Teaching consent education in Aotearoa New Zealand - a report from the NCWNZ Education Action Hub

Logo on R&SE GuideIn April 2022, The NCWNZ Education Action Hub committed to a campaign to advocate for the compulsory teaching of consent in all state and state-integrated schools/kura in Aotearoa New Zealand. It all started with a request from the NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch which reported that after reports about various forms of sexual harm in local high schools, a survey about misogyny in schools was completed in 2021. (See the Circular article about the work by researcher Dr Liz Gordon here.) The young women asserted that they would organise into a student-led group called Students Against Sexual Harm (SASH) and that they would work to make consent education to be compulsory in all schools. Louise Tapper, a member of the NCWNZ Education Action Hub and current chair of the NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch, has been leading the Education Action Hub's focus on this issue.

The Action Hub members decided that they needed to find out what schools/kura were currently doing in relation to the teaching of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum. After conferring with the Minister of Education, the Action Hub members decided to ask the schools directly whether and how schools/kura were currently teaching about consent. A survey was developed by members of the NCWNZ Education Action Hub and field tested with educators across the nation. 

An email and survey were then sent to schools/kura as an Official Information Act request to the Chair of the Board of Trustees at 417 schools/kura with students in Years 9-13. A small number of responses were received – 67, a 16% response rate. Analysis of responses, which included statistical results and a thematic analysis of responses from comments, was carried out by members of the Education Action Hub.

The findings from the survey showed that all the schools/kura who responded taught the RSE curriculum to some degree. 37 schools/kura indicated that RSE was compulsory at their school/kura while 12 schools/kura responded that there were some programmes in RSE for some students. There was strong evidence that where teaching RSE was compulsory, this was aligned around Year levels. Most schools/kura noted that this compulsory RSE teaching was done at the junior levels – Years 9 and 10 – in Health or Physical Education classes. At the senior levels – Years 11-13 – respondents stated that RSE was usually an option for students.

Additionally, although respondents described RSE as being ‘compulsory’ at junior levels, some schools reported that students could opt out of RSE classes. Students who opted out were mostly doing so because of parental wishes. The use of both in-school staff and out-of-school providers to teach RSE was highlighted by the findings. There was evidence from the data that some form of consent education was taught as part of the RSE curriculum at the Year 9 and 10 levels (54 out of 67 respondents). This was not the case for the Year 11-13 levels. Several respondents admitted that consent was not taught effectively at senior levels and that there was little time spent on the Health curriculum. Any form of consent education was only addressed as part of one-off programmes from outside providers. Of the schools/kura who reported that there was some teaching about consent, programmes were mainly around understandings about what consent means and issues around control.

The findings showed that most schools/kura did not talk about consent education when they were communicating with their community about RSE in their school/kura. Some respondents did see this conversation as being important, and some stated that they included questions about consent education in surveys to parents and communities. Several schools/kura indicated that further professional development in this area would be helpful.

Limitations of the project included the small number of responses from schools/kura and that there was a single data collection method. The NCWNZ Education Action Hub acknowledges that generalisation of these findings beyond this participant group is not possible given the small number of respondents who completed the survey. However, members of the Hub contend that these are important findings to share and that they contribute to the growing evidence that effective, compulsory consent education should be included in all schools/kura in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Recommendations for future policy, which have been informed by the findings from this survey and by the NCWNZ Education Action Hub’s ongoing campaign around this issue, are presented below:

  • Consent education is made mandatory in all schools/kura in Aotearoa New Zealand.
  • Consent education progammes begin at the Year 1 level and issues around consent education are consistently explored throughout all year levels.
  • Consent education programmes include high level skill building to ensure that all students will learn the skills needed when giving and receiving consent.

Download the full report (.pdf file) here.


To read more articles from The Circular (July-August 2023) issue 642, click on the tag below.
Tags for Issue 642


Get involved locally - connect Be generous - donate Keep up to date - news