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What are schools required to do?

Schools are legally required to comply with the National Education Guidelines (consisting of the National Education Goals, the foundation curriculum policy statements, the national curriculum statements, and the National Administration Guidelines).

The National Education Guidelines that support students’ learning in sexuality education are as follows. 

The vision and goals of the school community, as set out in the school’s charter, should incorporate or refer to all policies, programmes, student achievement goals, and procedures for health education. Ideally, the board will consider the question “how might this vision/strategic policy look in the context of sexuality education?” along with other practical “tests”. For example, "how might this take account of priority learners?" 

Section 60B of the Education Act 

Health education is the only part of the school’s curriculum for which the law specifically requires the board of trustees to consult with the school’s community. Section 60B of the Education Act 1989 (as amended in 2001) requires the board to consult with the school community at least once every two years on how the school will implement the health education component of the curriculum. The board is required to adopt a statement on the delivery of the health curriculum following this consultation.

Decisions on contraceptive education should be considered during the consultation process. The 1990 repeal of section 3 of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 removed any legal impediment to young people of any age having access to contraceptive use or to the supply of contraceptive devices. Students can be withdrawn from contraceptive education (under section 25AA of the Education Act).

Reviewing programmes

This diagram outlines a process for reviewing health education programmes that include sexuality education. 

Roles and responsibilities

It is important to clarify the roles that the board of trustees, the principal, other staff, and the wider community play in decision-making on health education programmes.

The board of trustees

The board of trustees is the school’s legal entity and accountable to both the government of the day and the local community. The board is responsible for everything that happens in the school, including delivery of the curriculum, consultation with the local community, and ensuring positive outcomes for every student at the school, as well as school planning and reporting.

With specific reference to sexuality education, the board needs to ensure that the curriculum is delivered and that consultation takes place. The board has to:

  • Ensure that “the school community” to be consulted includes the parents of students enrolled at the school and, in the case of a state-integrated school, the school’s proprietors. The board must also consult with “any other person whom the board considers is part of the school community” for this purpose.
  • Prepare a draft statement on the delivery of health education that describes how the school will implement the health education components of The New Zealand Curriculum.
  • Adopt a method of consultation that it considers will:
    • inform the school community about the content of health education
    • find out the wishes of the school community in terms of how health education 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.
  • Give members of the school community time to comment on the draft.
  • Consider any comments received on the draft.
  • Adopt a statement on the delivery of health education after the process of consultation.

The principal

The principal is the CEO to the board and the professional leader of staff. Their job is to act as professional advisor to the board, implement the board’s decisions, and provide professional leadership to the board’s other employees. The principal:

  • may be delegated by the board of trustees to prepare the draft statement on the delivery of health education and to coordinate the consultation process
  • ensures that any student whose parent has applied in writing to have their child excused from tuition on sexuality education, is excluded from the relevant tuition and is supervised during that tuition
  • ensures that programmes are implemented and evaluated effectively and that adequate time is given to sexuality education and to health education in general.

Proprietors of state-integrated schools

State-integrated schools provide unique special character education as well as making a contribution to the well-being of New Zealand. Proprietors of state-integrated schools must be consulted. 

Parents/caregivers and whānau

Parents and caregivers need sufficient accurate and relevant information from the school to enable them to make an informed decision about their children’s participation in sexuality education. They should also be informed about the rules regarding withdrawal of students from sexuality education and strategies for managing any difference of views or values between home and school.

Parents and caregivers must have the opportunity to become involved in the consultation process.

The middle leader or teacher in charge of health education

Health education is a whole-staff, whole-school responsibility. A teacher or curriculum team may be delegated to lead this curriculum area but it will still require the wholehearted and professional engagement of every member of staff to provide an effective sexuality education programme in the school.

The middle leader responsible for health education may be delegated by the board of trustees to have leadership responsibility for preparing the draft statement on the delivery of health education and for coordinating the consultation process.

The right to withdraw

When the board of trustees has adopted the statement on the delivery of the health curriculum, the school does not need to seek parents’/caregivers’ permission for students to participate in the programme. According to the Education Act (1989; updated in 2001, section 25AA), parents/caregivers may write to the principal requesting to have their child excluded from any particular element of sexuality education in a health education programme. The principal is required to ensure that the student is excluded from the relevant tuition and that the student is supervised during that time.

Answering students’ questions

Teachers are legally entitled to respond to any questions that students ask in formal sexuality education programmes or at any other time. Some questions may be difficult to answer and teachers may wish to delay their answers and seek advice and support from other health education teachers (or via professional development contacts). One possibility is to set up a process such as a question box (where students can post anonymous questions and teachers can answer them at their leisure, with time for giving thought to the appropriate answers). Discussion about respectful questions is important and teachers are entitled to refuse to answer personal questions.

Wider community agencies

Wider community agencies (including, but not limited to, advocacy groups, counselling agencies, social services) may provide valuable advice and support the school’s staff and board in delivering an effective and appropriate sexuality education programme.

Effective teachers

Quality sexuality education programmes need effective teachers. Programme evaluation should include links to Registered Teacher Criteria, Tātaiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners, the Code of Ethics for Registered Teachers and general performance appraisal procedures within the school. This includes provision for effective professional learning in the area of sexuality education.