Sexuality education key to ensuring student wellbeing & healthy relationships supported
The Ministry of Education says sexuality education is an important part of supporting student wellbeing and the development of healthy relationships.
ERO’s report, Promoting Wellbeing through Sexuality Education: 2018, released today, found that many schools were struggling to implement sexuality education that met the needs of their learners.
Ministry of Education Acting Deputy Secretary Pauline Cleaver says that the report also identified a number of schools which were doing a good job, and encouraged other schools to look at those case studies for examples of what they could do.
“I’d also encourage schools to revisit the Ministry’s guidelines, which the report found were excellent. Effective education in this area can equip students with the skills, attitudes and understanding necessary to support positive environments and relationships for themselves and their peers – including those with diverse cultures, genders or sexuality.”
“Creating an inclusive environment, free of discrimination, enables students to feel physically and emotionally safe, supports academic achievement and student wellbeing, and reduces incidents of bullying.
“This is tricky terrain, and one in which schools need to work in partnership with parents. While the curriculum sets the broad requirements of what students are required to be taught, Boards of Trustees need to consult with their students, parents and the community.
In response to the report findings, ERO and the Ministry of Education have developed brochures to support discussions between Boards of Trustees, parents and students about sexuality education.
What does sexuality education cover?
In primary school, children are likely to learn about:
- different kinds of families
- respect for each other and people who are different from them.
In the later years of primary they may also learn about:
- body development and image
- human reproduction
- risks and issues that can arise online and when using social media.
At secondary school young people are likely to learn about:
- positive and supportive intimate relationships
- managing their health
- the influence that society has on how we view things like gender and sexuality.
Good practice examples from ERO’s report
At one good practice college – a large, urban school – the Deputy Principal worked with the mother of a former student to set up a panel of gender and sexuality-diverse adults from the community to talk to staff.
The panel told staff stories of their own experiences at school and what could have been done differently to improve them.
The panel also helped develop a survey for students and advised on how to keep students safe from harassment. For example a classroom is now unlocked at lunchtime so students have a safe place to go if need be.
The Deputy Principal says that seeking to improve and become more inclusive has “become part of who we are”.
In one medium-sized, co-ed college, leaders walk a tightrope reconciling traditional church teachings with the reality of current society. The school board’s policies and procedures demonstrate a Catholic perspective while also promoting an inclusive environment, designed so that all students feel safe.
Examples of their responsiveness to students include supporting a transgender student to change their name on the school roll, and considering how to provide gender-neutral toilets. Senior students were open about their sexuality and say bullying is not an issue at the school.
This school also consults regularly with their parent community through whānau hui, Pacific fono, other parent meetings and surveys. Meanwhile teachers use a wide mix of teaching strategies, including role play, and students can submit questions anonymously to be answered during the unit. Teachers encourage students to debate and explore different attitudes and values.
Annual well-being days are a feature at another co-ed college, with guest experts speaking on a range of subjects and answering questions. Students told ERO they want more days like these.
Social-justice is also a common theme across many of student-led groups, which each have a teacher as a support person.
A support group for gender and sexuality-diverse students has led awareness activities, including a Day of Silence and Pride Week. The group also invited other schools and Members of Parliament to take part in a debate.
In another large co-ed college, students elected to have a same-sex couple as the main characters in their student-directed Shakespeare production. The school also had gender-neutral events at athletics days.
Hui for parents
Teachers wanted to consult more with parents and now arrange whānau hui every term. One parent told ERO they are grateful that the school teaches sexuality education. This is because students are more likely to listen to their teachers than parents. Meanwhile students appreciate the teachers’ efforts to make them feel comfortable learning about sexuality.
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