A national group of sexuality and health education experts, made up of teachers, researchers, sector leaders and practitioners, is raising strong opposition to the move by ACC to extend the Mates and Dates programme across the country at a cost of $18m plus.

Leading the group are Katie Fitzpatrick, University of Auckland; Jackie Edmond, Chief Executive Family Planning New Zealand; Alison Green, Chief Executive Te Whāriki Takapou; and Rachael Dixon, The New Zealand Health Education Association (NZHEA).

Speaking on behalf of the group, University of Auckland Associate Professor Katie Fitzpatrick says what is really needed to address issues of sexual health and consent with young people is a sustainable long-term plan.

“We absolutely must invest in relationship, consent and sexuality education in every school. And it needs to be delivered by teachers. It is irresponsible that such a significant sum of money is being used to fund this programme when it is being taught in a way that it inconsistent with effective education practice and education policy,” she says.

The expert group supports consent education as a component of a comprehensive approach to relationships and sexuality education. By contrast, ACC’s Mates and Dates is a stand-alone programme that is controversial with teachers because it is delivered by outside providers and undermines teacher expertise. ACC has announced a plan to roll the programme out nationally and will provide the funding of more than $18 million.

This is funding that will not go to teachers or to schools. Instead, it will fund only five lessons for students, delivered – at huge cost – by outside providers.

The Education Review Office and the Ministry of Education recommend that students have at least 12-15 hours of sexuality education per year. Those hours should be part of year-long health education programmes planned and delivered by teachers.

While some schools have had good experiences with Mates and Dates, feedback from a variety of health education teachers and Māori-medium schools across Aotearoa indicate the programme does not meet the needs of all young people, does not align with the New Zealand Curriculum or with the Ministry of Education sexuality education guidelines, and it is not engaging for learners.

Understanding of what students have already been learning, and will continue to learn outside of the programme, has not been considered. Neither has the fact that students must trust and know the people they’re learning from, and feel like they’re in a safe environment, when discussing serious issues like consent and healthy relationships.

The most recent evaluation of Mates and Dates (ACC, 2017) indicated that 36 percent of students did not rate the course as good, with the evaluation also stating that boys and Pasifika students were most likely to be underserved by the programme.

Meaningful health education learning in a safe, supportive environment, with learning programmes designed by the teacher after assessing learner needs are all critical aspects of educational policy with direction from the New Zealand Curriculum, The Education Council Standards for teachers, and the Ministry of Education’s Sexuality and Relationships Education Guides.

The decision to expand the investment in Mates and Dates by such a large sum has come as a surprise to the health education sector.

Key stakeholders and experts were not consulted in either the development of the teaching resources, nor the teaching approaches (pedagogies) used. Health education teachers have not had access to any funded, meaningful national professional development for more than 10 years. The assumption of Mates and Dates that a ‘one size fits all’ approach works for all, in particular Māori and Pacific students, lacks evidence and is contrary to education policy and research. Moreover, Mates and Dates does not reflect effective health education principles or meaningfully align with the curriculum.

Spending more than $18 million on this programme is an outrageous waste of public money. That money should go to support teachers and schools to deliver excellent programmes.

 

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