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Sexuality education in the wider school

While dedicated curriculum time is vital to the success of sexuality education, wider school programmes and support services, including those led by students, will greatly enhance student well-being. Successful programmes will include a whole-school approach (Tasker, 2013).

Leadership and school culture

Boards of trustees, principals, and senior and middle leaders all have a role to play in creating the cultural conditions in which sexuality education programmes are successfully implemented. Leaders set the tone of the school and contribute to building a positive and inclusive whole-school culture where diversity is valued and students feel supported, visible, and safe, regardless of their sexual and gender identity. This includes valuing the sexual and gender identities of school staff members and students, and valuing staff and student voices.

Being inclusive and valuing diversity

School uniforms can reinforce gender norms, so schools may consider offering gender-neutral clothing choices when uniforms come up for review. Schools may also consider reviewing options around toilet facilities to ensure students have choices of safe spaces. Toilets can be unsafe environments for students who do not conform to gender norms.

Events to which partners are invited, like school balls, can be an opportunity to strengthen the wider school’s contribution to valuing diversity if same-sex as well as other-sex partners can attend. Additionally, schools may wish to adopt a harm-minimisation approach prior to such events by providing students with information about how they can keep themselves safe before, during, and after the event.

Sports procedures and policies should be inclusive and ensure that all students can participate regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Where coaches are involved in school sport, they need to understand the school policies around the safety and support of all students (for example, ensuring homophobic, sexist, and other discriminatory language is not tolerated in sporting practices and engagements) and up-skilled if necessary. All school extra-curricular activities should be inclusive of all students and encourage diverse participation.

Schools that have on-site marae can use the facilities to support teaching sexuality education, using Māori origin narratives, whakapapa, waiata, karakia, te kawa me te tikanga o te marae, and so on. Kapa haka is an excellent medium for teaching sexuality and relationship education. Waka ama is another excellent medium for teaching sexuality and relationships, in particular traditional narratives about the importance of collectivity as compared to individualism, the roles of men and women, and the importance of relationships between people and the environment.

Dealing with bullying

School procedures for educating against and dealing with incidents of bullying should directly address bullying related to sexual identity and gender orientation, sexist language, and homophobic name calling and mocking. Work in this area should include specific reference to inappropriate use of social media and websites. Bullying incidents involving gender and homophobic slurs should be recorded as such and monitored. Students need to be made aware of the issues associated with photographing others in sexualised ways, and school procedures should guard against these practices. Bullying and health and safety policies should outline clear guidelines linked to the school charter, mission, and values. 

Access to health and support services

Students should be able to access support services, including medical health professionals such as nurses, doctors, and counsellors. Many schools offer these services within the school. The Health Select Committee report (Hutchison, 2013) found that schools with dedicated health services greatly reduce risk factors and issues of health care access for young people. This finding is supported by international evidence (Bearinger et al, 2007). On-site services reduce issues of access and embarrassment for students and allow them to seek immediate support and advice in a safe and supportive environment. Where access to on-site services is not possible, students should be supported to access professionals outside the school. Health professionals can also be consulted about programmes and are a useful resource for teachers, both in planning programmes and as guest presenters alongside the class teacher.

Engaging with outside providers

While classroom and health teachers are the experts and are ultimately responsible for curriculum delivery, a wide range of outside providers is available to support schools to implement sexuality programmes. It is not considered best practice, however, to hand over the responsibility for programmes to outside providers. Classroom teachers are best because they are more likely to have trusting relationships with young people and connections to family and communities. Where outside providers are engaged, services should be incorporated within existing programmes and linked with achievement objectives from the health and physical education learning area of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007). Teachers should be involved in the planning and implementation, including consideration of whether they should be present or not during sessions.

Some external groups have specialist knowledge and expertise and can assist in the development of effective and meaningful learning. If engaging outside providers, school leaders and teachers may consider asking:

  • How does this agency extend and add to learning opportunities for my students?
  • How will this learning assist with addressing the health and physical education achievement objectives in our sexuality education programme?
  • What are the values of this organisation? Do they align with the values of The New Zealand Curriculum and the values of our school?
  • What expertise do their staff bring and what pedagogical approaches will be used?
  • Are their practices culturally appropriate for our students?
  • How is this agency funded and what is their purpose for existing? What is their agenda?

Outside provider programmes and services should be evaluated alongside other learning opportunities. Lecture style presentations and other one-off programmes that focus on delivering information are not effective. Such presentations and programmes tend not to take into account individual student's learning needs or the particular school contexts in which they are delivered (Tasker, 2013).

Targeted programmes

When specific issues arise in the school, targeted programmes in classes, assemblies, form time, or parents' meetings can be useful to educate the whole school community and raise awareness of support systems, school policies, and the importance of respect for others (for example, in relation to bullying).

Youth leadership, student voice, and support groups

Many schools have teacher-led and/or student-led support groups for sexuality. These include groups such as the gay-straight alliance, peer sexuality support groups, and school health councils. These groups can provide information and support for individual students as well as advocate for change within the school to ensure supportive and inclusive environments are maintained. Student voices should be actively sought and valued so that students’ ideas, perspectives, issues, and responses are included in all reviews, changes, and the day-to-day operations of the school. 

Considering student needs and communicating with families

Schools determine the needs of their students in sexuality education. The research evidence provided in section 1 of this guide and elsewhere provides general direction, while consultation with communities and students will provide more located information. Attitudes to sexuality education will differ across and within communities and across generations within families. Young people may be negotiating the differing views and values of their families and those of popular culture and media. Discussions about these conflicts and helping students to think through these differences is important. See section 6 for more ideas about consulting and communicating with families.

Teen parent units

A number of New Zealand secondary schools have teen parenting units. These units provide support for teen parents while allowing them to continue their studies and learn parenting skills. The units are examples of a positive and supportive approach and they help to reduce social stigma and stereotypes about teen parenting. Research suggests that teens often experience positive life changes when they become parents (Allen, 2005; Fitzpatrick, 2013). It is important that schools with teen parents provide supportive and safe environments for these young people. All schools have a responsibility to provide education and support to all students, and those who are parents have equal rights to access quality schooling.

Whole school review

Sexuality education should be included as a specific element of the whole-school review. This can be linked into consultation cycles.

The following indicators (Education Review Office, 2007b, p.55) can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the content of sexuality education programmes:

  • The school guidelines for sexuality education have appropriate sequences and coherent progression over levels.
  • There are appropriate procedures to determine students’ learning needs.
  • There are appropriate procedures to determine parents’ and caregivers’ concerns and ideas for their children’s learning.
  • There is a match between the identified learning needs of students and the taught programme.
  • The taught programme provides students with opportunities for learning about positive sexuality and opportunities to learn about aspects of sexuality other than physical changes at puberty.
  • Elements of sexuality education are effectively integrated into the wider health and physical education learning programmes and through other curriculum areas.
  • The school meets the legislative requirements for consultation about curriculum implementation.