D4: Investigating gender and sexuality issues in sport and physical activity, and instigating inclusive practices 

C2: Understanding the influence of attitudes and values on the safety of self and others 

C1: Identifying a wide range of issues in intimate relationships and planning strategies for positive outcomes 

D1: Describing different views of gender and sexual identity from Māori, Pākehā, Pasifika, and Asian perspectives 

D1: Evaluating societal (including online) messages about bodies, gender, and sexual identity, and questioning and discussing stereotypes and narrow social norms 

D3: Identifying legalities in relation to sex and relationships, including issues of consent 

D4: Planning and carrying out actions that support diverse gender and sexual identities 

D4: Evaluating the availability of health and student support services in the school and local community 

Level 6
Knowledge, understandings, and skills relating to sexual development – physical, emotional, and social  Knowledge, understandings, and skills to enhance sexual and reproductive health  Personal and interpersonal skills and related attitudes  Understandings and skills to enhance relationships; think critically about sexuality in society 

A4: Celebrating individuality and affirming diversity 

A1: Reflecting on personal values and choices 

A1: Maintaining and enhancing well-being in intimate relationships, including rights and responsibilities 

A1: Making choices about sexual activities 

A3: Identifying risks and developing skills for safer sexual practices, including preventing pregnancy and sexually transmissible infections 

D2: Evaluating community sexual health and support agencies 

A1: Problem-solving and decision-making in relation to sexual activity and changes 

A3: Identifying risks and planning for safe engagement in a range of social contexts (for example at parties) 

A4: Demonstrating understanding of personal identity factors: gender, sexual identity, and friendships 

C2: Identifying influences and pressures, including family, media, youth cultures, online 

C2: Taking responsibility 

C3: Demonstrating interpersonal skills for responding to needs, changes, and challenges 

C3: Demonstrating interpersonal skills to advocate for others’ rights 

D1: Analysing influences affecting pregnancy, screening, and other aspects of sexual health 

A1: Investigating the reasons for choices that other people make 

C2: Recognising different values and taking responsibility 

C3: Planning strategies and demonstrating interpersonal skills for responding to needs and challenges 

D1: Advocating for health services and the promotion of diversity in the school and community 

D3: Comparing and contrasting different values regarding sex, intimacy, and gender identities, and taking ethical standpoints 

D3 & 4: Investigating community initiatives and organisations, human rights, and laws related to gender, equity, and sexual diversity 

Level 7
Knowledge, understandings, and skills relating to sexual development – physical, emotional, and social  Knowledge, understandings, and skills to enhance sexual and reproductive health  Personal and interpersonal skills and related attitudes  Understandings and skills to enhance relationships; think critically about sexuality in society 

A1: Identifying lifespan issues

A3: Identifying risks in intimate relationships

A4 and C2: Critically evaluating beliefs, attitudes, and practices that reinforce stereotypes and influence choices

A4: Critically evaluating how social and historical gender and sexuality norms continue to affect identities and practices

A4: Evaluating and managing personal identity in changing relationships

A1: Identifying sexual health needs and developing strategies to ensure well-being

A3: Understanding safer sexual practices

D1: Understanding how community events and organisations promote sexual health

D2: Advocating for community agencies and student health centres

D3: Evaluating human rights and school policies

C4: Evaluating information, making informed decisions, and demonstrating relationship skills

C3: Evaluating relationship changes and demonstrating skills to manage conflict, breakups, and other changes

C3 & D2: Using personal, interpersonal, and societal strategies to address issues related to gender and sexuality

A4: Evaluating societal and cultural influences on partnerships, families, and childcare relationships

A4: Explaining influences on gender and sexual identities

C1: Analysing close friendships, partnerships, and social interactions

C2: Analysing beliefs, attitudes, and practices that reinforce stereotypes and influence choices (such as sexism, homophobia)

D2: Advocating for diversity

Level 8
Knowledge, understandings, and skills relating to sexual development – physical, emotional, and social  Knowledge, understandings, and skills to enhance sexual and reproductive health  Personal and interpersonal skills and related attitudes Understandings and skills to enhance relationships; think critically about sexuality in society 

A1: Critically evaluating data and devising strategies to meet current and future sexual health needs

A4: Critically analysing gender and sexuality in society 

A1: Evaluating future sexual health needs

A3: Analysing ethical issues and dilemmas that influence sexual health

D1: Critically analysing practices and legislation

D2: Justifying equitable access to services 

C1: Critically analysing effective relationships in diverse contexts

C3: Analysing and evaluating interpersonal skills and issues of social justice and equity

D1: Critically analysing attitudes, practices, and legislation for promoting safer sexual practices and well-being 

A1: Critically analysing the impact of parenting and child care

A3: Analysing ethical issues and dilemmas that influence sexual health

A3 & D1: Critically analysing new technologies and current legislation

C2: Promoting positive, equitable, and supportive relationships in families and partnerships

C2 & D1: Critically analysing gender, sexuality, and equity issues and advocating for sexual justice

D1: Critically evaluating societal attitudes to sex and sexuality, including in families, communities, religious contexts, and online

D2: Critically evaluating health practices and policies and advocating for equitable distribution of resources

D3: Using health promotion strategies to enhance sexual health and affirm diversity

Sexuality education content at different levels of the curriculum

The levels here are a guide. Decisions will be informed by student needs and school goals. 

Level  Sexuality education content 
Junior primary (years 1–3) 

At these levels, sexuality education will focus on learning about growth, development, the human body, friendships, and family relationships. Students will describe changes in growth and identify body parts and developmental needs. Students will discuss family relationships and affirm and show respect for diverse family structures. Gender stereotypes and norms will be questioned and discussed, and students will take action to support the well-being of others and learn friendship skills. Students will learn about basic human rights in relation to relationships and identity. Students will learn to express feelings and how they contribute to positive and inclusive environments.

It is recommended that discussions about identity, personal health, body parts, and families are woven into learning throughout the year and that appropriate and diverse resources are used to engage students in discussions. 

Middle and upper primary (years 4–6) 

At these levels, students will learn about pubertal change and body growth and development. This may include human reproduction. They will learn how to support themselves and others during change and develop a positive body image. They will describe how social messages and stereotypes about relationships, sexuality, and gender affect well-being, and will actively affirm the rights of themselves and others. They will reflect on friendships and plan strategies for positive and supportive relationships. They will identify risks and issues in online and social media environments and question messages related to gender, sexuality, and diversity. They will identify how to access health care.

It is recommended that specific time is dedicated to learning about sexuality. 

Intermediate (years 7–8) 

At these levels, students will learn how to support themselves and others during pubertal change and develop a positive body image. Intimate relationships and sexual attraction will be discussed and respect and communication skills highlighted. Processes of conception and child birth will be included and students will identify health care resources in the community. Students will critically explore how

gender and sexuality messages affect well-being and plan strategies to support inclusion, diversity, and respect in friendships and relationships (including in online environments). Students will analyse how sexuality is represented in social media and mass media, and critique dominant messages. Students will develop assertiveness skills and recognise instances of bullying and discrimination and question and discuss gender norms.

The Education Review Office has identified that schools with effective programmes spend at least 12–15 hours per year on sexuality education (ERO, 2007b). 

Junior secondary (years 9–10) 

At these levels, students will learn about intimate relationships and explore positive sexual health. They will learn to manage their own sexual health and how to access health care. Long-term and short-term effects of sexual decisions will be examined. Programmes will include content covering conception, contraception, sexually transmissible infections, and other aspects of sexual decision-making. Programmes will affirm sexual diversity and gender identity. Students will learn about the physical and emotional effects of sexual identity, sexual attraction, and sexual maturation. Students will critique dominant cultural messages about sexual behaviour (including those in mass and online media) and identify skills for positive and supportive intimate relationships. Human rights, consent, and the importance of choice and agency in relationships will be discussed. Online and social media environments will be explored and students will plan strategies for positive and supportive engagement. Strategies for seeking help and support will be planned.

The Education Review Office has identified that schools with effective programmes spend at least 12–15 hours per year on sexuality education (ERO, 2007b). 

Senior secondary (years 11–13) 

At this level students will critically analyse a wide range of issues relating to gender, sexuality, and sexual health. They will explore pressure, social norms, gender identity, and cultural issues relating to sexual health. They will evaluate community agencies, the politics of sexuality and sexual health, and recognise positive and supportive intimate relationships. Students will critically analyse issues of safety and risk, and research positive sexual health practices. Future sexual health needs will be identified and cultural norms critiqued. Students at this level will be working across the school to affirm diversity, human rights, and positive sexuality, as well as to advocate for access to support and health care.

It is recommended that all students engage in sexuality education in years 11–13. This should not be limited to students completing courses and standards in health education under the NCEA.

The Education Review Office has identified that schools with effective programmes spend at least 12–15 hours per year on sexuality education (ERO, 2007b), with significantly more time allocated in senior secondary programmes. 

Sexual violence

Programmes for the prevention of sexual violence are an important part of health education. Issues of coercion, consent, and safety in intimate relationships are important aspects to explicitly teach in sexuality education programmes. Assertive communication skills and awareness of personal values, ethics, and respect for the feelings and decisions of others are vital in this regard.

Sexuality education should not, however, be framed by notions of risk and safety (this can lead to programmes that are driven by fear and blame). Teachers may consider separating lessons that focus on sexual violence, safety, and abuse and addressing these issues in lessons on mental health, keeping safe, or during alcohol and other drugs education units. Effective sexuality education will enable young people to develop the confidence and knowledge needed to make good decisions. 

Effective and empowering approaches to sexuality education for Māori students

Culturally relevant, whānau-focused, and evidence-based sexuality education can be an effective strategy for supporting Māori students to achieve overall success. Schools may wish to consider the following strategies:

  • Draw on Māori concepts of te ira tangata – the physical and spiritual endowment of children and the importance of nurturing both in their education – as described in Te Aho Matua (Te Rūnanga Nui o ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori, 2000).
  • Invite students to explore notions of whakapapa or their origins, using the important questions “ko wai koe” (who are you?) and “no hea koe” (where are you from/where are your whānau from?) as starting points.
  • Use stories about how the world and everything in it came to be, for example, the stories of Rangi and Papa and of the children of Rangi and Papa. Identify important deities such as Hineahuone and Hinetitama.
  • Encourage the use of waiata (songs, chants), karakia (ritual chants and prayers), purakau (legends), and whakatauki (proverbs) to teach young people about their place in the world, their place in society, important values, expectations, and relevant descriptions of places and events. (The International Research Institute for Māori and Indigenous Education, 2004)
  • Introduce the concept of sexuality as one of the elements that contributes to general health and well-being (that is, hauora).
  • Affirm and reinforce the strengths and value of being Māori in New Zealand, and across the world, evidenced by the relationships that Māori have with other indigenous peoples.

Effective and empowering approaches to sexuality for Pasifika students

In Pasifika cultures, gender and sexuality are important concepts and are considered sacred. In many Pacific cultures, sex is often viewed as a taboo topic. This may be linked with both cultural and religious beliefs (an issue that applies also across various Pākehā, Māori, Asian, and other communities). Gender and sexuality can be a difficult topic of discussion for parents and teachers alike. Pacific peoples place a high importance on relationships. Examples of this include the relationship between a brother and sister in both Samoan and Tongan cultural contexts. Traditionally this relationship is considered to be a significant one and, as a result, discussing sex or sexual matters is considered inappropriate between these siblings. This can place considerable strain on young people who may have issues that they want to discuss but cannot find the appropriate family members to engage with. Schools need to consider student preferences during lessons when members of the same wider family might be in the same class.

The school and family community can be strengthened and empowered through positive reciprocal relationships where healthy and positive messages and views of sex and sexuality are reinforced. Pacific expressions of sexuality are practised and reinforced in many cultural forms such as art, language, song, dance, drama, music, stories, and myths and legends, and in dress, food and other cultural contexts. In today’s school environment it is reasonable for these creative and innovative approaches, that are intertwined in Pacific cultures and identities, to be used as a resource for engaging young people in discussions.

Using Pacific language terms in sexuality lessons is important. For example, Fa’afafine (Samoan), Fakaleiti (Tongan), Akava’ine (Cook Islands) are all terms used to describe unique and traditional gender identities for males who identify themselves as having the spirit of a woman, or as behaving in the fashion of a female. It is important to recognise that these groups are unique to the Pacific and do not fit neatly into western categories of male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or transsexual (Veukiso-Ulugia, 2013).

While teachers are preparing classroom lessons it can be helpful to do research on students’ names, families, and cultural backgrounds. 

Effective programmes and pedagogies

The effective pedagogy section of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) describes how the following approaches have a positive impact on learning.

  • Creating a supportive learning environment
  • Encouraging reflective thought and action
  • Enhancing the relevance of new learning
  • Making connections to prior learning and experience
  • Providing sufficient opportunities to learn
  • Teaching as inquiry
  • e-Learning and pedagogy.

Research and evaluation shows that effective and successful sexuality education occurs when enough time is dedicated to programmes and teachers are confident and knowledgeable enough to deliver programmes that are meaningful, student-centred, and up-to-date (Allen, 2005; Tasker, 2013; Education Review Office, 2007a, 2007b). Crucially, teachers need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are appropriate for sexuality education (see below for indicators of best practice), as well as engaged in ongoing professional learning.

The Education Review Office offers a useful list of the common characteristics of successful sexuality education programmes.

Good programmes:

  • are up-to-date, informed by theory and evidence, and are well planned
  • are taught by confident and culturally-connected teachers
  • are integrated into the curriculum, with clear achievement objectives identified
  • are aimed at influencing specific risk factors/protective factors/core competencies
  • are focused on developing personal and social skills
  • are developmentally, personally, and culturally appropriate
  • include critical thinking and reflection
  • are not focused solely on dangers, risks, and prevention but explore the meanings associated with sex and sexuality for individuals and society
  • are assessed according to learning (not behaviour) 
  • connect with the social worlds of children and young people
  • are informed by the needs and perspectives of students 
  • link with families and communities
  • include careful consideration of environmental influences and contemporary issues and practices
  • use active and interactive teaching methods, including inquiry-based learning
  • are planned, delivered, and evaluated by educated and supported teachers who have the requisite knowledge, and the appropriate skills, values, and qualities
  • are resourced appropriately, including in relation to teacher professional development needs
  • are supported by documented guidelines and school-wide practices.

(Education Review Office, 2007a, 2007b; Allen, 2007a; Allen, 2005)

This list may serve as a means to evaluate programmes within the whole-school review. The Education Review Office (2007a, 2007b) noted that programmes need to be regularly updated to meet the needs of students as times change. They observed that these elements were evident in the most successful programmes:

  • The resources were up-to-date, appropriate, and modified to better meet the needs of the students.
  • The teachers were highly committed, confident, and provided with professional development opportunities.
  • The diverse needs of students were met so that students felt included and different cultural perspectives were respected.
  • The teachers used, collated, and analysed assessment data, including student self-assessment, to review programme implementation.
  • The students were motivated to learn and valued sexuality education highly in an environment where they felt safe to ask questions and where there was a good rapport between teachers and students. 
  • The schools had a strong emphasis on a culture of school-wide respect and provided effective support networks for students.

There is general agreement that one-off sessions and lecture-style delivery are ineffective (Families Commission, 2013; Education Review Office, 2007; Allen, 2005).

Support for teachers

Sexuality education differs from other curriculum content because of its sensitive subject matter. It requires teachers who are not only well informed in this area, but also well supported in on-going ways. Teachers need to be comfortable with their own sexual identity and able to talk openly about sexuality. Professional learning opportunities are important for teachers to stay up-to-date and to access strategies for best practice. Effective professional learning is embedded within the work of teachers and is integrated into the school year. Teacher-led learning communities can enable teachers to support one another and provide opportunities for them to reflect on programmes and resources. Teachers also need access to the latest research and developments in the field of sexuality education and up-to-date resources, as well and personal and professional support. A number of government-funded agencies offer support and resources around teaching sexuality education. Many groups, including Family Planning, run courses for teachers and offer other support. See the section References, links, and support for details.

Students in years 11−13

Students in years 11–13 need opportunities to learn about sexuality and relationships. In these years young people are more likely to be in intimate relationships. Drawing on research in schools, Allen (2005) notes that “programming mean[s] that health education is not always offered at the time of first sexual intercourse, which in New Zealand is on average 17 years” (Allen, 2005, p. 393).

While each school will differ, there are several possibilities for including learning for all students:

  • Establishing interest groups to explore topical issues
  • Giving students year-long access to health services
  • Showing students how to access information they might need
  • Taking opportunities to build content across the curriculum.

Programmes should be planned, delivered, and evaluated by educators with the background, knowledge, confidence, and skills to teach sexuality education effectively. Such programmes can link with the wider responsibilities of schools to ensure pastoral care and maintain safe physical and emotional environments.

Assessment for learning in sexuality education

Meaningful assessment is as important in sexuality education as it is in any other area of the curriculum. Tasker (2013, p.18–19) notes that:

“As well as providing information about student achievement, the main purpose of assessment is to improve student learning. Assessment can be formative or summative. Formative assessment is ongoing throughout a unit of work and may occur several times within a lesson. Summative assessment is done at the end of the unit of work or the end of a year. Ongoing formative assessment improves student motivation through providing feedback for the students about their progress to date, and also feed-forward that helps the student with their next steps for learning. Formative assessment also helps the teacher make decisions about their next steps in teaching.”

In the context of sexuality education, it is important that achievement is measured against learning intentions which link with achievement objectives from the health and physical education learning area. 


Footer: