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Consultation - use it or lose it
In 2020 the Ministry of Education released its new health curriculum, accompanied by the Relationships and Sexuality Education Guide (RSE Guide). On p7 of the guide, consultation with the community is recognised as “critical to the programme’s success”:
It seems this school didn’t get the memo:
My children’s' school has close to 2000 kids. Four parents turned up for the bi-annual Health consultation. We asked a lot about gender and gender ideology being taught. We expressed we'd like them to tone it down as it was confusing to our children.
The staff wouldn’t confirm or deny who comes in to speak with our children. When I asked, “Do you involve InsideOut?”, both teachers looked uncomfortable and wouldn’t answer.
They said that they do not have to tell us about health topics beyond the age of 12. They expected us to consent to course content without informing us on what it might be.
They said they will change our children’s name and gender unofficially, in consultation with the parents. When asked if children do not want their parents to know, would the school keep it a secret, it was back to uncomfortable silence.
We spend years teaching our children to be honest and have open communication and the school is sanctioning secret keeping and denying us information. They are supposed to be teaching consent but won't allow us to consent to what is being taught.
(Testimonial from one of our subscribers.)
What is effective consultation?
There are two sets of RSE Guides – one for Years 1-8 and one for Years 9-13, but the recommendations for effective consultation are identical in both. On p44 of the Y1-8 RSE Guide, effective consultation is outlined:
It is clear that the school in the testimonial has failed in almost every one of the elements of a meaningful consultation.
That only four parents attended the meeting indicates that no draft statement of what was being proposed was sent to parents and/or no reasonable period of time for people to respond was given. As the guide states, consultation “requires more than just a notification of what is to happen.”
The “uncomfortable silences” suggest the consultation was not undertaken in good faith, with a genuine willingness to take account of feedback received.
There is no evidence that ākonga (students) were consulted.
There is no legal basis to this school’s assertion that it does not need to consult with parents of children beyond the age of 12.
What the law says
On pages 47-50 of the RSE Guide for Years 9-13, the following legal requirements and methods of consultation are described:
Section 91 of the Education and Training Act 2020. Health education is the only part of the school’s curriculum for which the law specifically requires the board of trustees to consult with the school’s community. It requires consultation at least once every two years on how the school will implement the health education component of the curriculum.
The school must prepare a draft statement on the delivery of health education that describes how the school will implement the health education components of the New Zealand Curriculum.
It must adopt a method of consultation that it considers will inform the school community about the content of health education; find out the wishes of the school community; determine the health education needs of the ākonga at the school; give members of the school community time to comment on the draft; and consider any comments received on the draft.
The board is required to adopt a statement on the delivery of the health curriculum following this consultation.
Parents, caregivers, and whānau need sufficient relevant information from the school to enable them to make an informed decision about their children’s participation in RSE. They should also be informed about the rules regarding withdrawal of ākonga from RSE and about strategies for managing any difference of views or values between home and school. Parents, caregivers, and whānau should have the opportunity to become involved in the consultation process.
Know your rights
Before your school undertakes a consultation, or if the consultation has been unsatisfactory and you wish to challenge it, learn about your rights:
Read the relevant pages about legal requirements (as above) of the RSE Guides for your child’s school level.
Make an appointment to see the principal. Find two or three other parents with the same concerns and go to the meeting together.
At the meeting, focus on your legal right to have a meaningful consultation, rather than the content of the school curriculum – your critique of the curriculum will come later, during the consultation process.
Assert your right to be given sufficient, relevant information, a draft statement on the delivery of health education, and time to comment on the draft.
Ask for the same information to be provided to all parents in written form and for a consultation meeting to be well-advertised in the school community.
If you are not satisfied with the response from the principal, take your concerns to the school Board of Trustees.
Be well informed
For a meaningful consultation to take place, parents will need to put in some time to inform themselves and others in the community.
1. Talk to other school families to ensure everyone knows the consultation is taking place and how to participate in it.
2. Read the section “Dealing with objections from the community” on p6 of an additional resource for teachers – Frequently Queried Topics for Years 9-13. Try to mitigate the objections the school may raise to community voices by, for example, ensuring that representatives from a wide range of community groups participate in the consultation.
3. Read the Code of Professional Responsibility for teachers, particularly (2)Commitment to Learners (p10), which states the responsibility of “respecting the diversity of heritage, language, identity and culture of all learners.”
4. Read the RSE Guide Key Learning for the level of your children for the next two years. (pp 30-33 in the Year 1-8 Guide, pp35-39 In Years 9-13.) Each curriculum level covers two years of schooling. Level 1 = Y1 & 2, Level 2 = Y3 & 4, Level 3 = Y5 & 6, Level 4 = Y7 & 8, Level 5 = Y9 & 10. After Year 10, health education is no longer compulsory.
5. Note the gender identity beliefs being taught to your child as if they are facts. In the first few years the idea that it’s possible to change sex is presented via picture books, so also check what is in the school library and what books are being read by the teacher to the class. A list of some books to avoid is on the RGE website.
6. Be familiar with the concepts and the language that are being taught. Read the glossary of terms on pp48-50 or pp54-56 of the RSE Guides that incorrectly states there are three sexes, sex is assigned at birth, and that sexual orientation is attraction to a gender, not another person’s sex.
8. Read the Case Study of a Primary School Consultation (2021) where a satisfactory outcome was reached.
9. Ask the school to provide all materials that will be used with your children, including worksheets, videos, and graphics, so that you have sufficient, relevant information. No materials should be withheld for copyright reasons.
Questions to ask during the consultation
How does the school define sex and gender identity and do those definitions align with scientific facts as well as the views of the school community?
What policies are in place to show respect to those who don’t believe in gender identity theory? How will the school ensure that no-one is pressured to endorse a belief they do not hold?
Will the school confirm that all teaching of RSE content will be in dedicated lessons, and that RSE will not be embedded throughout the curriculum, as recommended by the MOE. Embedding the content thwarts your right to withdraw your children from some or all lessons.
How will the community reach a consensus on the topics that are age appropriate and will be covered at each level at school, and which questions will be referred to parents for answering?
Make an appointment to give a presentation of your concerns to the Board of Trustees. Refer to Advice on speaking to a BOT.
What if you disagree with the outcome of the consultation?
As long as a meaningful consultation with parents has taken place, it is up to the Board to adopt a statement on the delivery of the health curriculum, and parents have no further input until the next bi-annual consultation. The RSE Guide (Y1-8, p43) says:
When the board of trustees has adopted the statement on the delivery of the health curriculum, the school does not need to seek parents’ or caregivers’ permission for ākonga to participate in the programme. However, according to the Education and Training Act 2020 (section 51), parents or caregivers may write to the principal requesting to have their child excluded from any particular element of sexuality education in a health education programme.
The principal is required to ensure that the student is excluded from the relevant tuition and that the student is supervised during that time.
Teachers are legally entitled to respond to any questions that ākonga ask in formal RSE programmes or at any other time.
The practice of embedding gender ideology in all subjects and the freedom teachers have to answer children’s questions at any time make it imperative for the RSE consultation to result in:
RSE topics being taught only in dedicated health lessons
the school having an agreed policy on the questions that are age-appropriate to be answered by teachers and those that will be referred home for answering.
On the RGE website under Get Involved, there is a suggested Question Flow Chart, and School Body Positive Policy and on the Become a Parent Advocate page there are several letter templates that can be adapted for use to either question your school’s policies, or request withdrawal of your child from RSE lessons.
Use it or lose it!
Please do use your legal right for consultation because there are hints that a future Labour/Greens government will withdraw that right, as has recently happened in Wales.
If you have any further questions or would like to share insights about the consultation process at your school, please email: email@example.com