The Hon Christopher Pyne MP
Commonwealth Minister for Education
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Tuesday 9 December 2014
Dear Minister Pyne
Call for COAG to Reject Health & Physical Education Curriculum Due to Ongoing LGBTI Exclusion
I am writing to you in advance of the COAG Education Ministers Council meeting on Friday 12 December 2014 in Canberra. Specifically, I am writing to request that you, and your state and territory ministerial counterparts, reject the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum and start again.
I make this serious request on the basis that this curriculum does not ensure that all students are provided with health and physical education that is relevant to their needs, including those students that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI).
The development of the national HPE curriculum has, like other national curricula, been a long process, with multiple stages of public consultation.
This has included:
- An initial draft in December 2012 (see my submission to this consultation here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/04/11/submission-on-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ )
- A revised draft in mid-2013 (see my submission to this consultation here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/30/submission-on-redrafted-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/), and
- A third version that was published by COAG at the end of 2013, and which I wrote about to you in January 2014 (see letter here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/01/11/letter-to-minister-pyne-re-health-physical-education-curriculum-and-appointment-of-mr-kevin-donnelly/).
None of these versions of the HPE curriculum have been genuinely LGBTI-inclusive. None of these three documents have even included the words lesbian, gay or bisexual. Not once. How can a national HPE curriculum support all students, including those with diverse sexual orientations, if it cannot even name them?
It must also be pointed out that none of the three drafts of the HPE curriculum have included sufficient sexual health information, with no references to sexually transmissible infections, condoms and/or safer sex and, more than 30 years into the HIV epidemic, none have even mentioned HIV or other blood borne viruses. These omissions mean Australian students, including but not limited to LGBTI students, will not be given the information that they need to stay safe in future.
Of course, the national HPE curriculum, like other curricula, underwent an additional review during 2014, after you requested that Mr Kevin Donnelly and Mr Ken Wiltshire review the entirety of the Australian curriculum (see my submission to this review here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/03/13/submission-to-national-curriculum-review-re-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/).
Unfortunately, the outcome of this review, at least as far as the HPE curriculum is concerned, is far from positive (see my summary of this: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/11/09/the-national-curriculum-review-fails-to-support-lgbti-students/).
In their report, released in October 2014, Mr Donnelly and Mr Wiltshire noted that at least one jurisdiction, one religion-based school system, and a number of other individual schools, have each rejected the inclusion of even minimal content for same-sex attracted and gender diverse students, and will oppose any attempt to introduce comprehensive sexual health education.
The national curriculum review also found that the HPE curriculum is overcrowded, and recommended that “[t]he core content should be reduced and a significant portion should become part of school-based curriculum…” This jeopardises further the few positive references that have made it into the current draft (such as the option for schools to teach students about homophobia, alongside racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination).
Finally, the national curriculum review report supported the views of some religious organisations that the HPE curriculum should grant schools even greater flexibility in how ‘sexuality education’ should be delivered, when it should be delivered (allowing schools to delay provision of this vital information), and even flexibility in who should teach it (commenting that “[w]e think this is the way forward” in response to suggestions that older teachers should deliver these topics).
The specific recommendation in this area notes “[t]he two controversial areas of sexuality and drugs education should remain, but schools should be given greater flexibility to determine the level of which these areas are introduced and the modalities in which they will be delivered…”
The net outcome of the national curriculum review, at least as it concerns Health & Physical Education, is this: a curriculum that already largely excluded LGBTI students and content, is, in practice, found to be essentially optional, with at least one jurisdiction, one religion-based school system, and other individual schools all opting-out. What LGBTI-related subject matter there is remains under threat as the content is slimmed down, while those religious schools that do teach ‘sexuality education’ will have the ‘flexibility’ to choose when it is taught, how it is taught and even by whom it is taught.
This is the exact opposite of what a national curriculum should be. A national Health & Physical Education curriculum should be a document that recognises that, no matter what state they reside in, and irrespective of the type of school they attend (government, religious or private), all LGBTI students have the fundamental right to an inclusive education, to learn about themselves and their sexual orientations, gender identities and intersex status, to be taught that who they are is okay, and not to be silenced, excluded or marginalised.
The existing version of the HPE curriculum does not even come close to recognising that right, and, as such, I believe it should be rejected and the entire curriculum development process begun again.
I call on you and the state and territory ministers attending the COAG Education Ministers Council meeting to take this serious course of action because the failure to do so will have serious consequences for the next generation of LGBTI young people and students.
I am sure you are aware young LGBTI people are at greater risk of experiencing bullying (including homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination) and physical abuse, are at greater risk of depression and other mental health issues and, most tragically of all, are at greater risk of attempting or committing suicide than their non-LGBTI peers.
The development of a national Health & Physical Education curriculum was an unprecedented opportunity to address some of these issues by guaranteeing that, in their classrooms at least, young LGBTI people were provided with an inclusive and understanding environment. Unfortunately, despite two public consultations and the national curriculum review, the current draft of the national HPE curriculum fails miserably to seize this opportunity.
We can do better, we should do better, we must do better, for the sake of young LGBTI people around the country, now and in coming years. Please reject the national Health & Physical Education curriculum and start again.
Cc: The Hon Adrian Piccoli MP, NSW Minister for Education (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Hon James Merlino MP, Victorian Minister for Education (email@example.com)
The Hon John-Paul Langbroek MP, Queensland Minister for Education, Training and Development (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Hon Peter Collier MLA, Western Australian Minister for Education (Minister.Collier@dpc.wa.gov.au)
The Hon Jennifer Rankine MP, South Australian Minister for Education and Child Development (email@example.com)
The Hon Jeremy Rockliff MP, Tasmanian Minister for Education and Training (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Hon Joy Burch MLA, Australian Capital Territory Minister for Education and Training (BURCH@act.gov.au)
The Hon Peter Chandler MLA, Northern Territory Minister for Education (email@example.com)