Relationships and sexuality education

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

What is relationships and sexuality education?

Learning about relationships and sexuality is part of The New Zealand Curriculum and is one aspect of health education (within Health and Physical Education).

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

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

Other learning in health education includes mental health education, drug and alcohol education, safety and violence-prevention education, and food and nutrition studies.

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

Learning about health is essential for the ongoing wellbeing of all communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Relationships Sexuality education School approach diagram

Why is this learning important?

Today the world is changing rapidly, in multiple ways, and Aotearoa New Zealand is more diverse than ever before. There are growing concerns about wellbeing and the impact of national and global events such as climate change and the recent global pandemic, COVID-19.

Learners today are experiencing an increasing awareness of changing family structures, shifting social norms in relation to gender and sexuality, the rise of social media, and the increased use of digital communications and devices. We acknowledge the increased calls for social inclusion and for the prevention of bullying, violence, and child abuse.

Relationships and sexuality education cannot be left to chance in schools. When this education begins from early childhood and builds consistently, year after year, it prepares young people for navigating a range of relationships throughout their childhood, teen years, and adult life.

All young people deserve an education that enables them to develop healthy relationships, to become positive in their own identities, and to develop competencies for promoting and sustaining their own wellbeing and that of others.

What will my child learn?

The kinds of things your child will learn will be appropriate for their age or stage of development. 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:

  • the human body and it’s growth and development
  • friendships
  • different kinds of families
  • consent in a range of relevant contexts (eg, at the doctor, in the playground, online)
  • respect for themselves, each other, and people who are different from them.

In the later years of primary school they may also learn about:

  • puberty
  • body development and image
  • human reproduction
  • different types of relationships
  • 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 relationships, including intimate relationships
  • contraception
  • managing their health
  • cultural approaches to gender and sexuality
  • how to access strategies and resources that support health and wellbeing
  • 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 also likely to look at online behaviour, 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 okay to ask questions, and they can ask for help if they need it.

In Aotearoa 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.

What are my rights, as a parent or caregiver?

You should be consulted with regarding the content and delivery of relationships and sexuality education.

Boards of Trustees must consult with school communities at least once every two years on their draft health curriculum, as stated in the Education and Training Act 2020. This includes how the school will implement health education, including relationships and 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.

Parent–teacher associations, college associations, whānau, hapū, iwi, and aiga support groups, church groups, home and school committees, and parent and caregiver groups at local early childhood centres are some important sources of community opinion.

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

Relationships Sexual education Consultation flow chart

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

You can withdraw your child from all or part of relationships and sexuality education.

You can write to your school’s principal and request that your child is excluded from all or from any particular part of relationships and 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 it is a good idea to talk to your child’s teacher first.

Where parents or caregivers wish to withdraw their child from relationships and sexuality education, they must advise the principal in writing. The school is obligated to respect these wishes. Having the request in writing creates a safety net for both parties and allows the school to understand the nature of the parent or caregiver’s issue with the programme, thereby allowing the school to properly respect their wishes.

Are teachers trained for this work?

Your child’s teacher will be qualified and registered. Secondary health teachers will likely 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.

From 2021, relationships and sexuality education will also be supported by regionally-based Ministry of Education staff who will be dedicated to working with schools to implement the health and physical education curriculum.

Will using social media and the Internet safely be covered?

This has been identified as learning that cannot be left to chance. The online world is a part of many children’s learning, from entrance to school right through to high school. Schools should provide students with opportunities to learn about safe online behaviour and to develop skills for dealing with confronting content. 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 relationships and sexuality education, and some of these will be based on cultural and/or religious beliefs. Schools try hard to respect differences in culture and religion.

If you are concerned about relationships and 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 should have a chance to voice your ideas and beliefs in this space during your school’s consultation process on health education. Boards of Trustees must consult with school communities at least once every two years on their draft health curriculum, as stated in the Education and Training Act 2020. This includes how the school will implement health education, including relationships and sexuality education.

Lastly, should you wish to withdraw your child from all or part of relationships and sexuality education, you can do so by writing to the principal (see below for details).

How can I get involved?

You have a very important role to play by asking and 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.

You will have an opportunity to ask questions, share your ideas, and express your views about what you would like to see happen in the school’s health education during the community consultation. School Boards of Trustees must 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 relationships and sexuality education.

Where can I find further information?

Talk to your child’s teacher and/or the school’s principal. They can talk about how relationships and sexuality education is taught in your child's school and should be able to answer most of your questions.

You can view the curriculum resource Relationships and Sexuality Education: A guide for teachers, leaders, and boards of trustees (Ministry of Education, 2020) on the Health and Physical Education Online website.

You may contact your local Ministry of Education office for further support.

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