Sexuality education

You may be interested in how sexuality education is taught in New Zealand, how you can support your child’s learning, and how you can have your say.

What is sexuality education?

Sexuality education is part of Health and Physical Education learning area of the New Zealand Curriculum.

Children and young people learn about themselves and develop knowledge and skills about acting in positive and respectful ways with others.

Sexuality education also has a place in the wider school by helping to create a safe physical and emotional environment for everybody.

Effective sexuality education takes a positive view of sexual development as a natural part of growing up. It is vital to the overall well-being of children and young people.

It’s been taught in schools since 1999, and is also part of relationship education.

Diagram of sexuality education in the wider school environment.

What will my child learn?

The kinds of things your child will learn will be appropriate for their age. What children learn at each level is guided by the New Zealand Curriculum, but individual schools and communities decide how this will be taught.

At primary school children are likely to learn about:

  • friendships
  • 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:

  • puberty
  • 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
  • contraception
  • managing their health
  • the influence that society has on the way we view things like gender and sexuality.

Programmes that prevent sexual violence are an important part of health education. Secondary learners are likely to look at coercion, consent, and safety in intimate relationships.

Many young people look for information on the Internet, but they also need to feel part of a classroom environment where it’s OK to ask questions, and they can ask for help if they need it.

In New Zealand health and physical education is compulsory in years 1-10, and can be taken as an option in years 11-13 with NCEA achievement standards.

Do schools have to consult with parents?

Boards of trustees have to consult with school communities at least once every two years on their draft health curriculum. This includes how the school will implement health education, including sexuality education.

This is your chance to ask questions, share your ideas, and express your views about what you would like to see happen in this part of the curriculum.

How the consultation happens is up to each school. After consultation the school’s board will approve how the health curriculum will be taught.

National education guidelines flowchart.

Legally, schools have to comply with the National Education Guidelines. Under the guidelines boards of trustees have to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for all students.

Does my child have to participate in sexuality education?

You can write to your school’s principal and ask that your child is excluded from any particular part of sexuality education. If you want to do this it is important that you have a good understanding of what will be taught and why, so talk to your child’s teacher first.

Are teachers trained for this work?

Your child’s teacher will be qualified and registered. Secondary health teachers will have had specialised professional development in this area. Primary teachers may have received specialist professional development in sexuality education as part of their training, or attended courses and workshops during the school year. Both primary and secondary teachers may work with outside presenters to deliver parts of the programme.

Will using social media and the Internet safely be covered?

This depends on your school and what is included in your school’s health curriculum. The online world is a part of many children’s learning, from new entrants right through to high school. The responsibility for helping children to manage this learning in a safe way is best done through schools, parents, whānau and family members working in partnership.

Will my culture, religious beliefs and values be respected?

There’ll be a range of views in your community about the place of sexuality education, some of these will be based on culture and, or religious beliefs. Schools try hard to respect differences in culture and religion.

If you are concerned about sexuality education, it’s important to talk to your school first. Your child’s teacher may not know about your beliefs, or the things that are important to you, so make sure you tell them. If you’re still concerned, talk to the principal or contact your school’s board of trustees.

You have the right to withdraw your child from particular parts of sexuality education by writing to the principal.

What does the research say?

Some of the things we know that are relevant to secondary learners include:

  • sexuality education offers a place where communication, assertiveness, problem solving, and decision-making within friendships, online, in intimate relationships, families, and wider communities can be looked at
  • it is important to spend enough time on sexuality education programmes
  • when teaching and learning programmes are well planned and taught by well-informed teachers who are up-to-date about good practice, this makes a big difference to the learning and overall sexual health of young people
  • teachers can best address concerns in the area of sexual health by starting with young people’s perspectives and views about what is important to them
  • sexuality education programmes need to engage, empower and inform rather than focus on risk. Programmes that do this are shown to reduce risky behaviour
  • while attitudes to sexual diversity are becoming more inclusive in New Zealand, young people who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual often feel isolated, and less supported at school.transgender students are a small but important group. In a national survey of 8,000 secondary students 96 (1.2%) said they were transgender, and 202 (2.5%) said they were not sure.

Changes in health and sexuality:

  • a majority of young people between the ages of 13 and 17 in New Zealand has never had sex (75.6 per cent).
  • most young people now look for information online, and this includes information about health and about sexuality.
  • the abortion rate for young women aged 15–19 years has decreased from 27 per 1,000 in 2007 to 16 per 1000 in 2012.
  • the percentage of sexually active students who always use contraception (to prevent pregnancy) has remained unchanged at about 60 per cent since 2001.
  • New Zealand has a pretty high level of teenage pregnancy among OECD countries (10 per cent of all live births are to women under 20 years of age).
  • pornography is more accessible.
  • social media, Internet sites with sexual content and sexual bullying via instant messaging and apps are new issues. For example, some young people receive unwanted sexual material (e.g. pornographic images, videos or words) on their mobile phone and/or on the Internet.

How can I get involved?

You have a very important role to play by answering questions, talking to your child about what's on their mind, what they are learning, and connecting the learning with your life at home. Children’s confidence and knowledge grow when schools, parents, whānau, and family work in partnership. If your child comes up against a difficult situation they will draw on all they have learned at home and at school.

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