Concern rises over proposal to remove gender and relationship education

Educators are warning that removing gender and relationship education from the curriculum will detriment young people.

Educators have spoken out about the coalition agreement to remove gender and relationship education from the curriculum. 

In the coalition agreement, National and New Zealand First said they would focus “the curriculum on academic achievement and not ideology, including the removal and replacement of the gender, sexuality and relationship-based education guidelines.” 

Education Professor at the University of Auckland, Katie Fitzpatrick, said it would be our rangatahi themselves who are missing out.  

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Speaking to Breakfast, Fitzpatrick said “it’s young people that have been asking for meaningful consent, sexuality and relationship education in successive petitions to our Parliament since 2017.”  

Young people have said they want more comprehensive RSE. Photo by Cody Black on Unsplash

Fitzpatrick was the lead writer on 2015 documents meant to guide principals, BoTs, teachers and parents on sexuality education. The documents were introduced in 2020 by Tracey Martin, then associate education minister and NZ First MP.  There is one document for Years 1 – 8 and another for Years 9 – 13. She said most parents and teachers supported a mix of at-home and school-based learning about relationships and sexuality.  

Fitzpatrick said the documents reflected changing social norms and a focus on consent and inclusion. The documents also encouraged critical thinking about social media, pornography and online sexual content.  

“There’s a lot of information and messages about relationships, sexuality, body, gender and I think schools can really help young people engage with that.” 

Fitzpatrick also warned against “regressive [sic] schooling which looks to repress knowledge about health and sexuality for young people.”  

PPTA Acting President Chris Abercrombie said schools needed more information about the proposed plan.  

He noted that in 2018, the Education Review Office made an inquiry into schools that found although most met minimum standards for relationship and sexuality education, there were gaps.  

“By removing these guidelines, those gaps are going to get wider.”  

Currently there are “gaps” in RSE. Photo by Alexander Grey Oyvnok on Unsplash

In 2022, a report titled ‘New Zealand secondary school teachers’ perspectives on teaching Relationships and Sexuality Education’ found many students weren’t receiving the recommended 12-15 hours of relationship and sexuality education recommended by the Ministry of Education and the Education Review Office.  

Recently, advocacy group Let’s Talk Consent NZ published a report detailing over 300 young people’s experiences of sexual violence, and called for improved consent education. The report found that even under current guidelines, 72 percent of respondents believed consent education was inadequate in New Zealand. 

Abercrombie said the current guidelines were intended to support schools to deliver a safe, inclusive and effective health curriculum.  

“It’s about maximising them to their full potential as human beings and as members of a society. So, [removing the guide] seems like this incredibly narrow view of education that doesn’t fit the modern world.” 

Fitzgerald added that she believes the current discussion around gender education comes from fear and a lack of knowledge.  

“Children learn about gender in all kinds of environments, from which colours belong to whom. And the gender binary is very well established. I think people questioning that – which is not a new thing – [can make] others get nervous about that. We want to open up that conversation rather than shut it down.” 

Research conducted by Tracy Clelland from the University of Cantebury has also shown that many parents in New Zealand want to work with the education system on RSE.  

Speaking to media after a recent visit to Manurewa Intermediate School, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon clarified that sex education “will continue,” in schools.  

“We want a well-defined curriculum agreed to by experts that actually makes sure that the content is age-appropriate, that parents have been consulted, and importantly that parents have an ability to withdraw from the education as well. 

“They actually need a clear curriculum definition, expert opinion, age appropriateness, parents consulted and actually having an option to participate or not participate.” 

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She has been covering education in New Zealand since 2022.
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