Questions teachers and schools ask

Can children be withdrawn from lessons?

A parent or guardian may request that a child be exempt from any class. This request needs to be in writing to the school principal. (Section 72 of the School Education Act 1999) 

If exemption is granted, principals are expected to make reasonable efforts to provide alternative means for exempted students to achieve the same outcomes as other students.

For further information, please refer to the Exemption from Particular Classes Guidelines from the WA Department of Education.

GDHR recognises parents as the primary relationships and sexuality educators of their children. If parents remove their child from school-based lessons it is vital that they ensure their child has access to accurate and reliable health information and the skills and attitudes to make informed choices. Talk Soon. Talk Often. A guide for parents talking to their kids about sex is a free resource that offers age and stage appropriate tips for parents with children aged 0 to 18 years.

Research indicates that the majority of parents support the provision of relationships and sexuality education at school but want to be informed when it is happening to support and complement the program. It is strongly recommended that schools communicate clearly with parents about the nature and content of health-related programs, including relationship and sexual health education. This could be, for example, through:

  • the school council agenda,

  • a school relationships and sexuality education policy

  • newsletters

  • parent workshops or information evenings

  • a letter from the teacher/school (Sample parent letters: primary and secondary).

Can condoms be given out to high school students?

  • The Growing and Developing Healthy Relationships curriculum support material reflects a philosophy where abstinence from sexual activity for school-aged students is the key focus. It also emphasises a positive preventative approach, harm reduction and safer sex strategies without necessarily normalising sexual activity for school-aged students. Where appropriate, condoms may be used during a health education lesson on contraception. It is not, however, the school's role to distribute condoms to students.

  • The Department of Education does not support the installation of condom vending machines in secondary schools.

  • Secondary school students have access to school health nurses who can provide developmentally appropriate information on sexual health, including contraception. If appropriate, students may be referred to relevant health services.

  • Health and Physical Education provides students with the skills and knowledge required to develop and maintain respectful relationships. It develops students' abilities to make informed and responsible decisions about health and well-being for themselves and others; and develops the skills needed to make informed decisions in a range of contexts, including relationships and sexuality education.

 

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Do teachers need to inform parents they are implementing relationships/sexual health education with their class?

It is strongly recommended that teachers/schools communicate clearly with parents and caregivers about the nature and content of health-related programs, including relationship and sexual health education. This could be, for example, through:

 

​​​​​​​Research indicates that the majority of parents support the provision of sexuality education at school but want to be informed when it is happening to support and complement the program.

Under Section 72 of the School Education Act 1999, a parent or guardian may request that a child be exempt from any class. This request needs to be in writing to the school principal. If exemption is granted, principals are expected to make reasonable efforts to provide alternative means for exempted students to achieve the same outcomes as other students. For further information, please refer to the Exemption from Particular Classes Guidelines from the WA Department of Education.

Does the Department of Education have guidelines and policy about sexual health and relationships education?

There are no specific Departmental guidelines or policies governing public schools on sexual health and relationships education (SRE). Individual schools are encouraged to develop school-specific guidelines to address a range of health-related issues. School guidelines/policy for SRE should include areas such as professional development for teachers; guidelines for guest speakers; teaching resources; and communication with parents.

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How early should you introduce the names of body parts?

It is recommended and age appropriate that students as early as kindergarten learn the correct names of their external body parts, including sexual parts, for example, penis, vulva, breast, testicles and buttocks (or bottom).  Knowing these names enables a child to communicate clearly if they need to get help; and in particular in cases of abuse or injury. The classroom teacher should communicate with parents/caregivers with adequate notice to ensure they understand the concepts and proposed learning sequence their child will be participating in.

How should younger students be taught about resilience?

Resilience and emotional wellbeing go hand in hand. These are important concepts to teach in the junior primary, early childhood years as this is when younger students may need support to identify their own personal strengths. Identifying and describing their own strengths and achievements and those of others form the basis of persistence, understanding change and the transition and change in identity.

Must teachers be trained to teach sexuality education?

No, but it is highly recommended. Effectively dealing with sensitive and controversial issues can be difficult. It is important for teachers to ensure their personal values and beliefs are not imposed upon their students when these issues and situations arise.

Quality professional learning enables teachers to further develop their skills and knowledge in teaching sexual health.

Professional learning opportunities are made available through Curtin University and other agencies. Please see the Professional Development section for a list of current workshops.

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Should boys and girls be separated for puberty and sexual health education?

Many teachers wonder if it is best to split their classes by gender for relationships and sexuality lessons. There are pros and cons to be considered for both.

Reasons for co-ed classes

  • Separating boys and girls can perpetuate the stigma of the topic.

  • Gender-split classes may result in genders receiving inequitable or gender-biased education.

  • Students who are gender diverse are better catered for (students who are gender diverse may feel uncomfortable, unsafe or uncatered for in split classes).

  • Same-sex attracted young people are better catered for (students who are same-sex attracted may feel uncomfortable, unsafe or uncatered for in split classes).

  • Students may act in a more mature manner (in gender-split classes students may feel the need to act in stereotypical gendered roles).

  • Opportunities to learn about topics from different perspectives from different genders.

  • Opportunities to develop empathy for the changes and challenges experienced by another gender.

  • Opportunities to practise communicating with each other about sensitive topics (which is an important skill for developing respectful relationships with other genders - friendships, romantic relationships and intimate relationships).

  • Timetabling of gender-split classes can be difficult.

 

Reasons for splitting classes by gender

  • Young people may feel more comfortable asking questions (particularly on topics such as menstruation, erections, wet dreams, female genital modification, sex).

  • It may be more culturally appropriate (e.g. In Aboriginal culture there are requirements for delivering 'men's business' and 'women's business'.)

  • Lessons may be differentiated more easily to suit the needs and learning styles of all boy or all girl groups.

  • Some parents may be more supportive of teaching boys and girls separately.

  • Differing maturity levels of boys and girls can be accommodated for.

 

Teachers and schools are best placed to determine the needs of their students.

If you choose to conduct co-ed classes:

  • offer opportunities for gender split groups (e.g. a 'girls' chat' or 'boys' chat' at lunch time; or small group work with the school nurse)

  • offer instruction taught by both male and female educators to provide positive role models and reduce stigma (if culturally appropriate)

  • allow students to ask questions they may not be comfortable asking in front of the class by using a question box.

If you choose to conduct gender-split classes:

  • do not just teach the 'girls' topics' to the girls and 'boys' topics' to the boys - both need to know all of the information

  • ensure that both groups know that they are both receiving the same information

  • offer instruction taught by both male and female educators to provide positive role models and reduce stigma (if culturally appropriate)

  • think about ways to cater for gender diverse students (and be aware that gender diverse or intersex students may not be visible to you). It may be appropriate to ask students to choose which group they feel comfortable in, or this may cause more stress and discrimination for the student.

  • share questions (and answers) from the question box with both groups so that everyone has the same information. (Collect questions from both groups to answer in the next session to help maintain anonymity and avoid questions being labelled as 'boys' questions' or 'girls' questions'.)

What about the issue of young people looking at pornography on the internet?

It is normal for young people to be curious about pornography, and to look at it on the internet, it is also absolutely normal for them to be disinterested in pornography!

Viewing pornography can be a very destructive means of early education about sexuality and relationships. It’s very important for young people to understand that graphic and sensational pictures of naked men and women, body parts such as breasts, vaginas (vulvas), penises and all manner of sexual intercourse positions may seem exciting, but it’s simply not reality.

Pornography has the potential to negatively impact on sexual experiences. It can shape what and how young less experienced people think sex will be like; how they believe men and women should look and how they should act sexually. 

Pornography commonly portrays women and sometimes men enjoying the experience of being treated badly, even violently. This is usually a completely false representation of what is really going on.

Discussion question

A useful discussion question about pornography could be prompted by asking students "Why is it that pornography does not show sex as a loving kind of thing?"

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What happens if parents want to exempt students from sexual health and relationships education?

In WA government schools there is provision for parents to apply for their child to be exempt from specific learning experiences.

This process can be located in the Exemption from Particular Classes Guidelines (WA Department of Education).

Teachers and schools then must ensure that reasonable efforts are made to provide alternative means for exempted students to achieve the same outcomes as other students. Parents must be advised that the student’s achievement and assessment may be adversely affected by exemption from particular classes. 

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What if a student discloses abuse?

Everyone working in schools is responsible for the care and protection of children and the reporting of concerns about child protection. The Department of Education’s Child Protection Policy explains the actions to be taken by staff to protect children in circumstances where abuse is suspected or when allegations of child abuse are made.

How to make a report
Once a disclosure of sexual abuse is made or suspicion is strong, school personnel must make a report to the Department for Child Protection and Family Support’s Mandatory Reporting Service.

A verbal report can be made, but this must be followed by a written report as soon as is practicable, preferably within 24 hours. 

Once a report is made, the Mandatory Reporting Service will:

  • acknowledge receipt of the report

  • provide the Western Australian Police with a copy of every written report

  • make enquiries and an assessment to take the necessary action

  • assist the Western Australian Police, who may undertake a separate investigation.

What professional development opportunities are available for teachers to learn more about relationships and sexual health education?

Effectively dealing with sensitive and controversial issues can be difficult. It is important for teachers to ensure their personal values and beliefs are not imposed upon their students when these issues and situations arise. Quality professional learning enables teachers to further develop their skills and knowledge in teaching sexual health.

Professional learning opportunities are available for teachers through the Curtin University SRE Teacher Training Project.  Check out the Events and PD section of this site for more information.

What resources are available for students and parents who home school?

Useful resources are the ‘Puberty’ series -  Girls and Boys in Puberty.  A good approach is to have boys learn about what also happens for girls (and vice versa). The Relationships, Sex and Other Stuff booklet is for teenagers (13 years or older). 

The comprehensive publication Talk Soon. Talk Often. A Guide for Parents Talking to their Kids About Sex aims to increase the confidence of parents when talking to their children about relationship and sexuality topics.

Some other organisations that offer free or low cost resources include:

Sexual Health Quarters 

SECCA (resources to support people with disabilities)

Freedom Centre (resources to support LGBTI young people)

 

What should teachers do if they receive questions from parents?

  • Listen carefully to queries and answer where possible.

  • The FREE Booklets section of the GDHR website lists resources that parents can access to support relationships and sexuality education within the home.

  • If questions of concerns are about policy or procedure, teachers should seek support from the school's principal. The Department of Education is also available for support.

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Who can provide additional sexuality education and information sessions for students and come to the school as a guest speaker?

Guest speakers can add interest and relevance to school-based relationships and sexuality education programs. However, this strategy should not be used in isolation but should complement other learning opportunities. Refer to the WA Health Promoting Schools Association Guidelines for Engaging Guest Speakers for more information.

There are two possible avenues for teachers to access external support and guest speakers for sexuality education in schools:

  1. The School Community Health Nurse. Many school health nurses are involved in supporting teachers in the delivery of sexual health education for primary and secondary school students. There is variation in the sexual health-related skills, expertise and work programs between school nurses but it is worth checking out if they can be involved.

  2. External agencies provide guest speakers on aspects of relationships and sexuality education in WA schools. For example, Sexual Health Quarters provides support for school sexuality education. Fees may be charged for providing these services.

Why is there more than one needle for the HPV vaccine?

The current HPV vaccine (Gardasil9) is 2 doses (2 needles) which protects against 9 strains of the HPV virus. The previous HPV vaccine (Gardasil) had 3 doses (3 needles) and protected against 4 strains of the virus. All doses of the vaccine are needed for best protection against HPV and the only way to obtain its full benefits and protection.

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