Every Student. Every School. Submission on Draft NSW Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) K-10 Syllabus

There's no place for discrimination in the classroom-6

The NSW Education Standards Authority is currently undertaking public consultations about its draft Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) K-10 Syllabus.

Unfortunately, as you will see below in my submission, the Syllabus as drafted does not include LGBTI students, or content that is relevant to their needs.

Written submissions are due by Friday 5 May 2017. To find out more about the consultation process, and how you can write your own submission to support an inclusive PDHPE Syllabus, go here.

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Dominique Sidaros

Senior Curriculum Officer, PDHPE

NSW Education Standards Authority

GPO Box 5300

Sydney NSW 2001

dominique.sidaros@nesa.nsw.edu.au

 

Wednesday 3 May 2017

 

Dear Ms Sidaros

 

Submission on Draft NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission about the draft NSW Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) K-10 Syllabus.

 

This is a personal submission, reflecting my interest in this issue as an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, and builds on my previous submissions to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) regarding its development of the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum.

 

This submission is guided by one principle above all else:

 

Any student, in any school, could be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI). Therefore, the Government has a responsibility to ensure that every student, in every school, is taught a Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) Syllabus that is inclusive of LGBTI students, and features content that is relevant to their needs.

 

This principle applies irrespective of the type of school involved, whether that is government, religious or otherwise independent. Importantly, the best interests of these LGBTI young people also take precedence over the views of other groups, including parents, parliamentarians, religious groups or the media.

 

Unfortunately, the NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus as drafted manifestly does not meet the needs of LGBTI students. It is not inclusive of students of diverse sexual orientations and/or gender identities, does not promote the acceptance of all students no matter who they are, and fails to provide adequate sexual health education for students who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual.

 

Disappointingly, some of the few occasions where the draft PDHPE Syllabus does attempt to include relevant content have been made optional (because it follows the words ‘for example’ or ‘eg’), with individual schools and teachers free to teach, or not teach, this content, depending on their own view and not the best interests of the students.

 

In this submission I will make a number of recommendations to improve the PDHPE K-10 Syllabus by making it explicitly inclusive of LGBTI students, and ensuring that they receive information that is relevant to their needs. These recommendations will be organised around the following five main areas:

 

  • Terminology
  • Inclusive Information
  • Acceptance & Anti-Bullying
  • Sexual Health Education
  • Life Skills

 

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Terminology

 

The problems with the draft PDHPE K-10 begin with the terminology that is used, and not used, throughout the document, and particularly in the Glossary on pages 132 to 139.

 

For example, the document includes the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer exactly once each – all in the same dot point on page 97, in Stage 5:

 

“analyse how societal norms, stereotypes and expectations influence the way young people think, behave and act in relation to their own and others’ health, safety and wellbeing eg Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) health, people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.”

 

That’s it. These terms are not used at any other point in the Syllabus, nor are they defined in the Glossary. Worse, because the words above immediately follow the use of ‘eg’, whether LGBTIQ health is mentioned in even this cursory way is entirely dependent on the views of the teacher and/or school involved.

 

As a result, the PDHPE Syllabus as drafted could mean many, if not the majority of, NSW students complete Year 10 having never heard the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex used in this Syllabus, let alone having them appropriately explained. This omission is negligent, and will be detrimental to the health of future generations of young people.

 

Recommendation 1: The Glossary must include definitions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

 

The almost complete absence of the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex from the Syllabus is compounded by the, in most cases, exclusionary definitions provided for the terms that are included in the Glossary.

 

This includes the definition of ‘sexuality’ on page 138:

 

“A central aspect of being human throughout life. It is influenced by an interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors. It is experienced and expressed in thoughts, feelings, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships.”

 

In some respects, this is an incredibly ‘inclusive’ definition, acknowledging the wide range of factors that can contribute to an individual’s ‘sexuality’. On the other hand, it is so vague that it doesn’t actually include differences in sexual orientation, from heterosexual (which is not included in the Syllabus either) to bisexual and homosexual or same-sex attracted.

 

To remedy this, an additional definition should be added for ‘sexual orientation’, one that explicitly includes the words heterosexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual (and, for the latter three, is linked to the newly-added definitions of these terms).

 

Recommendation 2: The Glossary should include a definition of ‘sexual orientation’, with links to the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual.

 

In contrast to the omission of sexual orientation, the Glossary does actually include a definition for the term ‘gender identity’ on page 135:

 

“Refers to a person’s sense of being masculine or feminine, both or neither, and how they identify. Gender identity does not necessarily relate to the sex assigned at birth.”

 

There are some positive elements of this definition, including recognition that gender identity can differ from the sex assigned at birth. However, it could also benefit from including additional detail, such as making explicit reference to ‘non-binary’ gender identities (beyond the acknowledgement of “both or neither” in the current definition) although this should be done in close consultation with trans groups.

 

Recommendation 3: The Glossary definition of ‘gender identity’ should be expanded, including use of the term ‘non-binary’ and linking to the term transgender. These changes should be made in consultation with trans groups.

 

The final term in the Glossary that requires updating is ‘diversity’ on page 133:

 

“Differences that exist within a group including age, sex, gender, gender expression, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, body shape and composition, culture, religion, learning styles, socioeconomic background, values and experience. Appreciating, understanding and respecting diversity impacts on an individual’s sense of self and their relations to others. Diversity can be acknowledged through shared activities that may involve building knowledge and awareness.”

 

It should be noted that this is the only time in the entire document that the phrase ‘gender expression’ is used – and it is not defined, meaning it does not automatically include transgender students. Similarly, the use of the word ‘sexuality’ here is based on the existing definition that, as we have seen above, does not actually include lesbian, gay or bisexual students. Finally, the exclusion of the word intersex – and the failure to define ‘sex’, here or elsewhere – means students with intersex variations are not necessarily included either.

 

In short, the current definition of ‘diversity’ in the Glossary appears to be ironic, given it does not include students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex.

 

Recommendation 4: The Glossary definition of diversity should be amended to include references to differences in sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex variations.

 

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Inclusive Information

 

The adoption of the above recommendations would be an important first step towards an inclusive PDHPE K-10 Syllabus. However, they will not have a significant impact unless the content of the Syllabus itself, and specifically the material that must be taught in its respective Stages, is also updated.

 

This means ensuring that the following concepts are introduced, and explained, at appropriate points in the Syllabus:

 

  1. Sexual orientation

 

The concept of sexual orientation, including differences in sexual orientation and the existence of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, should be introduced by stage 3 of the Syllabus (at the latest). Equally importantly, it must not be ‘optional’ to teach the fact that people can be any of heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual, and that each sexual orientation should be accepted.

 

On a practical level, there are several places in the draft Syllabus where this could be achieved, including:

 

  • In Stage 3, on page 66, where it says “examine how identities and behaviours are influenced by people, places and the media, for example: – distinguish different types of relationships and their diversity”, the ‘for example’ should be removed. The words ‘including relationships between people of different sexes, and of the same sex’ should be added after ‘their diversity’.
  • In Stage 3, also on page 66, where it says “investigate resources and strategies to manage change and transition, for example: – understand that individuals experience change associated with puberty at different times, intensity and with different responses eg menstruation, body change emotional change, sexuality”, both the ‘for example’ and ‘eg’ should be removed. The term ‘sexual orientation’ should also be added after sexuality (acknowledging the different between these two concepts, as described above).
  • In Stage 4, on page 78, after it says “investigate the impact of transition and change on identities: – examine the impact of physical, social and emotional change during adolescence on gender, cultural and sexual identity” add a new point ‘- examine and discuss different sexual orientations, including heterosexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual’.
  • In Stage 4, also on page 78, the point “describe how rights and responsibilities contribute to respectful relationships: – recognise types and variety of relationships” should be amended along similar lines to the first dot point above in relation to Stage 3, page 66.
  • In Stage 4, on page 85, where it says “plan and use health practices, behaviours and resources to enhance the health, safety, wellbeing and physical activity participation of their communities: – design and implement health promotion activities targeting preventive health practices relevant to young people and those with diverse backgrounds or circumstances eg diversity of culture, gender or sexuality”, the word ‘eg’ should be removed, and the term ‘sexual orientation’ should replace ‘sexuality’.
  • In Stage 5, on page 92, where it says “evaluate factors that impact on the identities of individuals and groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples: – examine how diversity and gender are represented in the media and communities, and investigate the influence these representations have on identities” the term ‘sexual orientation’ should be added after gender (to read ‘diversity, gender and sexual orientation’).

 

  1. Gender identity

 

The concept of gender identity should be introduced earlier than sexual orientation, especially given the recent (welcome) increase in children expressing their own gender identities, rather than identities that are expected of, or even imposed on, them. Ideally, this information would be featured from Stage 1 onwards, and acknowledge the diversity of gender identities that exist.

 

The concept of gender identity could also be added, or expanded upon, at several other points in the Syllabus, including:

 

  • In Stage 2, on page 55, where it says “explore strategies to manage physical, social and emotional change, for example: – discuss physical, social and emotional changes that happen as people get older and how this can impact on how they think and feel about themselves and different situations eg friendships, gender identity, appearance, interests” both ‘for example’ and ‘eg’ should be deleted, so that it is mandatory for all students to learn about gender identity at this point.
  • In Stage 4, on page 85 where it says “plan and use health practices, behaviours and resources to enhance the health, safety, wellbeing and physical activity participation of their communities: – design and implement health promotion activities targeting preventive health practices relevant to young people and those with diverse backgrounds or circumstances eg diversity of culture, gender or sexuality”, in addition to the changes proposed earlier re sexual orientation, the term ‘gender identity’ should be added after ‘gender’.
  • In Stage 5, on page 92, where it says “evaluate factors that impact on the identities of individuals and groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples: – examine how diversity and gender are represented in the media and communities, and investigate the influence these representations have on identities”, the term ‘gender identity’ should also be added (so that it reads ‘diversity, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation’).

 

  1. Intersex

 

As with gender identity, the concept of intersex – and the existence of people with intersex variations – should be introduced earlier than sexual orientation. Again, this should ideally be introduced in Stage 1, to allow students to grow up knowing that there aren’t just exclusively ‘male’ and ‘female’ bodies.

 

This recognition of bodily diversity should also be incorporated into the Syllabus in Early Stage 1 on page 35, and Stage 1 on page 45, where it includes references to learning about ‘male and female anatomy’. The discussion of intersex should then be incorporated at similar points to sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the remaining stages of the Syllabus.

 

Doing so would also help to meet one of the goals of the recent Darlington Statement of intersex organisations:

 

“54. We call for the inclusion of accurate and affirmative material on bodily diversity, including intersex variations, in school curricula, including in health and sex education.”[i]

 

  1. Rainbow families

 

The existence of a diversity of families, including children who grow up with same-sex parents, should also be included in the Syllabus. There are already multiple points in the Syllabus where this could be easily added, such as:

 

  • In Stage 1, on page 45, after “describe ways to develop respectful relationships and include others to make them feel they belong, for example: – explore kinship as an important part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures”, the ‘for example’ should be removed and a new point added “- explore the diversity of family types, including families with mixed-sex parents and families with same-sex parents.”
  • In Stage 2, on pages 54-55, where it says “explore how success, challenge and overcoming adversity strengthens identity, for example: – explore contextual factors that influence the development of personal identity eg family, parents/carers…” both the ‘for example’ and ‘eg’ should be removed, and the term ‘rainbow families’ should be added (so that it reads ‘family including rainbow families[ii]’).
  • In Stage 3, on page 66, where it says “examine how identities and behaviours are influenced by people, places and the media, for example: – distinguish different types of relationships and their diversity” this could also include a reference to diversity in family relationships, including mixed-sex and same-sex parents.

 

Finally, as noted earlier there is already one place where the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex already appear in the curriculum – in Stage 5, on page 97. This point should also be made mandatory rather than optional, by removing the ‘eg’ (so that it reads “analyse how societal norms, stereotypes and expectations influence the way young people think, behave and act in relation to their own and others’ health, safety and wellbeing, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) health, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD)”.

 

Recommendation 5: The content for the Stages of the Syllabus should be amended to ensure all students learn about sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex and rainbow families.

 

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Acceptance & Anti-Bullying

 

One of the welcome features of the draft PDHPE K-10 Syllabus is the significant focus on combating bullying, and on promoting what is described as ‘upstander behaviour’.

 

This includes introducing content around confronting discrimination from Stage 2 onwards – see page 55 (“predict and reflect on how other students might feel in a range of challenging situations and discuss what they can do to support them eg confronting discrimination) and twice on page 57 (“recognise types of abuse and bullying behaviours and identify safe and supportive upstander behaviour” and “share ideas, feelings and opinions about the influence of peers and significant others in relation to bullying, discrimination, eating habits and nutrition, drug use, online safety and physical activity levels”).

 

However, I believe there is a need to ensure this anti-bullying content explicitly addresses anti-LGBTI bullying, given both its widespread prevalence and devastating impact on thousands of LGBTI young people. There are multiple opportunities to make these changes:

 

  • In Stage 3, on pages 69-70, where it says “plan and practise assertive responses, behaviours and actions that protect and promote health, safety and wellbeing, for example: – practise safe and supportive upstander behaviour and discuss how they can prevent and/or stop bullying and other forms of discrimination and harassment” the ‘for example’ should be removed, and the words ‘including racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia’ should be added after ‘harassment’.
  • Also in Stage 3, on page 70, where it says “recommend appropriate alternatives and take action to improve health, safety, wellbeing or physical activity issues within the school or wider community, for example: – explore initiatives that challenge stereotypes to support the diversity of individuals and communities eg racism, gender stereotypes, discrimination [and] – model behaviour that reflects sensitivity to the needs, rights and feelings of others and explore ways to create safe and inclusive schools for minority groups eg challenge discrimination, peer support” the ‘for example’ and two instances of ‘eg’ should be removed to ensure this content is mandatory. Further, either ‘anti-LGBTI prejudice’ or ‘homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia’ should be added to ‘racism, gender stereotypes, discrimination’.
  • In Stage 4, on pages 79-80, where it says “discuss the impact of power in relationships and identify and develop skills to challenge the abuse of power: – discuss the influence of family, media and peer attitudes to power and explore how these may lead to an abuse of power in relationships eg bullying, homophobia, intolerance, family and domestic violence [and] – recognise forms of bullying, harassment, abuse, discrimination and violence and how they impact health and wellbeing”. It should be noted that this is the only time ‘homophobia’ is mentioned in the entire document and, unfortunately, it is after an ‘eg’, meaning it is entirely optional for teachers and schools to teach. The ‘eg’ should be deleted, and either ‘homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia’ or ‘anti-LGBTI prejudice’ should be added.
  • In Stage 4, on page 83, where it says “investigate the benefits to individuals and communities of valuing diversity and promoting inclusivity: – explore their own and others’ values and beliefs towards issues of racism, discrimination, sexuality and investigate the impact of contextual factors on young people, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples [and] – describe how pro-social behaviour, respecting diversity, challenging racism and discrimination are inclusive ways of supporting and enhancing individual; and community health and wellbeing”. Based on the existing definitions of ‘sexuality’ and ‘diversity’ in the Glossary, these points currently do not include promoting LGBTI inclusivity. Even if those definitions are updated in line with the above recommendations, these points should still be made more explicit, with the first amended to read ‘racism, sexism, anti-LGBTI discrimination’ and the second to read ‘challenging racism, sexism, anti-LGBTI prejudice and discrimination’.
  • In Stage 4, also on page 83, where it says “plan and implement inclusive strategies to promote health and wellbeing and to connect with their communities: – describe the skills, strengths and strategies required to contribute to inclusive communities and implement strategies to challenge racist and prejudicial views of diversity within the community”, it should be amended to read ‘challenge, racist, sexist, anti-LGBTI and prejudicial views’.
  • In Stage 5, on page 93, where it says “investigate how the balance of power influences the nature of relationships and propose actions to build and maintain relationships that are respectful: – discuss discrimination as an abuse of power and evaluate legislation, policies and practices that address discrimination eg past policies affecting Aboriginal Peoples such as segregation and Aboriginal Self Determination” the words ‘, or the Sex Discrimination Act’ could be added.

 

Recommendation 6: The content for the Stages of the Syllabus should explicitly include discussion of anti-LGBTI bullying and discrimination and how to address it, beyond the single – optional – reference to homophobia that currently exists.

 

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Sexual Health Education

 

Another positive feature of the draft PDHPE K-10 Syllabus is the inclusive definition of ‘sexual health’ in the Glossary:

 

“A state of physical, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as a possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

 

The explicit acknowledgement of ‘pleasurable and safe sexual experiences’, and the need for sexual experiences to be ‘free of coercion’, is particularly welcome.

 

However, adopting an inclusive definition doesn’t mean much when the only time the phrase sexual health actually appears in the Syllabus prior to Stage 5 (which would generally be students in Years 9 and 10), is one brief reference in Stage 4 (covering students in Years 7 and 8), on page 84:

 

“explore the relationship between various health, safety and physical activity issues affecting young people and assess the impact it has on the health, safety and wellbeing of the community:

  • examine the impact that body image and personal identity have on young people’s mental health, drug use, sexual health and participation in physical activity.”

 

This isn’t explicitly about teaching the fundamentals of sexual health, merely its connection to, and interrelationship with, ‘body image and personal identity’ (which, while important, is not sufficient in and of itself).

 

Similarly, there is only one reference in the general curriculum to ‘sexually transmissible infections’, also in Stage 4, on page 85:

 

“plan and use health practices, behaviours and resources to enhance the health, safety, wellbeing and physical activity participation of their communities:

  • identify and apply preventive health practices and behaviours that assist in protection against disease eg blood borne viruses, sexually transmissible infections”.

 

Note that the reference to BBVs and STIs here also follows an ‘eg’, meaning that the decision whether to teach students about STIs (such as HIV) is discretionary. That is simply not good enough in 2017 – all students should receive information about STIs to empower them to control their own health.

 

Recommendation 7: Stage 4 of the Syllabus should include comprehensive education about sexual health, including mandatory information about sexually transmissible infections.

 

There is more information around sexual health in Stage 5 of the draft Syllabus, although even it is problematic. On page 95, it states:

 

“evaluate strategies and actions that aim to enhance health, safety, wellbeing and physical activity levels and plan to promote these in the school and community:

  • explore methods of contraception and evaluate the extent to which safe sexual health practices allow them to take responsibility for managing their own sexual health”

 

Given ‘contraception’ is generally understood to mean prevention of pregnancy, this content is therefore skewed towards vagina-penis sexual intercourse. To address the fact there are a range of other sexual practices (not just for LGBTI students, but also for cisgender heterosexual students too), this point should be amended to explicitly discuss sexual health and STI-prevention with respect to a range of practices. To not do so means denying the stated aim for all students “to take responsibility for managing their own sexual health.”

 

Recommendation 8: The Syllabus should move beyond discussion of ‘methods of contraception’ to discuss sexual health education around a range of different practices so that all students can ‘take responsibility for managing their own sexual health’.

 

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Life Skills

 

The students who are enrolled in the Years 7-10 Life Skills version of the PDHPE Syllabus can (obviously) also be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, and therefore also have the right for LGBTI content to be included throughout.

 

There are a variety of points at which the draft Life Skills content should be amended to achieve this important goal, including:

 

  • On page 113, where it says “What personal characteristics make us unique? Students recognise personal characteristics that are the same and/or different as others, for example: – gender [and] – diversity” the terms ‘gender identity’, ‘intersex’ and ‘sexual orientation’ should also be added.
  • Also on page 113, where it says “What changes do adolescents go through? Recognise visible features that undergo change during adolescence, for example: – female and male body changes” it should acknowledge the existence of intersex bodies.
  • On page 114, where it says “recognise changes in relationships that occur in adolescence, for example: – social and emotional relationships with other genders” it should be reworded to say “social and emotional relationships with people of the same or different genders”.
  • Also on page 114, where it says “understand that physical changes are a normal part of adolescence, for example: – identify the stages of the reproductive process, eg menstrual cycle, sperm production, conception, pregnancy, childbirth” it should also include discussion of sexual health, and sexual practices, that are not ‘reproductive’ in nature.
  • On page 115, where it says “recognise factors that impact negatively on relationships, for example: – bullying, coercion, harassment, violence, threats, bribes [and] –sexism [and] –racism” it should also include either ‘anti-LGBTI prejudice’ or ‘homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia’.
  • Finally, on page 122, where it says “identify matters associated with sexuality, for example: privacy and ethical behaviour – responsibilities associated with sexual activity for themselves and others – safe sex – contraception – fertility and pregnancy – sexually transmitted infections – sexual behaviours and expectations – appropriate sources for advice on and assistance – potential outcomes of sexual activity” once again it should explicitly include discussion of sexual health, and sexual practices, that are not ‘reproductive’ in nature.

 

Recommendation 9: The Years 7-10 Life Skills Syllabus should be amended to explicitly include LGBTI students and content that is relevant to their needs.

 

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Thank you for taking this submission into consideration as the NSW Education Standards Authority finalises the PDHPE K-10 Syllabus. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details below should you wish to clarify any of the information provided, or to seek additional information.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

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Footnotes:

[i] For more on the Darlington Statement, see the OII Australia website: https://oii.org.au/darlington-statement/

[ii] If the term ‘rainbow families’ is used at this point, it should also be defined in the Glossary.

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Letter to Minister Pyne Calling for COAG to Reject Health & Physical Education Curriculum Due to Ongoing LGBTI Exclusion

The Hon Christopher Pyne MP

Commonwealth Minister for Education

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

C.Pyne.MP@aph.gov.au

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:

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.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Will Minister Pyne listen to the needs of LGBTI students?

Will Education Minister Christopher Pyne listen to the needs of LGBTI students?

Cc: The Hon Adrian Piccoli MP, NSW Minister for Education (office@piccoli.minister.nsw.gov.au)

The Hon James Merlino MP, Victorian Minister for Education (james.merlino@parliament.vic.gov.au)

The Hon John-Paul Langbroek MP, Queensland Minister for Education, Training and Development (education@ministerial.qld.gov.au)

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 (minister.rankine@sa.gov.au)

The  Hon Jeremy Rockliff MP, Tasmanian Minister for Education and Training (jeremy.rockliff@parliament.tas.gov.au)

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 (minister.chandler@nt.gov.au)

The National Curriculum Review Fails to Support LGBTI Students

The Final Report of the Review of the Australian Curriculum, conducted by Ken Wiltshire and Kevin Donnelly, was released on Sunday 12 October 2014, accompanied by the Commonwealth Government’s Response (both documents can be found at the following link: <http://www.studentsfirst.gov.au/review-australian-curriculum ).

Based on initial reporting (including this article by Samantha Maiden in The Sunday Telegraph <http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/teenagers-should-be-given-lessons-on-sex-and-drugs-national-curriculum-report-states/story-fni0cx12-1227087475187 ), you could be forgiven for believing that the outcome of the Review was, overall, a positive one for LGBTI students, with a commitment to include content relevant to their needs.

Unfortunately, however, a closer examination of the Final Report, and the Government’s Response, reveals that it is nothing more than another missed opportunity, yet another failure to ensure that the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum caters to the needs of all students, including those of different sexual orientations, gender identities and intersex status.

To understand just how far short of this standard the ‘Wiltshire & Donnelly’ Review falls, we must first look back at the development of the HPE curriculum. Drafted by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment & Reporting Authority (ACARA) during 2012 and 2013, the HPE curriculum was subject to two rounds of formal public consultation, before the current draft was submitted for the consideration of COAG Education Ministers late last year.

Despite a number of submissions highlighting the HPE curriculum’s failure to genuinely include LGBTI students and content (including two from yours truly: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/04/11/submission-on-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ and <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/30/submission-on-redrafted-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ), and even after some minor tinkering around the edges (with a couple of welcome references to ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia’ added), the current draft of the HPE curriculum does not guarantee that all students will learn what they need to know to be comfortable in who they are, and to stay safe.

In particular, as I made clear in my submission to the National Curriculum Review itself, the draft HPE curriculum:

  • Has significant problems in terms of terminology – for example, it does not even use the words ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ once in the entire document.
  • Includes a fine-sounding commitment to student diversity that is almost immediately undermined by allowing “schools flexibility to meet the learning needs of all young people” – and which is especially poor when compared with the first draft that clearly stated that “same-sex attracted and gender diverse students exist in all Australian schools”.
  • Does not ensure students receive comprehensive sexual health education – with no year band descriptions providing a minimum level of information about sexually transmissible infections, and no references to condoms either, and
  • Completely excludes HIV and other BBVs, like hepatitis B and C – despite the fact that, more than 30 years into the HIV epidemic in Australia, the number of transmissions is rising (with one potential cause a lack of comprehensive and inclusive sexual health/BBV education for students).

[NB My full submission to the National Curriculum Review is available here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/03/13/submission-to-national-curriculum-review-re-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ].

The choice to appoint noted homophobe Kevin Donnelly (see my letter to Minister Pyne calling for Mr Donnelly to be sacked on that basis: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/01/11/letter-to-minister-pyne-re-health-physical-education-curriculum-and-appointment-of-mr-kevin-donnelly/ ) to review what was already a poor document was obviously a major concern.

And I will be the first to admit that the Final Report of the National Curriculum Review, including its recommendations about the HPE curriculum, is not as bad as was initially anticipated. But just because it did not live down to some exceptionally low expectations, does not mean that the outcome for the HPE curriculum, and its potential impact on LGBTI students, was in any way positive.

The first major failing of the National Curriculum Review’s approach is that it appears to concede, without mustering much opposition, that, far from being a national minimum standard, the HPE curriculum is essentially optional.

For example, it notes that “one jurisdiction said it would refuse to implement the content in sexual orientation” (which appears to be Western Australia), while “a few schools are implacably opposed to the inclusion of such material [sexuality education] and some have refused to teach it”, and “[o]ne organisation claimed they would not teach it as prescribed as it did not fit in with their religious values.”

Presumably, that final organisation was the National Catholic Education Office (NCEC), with the Final Report noting that “the submission by the NCEC signals that Catholic schools reserve the right to implement the Australian Curriculum according to the uniquely faith-based and religious nature of such schools: For example, as usual in all Catholic schools, the new Health and Physical Education Curriculum will need to be taught in the context of a Personal Development program informed by Catholic values on the life and personal issues involved” (emphasis in original).

Which means that Catholic Schools – which now account for more than 1-in-5 students across Australia – (presumably) Western Australian schools, and select other schools, have all refused to implement a document that wasn’t even genuinely LGBTI-inclusive to start.

The second major failing, or in this case potential failing, of the National Curriculum Review’s approach is that it supports “the need to reduce the amount of content overall”, noting that “[s]ubmissions and consultations and the opinion of the subject matter specialist suggest that it is overcrowded and needs some slimming down and some restricting of year-level content. Some of the content could well be addressed more in school-based activity.”

Indeed, one of its key recommendations is that “[t]he core content should be reduced and a significant portion should become part of school-based curriculum…” While this recommendation isn’t explicitly linked to LGBTI-related content, there is now a real risk that, in finalising the HPE Curriculum, either at the COAG Education Ministers meeting in December, or subsequently during 2015, what little LGBTI-inclusive material there is may be on the chopping block. This is something that will need to be monitored closely in coming months.

The third major failing of the National Curriculum Review in this area is that, rather than mandating that every student, in every school, receives a minimum level of LGBTI-related education, it instead supports ever greater levels of ‘flexibility’ in terms of what is delivered in the classroom (noting that that the original HPE curriculum already supported ‘flexibility’ in this area).

For example, in one particularly telling paragraph it notes “[o]ther schools, including Christian schools, have advised us that they are comfortable with the inclusion of such content [sexuality education] in the health and physical education curriculum, provided there is flexibility so that they are able to teach it at the age level they deem appropriate, and by mature teachers rather than younger ones who may feel challenged in this arena. We think this is the way forward.”

Which, upon analysis, is actually a pretty bizarre statement – not just because it shouldn’t matter how old a teacher is, as long as they are appropriately qualified, but also because the National Curriculum Review is essentially agreeing to schools disregarding the evidence of when it is best to provide sexuality/sexual health education to students. Instead, the Review supports allowing schools to teach this content at whatever age they wish, without any justification, and presumably delaying it beyond the age at which it would be most valuable.

The recommendation in this area goes even further: “[t]he two controversial areas of sexuality and drugs education should remain, but schools should be given greater flexibility to determine the level at which these areas are introduced and the modalities in which they will be delivered…” (emphasis added). Which means that even how sexuality education is taught is apparently negotiable.

The net outcome of the National Curriculum Review, at least as it concerns Health & Physical Education, is this: A curriculum that already largely excludes LGBTI students and content, is, in practice, 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’ in coming months, 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.

Which, to me at least, sounds like the exact opposite of what a national curriculum should be – and demonstrates just how big a missed opportunity this entire process has been.

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.

The existing HPE curriculum does not even come close to recognising that right, and the Final Report of the Australian Curriculum Review will not deliver it, either. That is why we must give the ‘Wiltshire & Donnelly’ Review a fail – because it fails to support LGBTI students.

Two final points. First, at least one of the explanations for why the National Curriculum Review has ultimately failed LGBTI students lies in the fact that it actively bought into the notion that the area of ‘sexuality education’ is somehow controversial. Well, that is simply not true.

Just because there are people who disagree with something does not make it controversial. Just because some governments, religious organisations, individual schools and even some parents do not think students should be taught material because it is LGBTI-inclusive, does not mean their opinion is valid.

None of their individual or collective prejudices about sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status trump the rights of LGBTI students to hear about themselves in the classroom, and to be taught that who they are is okay. Nor do the so-called interests of these groups override the need to reduce the number of suicides of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, an ongoing tragedy in schools and communities across the country.

Which brings me to my final point. Some people believe that the inclusion of the following paragraph indicates that the Curriculum Review is supportive of LGBTI students:

“Expert medical opinion is clear that, along with the earlier maturation of young people, there is currently a serious crisis – including youth suicides – occurring in Australian society in this domain as a result of a lack of forums and spaces where young people can discuss such issues, including sexuality. The school setting, on the assumption that the curriculum is balanced and objective in dealing with what are sensitive and often controversial issues, offers one of the few neutral places for this to occur.”

Of course, I agree with the majority of this statement (reference to ‘controversial’ aside) – as would many advocates operating in this area. But, if you are to raise the spectre of youth suicide, and LGBTI youth suicide in particular, but then fail to deliver a document that would do anything to tackle this crisis, then, Mr Wiltshire and Mr Donnelly, your words aren’t just hollow and tokenistic, they are offensive.

Ken Wiltshire & Kevin Donnelly's National Curriculum Review has failed LGBTI students around the country.

Ken Wiltshire & Kevin Donnelly’s National Curriculum Review has failed to support LGBTI students around the country.

Submission to National Curriculum Review re Health & Physical Education Curriculum

The following is my submission to the review of the national curriculum, initiated by the Commonwealth Minister for Education, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP at the end of 2013. Given the appointment of Mr Kevin Donnelly to co-chair this review, I am not confident that all, or indeed, any of the concerns below will be listened to. But the inclusion of LGBTI students and content in our schools system is so important that I believe it is still worth a shot.

National Curriculum Review Submission

Thursday 13 March 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on the development of the national school curriculum.

In this submission I will limit my comments to the development of the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum. In particular, I will be commenting on whether the HPE curriculum as drafted addresses the needs of, and genuinely includes, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students.

I have previously made submissions on the initial public consultation draft of the HPE curriculum, released in December 2012 (a copy of my submission is provided at <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/04/11/submission-on-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ), and on the revised draft released for limited public consultation in June and July 2013 (see <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/30/submission-on-redrafted-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ).

In both of those submissions I was strongly critical of the fact that the draft HPE curriculums did not genuinely attempt to include LGBTI students (including omission of the words lesbian, gay or bisexual), did not provide adequate sexual health education, and did not provide adequate information regarding HIV and other Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs), including viral hepatitis.

A second revised draft of the curriculum was prepared by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) ahead of the meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory Education Ministers in November 2013. It has been reported that Education Ministers did not agree to the second revised draft, but instead simply noted its development in anticipation of this review.

Nevertheless, the second revised draft HPE curriculum was published in February 2014 on the Australian Curriculum website (www.australiancurriculum.edu.au).

I have analysed the second revised draft, and sincerely hope that my comments below convey the seriousness of my concerns about the ongoing exclusion of LGBTI students and content, and the potential negative health impacts that this exclusion will have over the short, medium and long-term.

The current version of the national Health & Physical Education curriculum does nothing to put all ‘Students First’, which I understand to be the guiding principle of this review. In fact, by continuing to exclude some students, and marginalising content which is relevant to their needs, the draft HPE curriculum places lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students last.

If the HPE curriculum were to be implemented as it currently stands, it would actively contribute to, and reinforce, the disproportionate rates of mental health problems, depression and, most tragically, suicide, which continue to affect young LGBTI people.

By failing to include detailed BBV and sexual health education, the HPE curriculum would also leave young people, and gay and bisexual men and trans* people specifically, exposed to unnecessary risk of transmission of HIV and other infections.

And by not ensuring that all students are provided with information that is relevant to their own needs and personal circumstances, the HPE curriculum will undermine the fundamental human right to health of the next generation of young LGBTI people. This right must be respected, and not denied to people merely on the basis of other peoples’ attitudes towards their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

This review is an(other) opportunity to address some of the serious shortcomings of the draft HPE curriculum. Please seize this opportunity and recommend that the curriculum be amended to ensure LGBTI students are included, with content that is relevant and targeted to meet their needs, including around sexual health and BBV education.

The remainder of this submission will look at five key areas of the draft HPE curriculum. They are:

  • Terminology
  • Student Diversity
  • Bullying & Discrimination
  • Sexual Health, and
  • HIV and other BBVs.

Terminology

One significant problem that has consistently appeared through the initial draft, revised draft and now second revised draft of the Health & Physical Education curriculum is that of terminology. Specifically, the HPE curriculum has either completely excluded terms that are essential for young people to learn, or included terms or definitions that are not appropriate in the circumstances.

The biggest problem in terminology, featured in all three drafts, has been the failure to even include the words lesbian, gay or bisexual. Despite these being the most common forms of identification for people whose sexual orientation is ‘not heterosexual’, these terms have never appeared in any version of this document.

In fact, the ongoing refusal to name lesbians, gay men and bisexuals – despite the fact that students will have heard these terms regularly amongst their families and friends, in culture and in broader society, and that an increasing number of young people, including students, will be using these terms to describe themselves – is almost bizarre in its stubbornness to deny reality.

Even if there may be a reason for sometimes using the umbrella term same-sex attracted, to ensure that people who may be sexually attracted to people of their own sex but who do not use the terms lesbian, gay or bisexual to identify themselves are included, there is absolutely no justification for not naming lesbian, gay and bisexual identities within the HPE curriculum (for example, by using the description “same-sex attracted, including lesbian, gay and bisexual people”). The failure to do so contributes to the marginalisation of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people.

On a related issue, the HPE curriculum as drafted appears to use the incredibly broad, and arguably poorly-defined, term ‘sexuality’ at multiple points in the document when ‘sexual orientation’ would be more appropriate.

For example, the Glossary defines ‘sexuality’ as “[a] central aspect of being human throughout life. Sexuality encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction and is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors”. The breadth of this definition makes some of the references to sexuality in the curriculum either too vague to be practicable, or even unintelligible.

The more widely-accepted term ‘sexual orientation’, which the curriculum does not define, and only appears to use once (in the definition of ‘sexuality’, reproduced above), would be more constructive, especially when references are made to differences or diversity in ‘sexuality’. Using the term sexual orientation would also more clearly include different orientations (including lesbian, gay and bisexual) than using the term sexuality alone.

On a positive note, there have been some improvements in references to, and definitions for, diversity in gender identity, including transgender people (which at least is included as part of the Glossary definition of ‘gender diverse’).

There have also been improvements in terms of the recognition of intersex people, who are now at least referenced in the statement on student diversity, and provided with a separate definition in the Glossary (where previously it had been erroneously included within the definition of gender diverse).

Nevertheless, defining a term in the Glossary and then using it once in the main text of the curriculum itself (and even then only as part of an ‘aspirational statement’ at the beginning of the document) is not sufficient to guarantee that the needs of transgender and intersex students are met.

In summary, the HPE curriculum needs to be significantly amended, such that it actually includes the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual, and that it adequately includes information about these sexual orientations, as well as transgender and intersex people, throughout the document.

Student Diversity

As discussed above, the HPE curriculum includes a statement on ‘Student Diversity’ at the beginning of the document, and this includes two paragraphs on ‘Same-sex attracted and gender-diverse students’.

I welcome some of the changes that have been made to this section between the revised draft and the second revised draft. In particular, these paragraphs now make a variety of positive statements (including that “it is crucial to acknowledge and affirm diversity in relation to sexuality and gender’” – noting my view, expressed earlier, that the use of ‘sexual orientation’ would be preferable here – while talking about “inclusive… programs” and the needs of “all students”).

Indeed, the last sentence of the section is particularly encouraging where it notes that being inclusive and relevant is “particularly important when teaching about reproduction and sexual health, to ensure that the needs of all students are met, including students who may be same-sex attracted, gender diverse or intersex”.

However, these positive developments continue to be undermined by the preceding statements that the HPE curriculum “is designed to allow schools flexibility to meet the learning needs of all young people, particularly in the health focus area of relationships and sexuality” (emphasis added) and that “[a]ll schools communities have a responsibility when implementing the HPE curriculum to ensure that teaching is inclusive and relevant to the lived experiences of all students” (emphasis added).

Both of these statements appear to leave the decision whether, and in what way, schools will include LGBTI students and content up to the schools themselves. In the first instance, whether LGBTI students and content are included at all is too important to be left to the ‘flexibility’ of the school itself.

Second, and far more importantly, the reference to ‘lived experiences’ could be argued to leave a loophole for schools to assert that, unless students first identify themselves or disclose their status as LGBTI, they do not exist in the eyes of the school and therefore the school does not have a responsibility to include them or content relevant to their needs.

This approach – apparently leaving it up to students to ‘come out’ before they are entitled to receive vital health information, despite the fact that doing so can, in many Australian jurisdictions, lead to the potential expulsion of that student, let alone other personal consequences for the student with their family or friends – fundamentally undermines the concept of health, and health education, as a universal human right.

And, while this appears to be a somewhat negative and narrow interpretation of these paragraphs, it is a realistic one given that a statement which appeared in the initial consultation draft, which stated that “same-sex attracted and gender diverse students exist in all Australian schools” was abandoned in the revised draft, and, despite arguments put forward for its re-inclusion was not included in the second revised draft.

In my view, whether to include LGBTI students and content should not be an issue of ‘flexibility’ between different schools. Instead, there should be a minimum level of LGBTI education provided to every student in every school – and, after all, isn’t a national minimum standard what the curriculum should be aiming to achieve?

This would be further supported by the re-inclusion of a statement which notes that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students exists across all Australian schools, and all schools must provide LGBTI-specific content to each and every student”.

Bullying & Discrimination

One area where there has been significant improvement from the initial draft and revised draft to the second revised draft has been an increase in content that attempts to redress anti-LGBTI bullying and discrimination.

In particular, I welcome the commitment in the Glossary definition of ‘discrimination’ that “[t]he types of discrimination that students must learn about include racial, sex and gender discrimination, homophobia and transphobia” (emphasis added).

I also welcome the increased content in year band descriptions that explicitly includes learning about homophobia, in years 7/8 and 9/10.

However, there are still a range of improvements that could be made to ensure that the curriculum adequately informs students about the need to stamp out discrimination and bullying of LGBTI students.

First, it is important to note that ‘homophobia’ does not necessarily include all forms of discrimination or prejudice against LGBTI people. The inclusion of transphobia in the Glossary is valuable, however, it should also be included in the year band descriptions to ensure that it is not overlooked. Both the Glossary and year band descriptions should also include biphobia and anti-intersex discrimination, which should not automatically be subsumed within a catch-all category of ‘homophobia’.

Second, discussion of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex discrimination should not be left until years 7/8 to be introduced into the HPE curriculum, but should be commenced in years 5/6 alongside education about racism.

This is vital not only because anti-LGBTI bullying and discrimination can occur from a young age (including all-too-common insults like “that’s so gay”), but also because some young lesbian, gay and bisexual students are coming out earlier and earlier (and deserve to be protected), while some trans* and intersex youth may have disclosed their status earlier still.

Third, in the year band description for years 9/10, heading “[c]ritique behaviours and contextual factors that influence health and wellbeing of their communities” instead of using the term “such as… homophobia” (emphasis added) the curriculum should say “including homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex prejudice” to ensure that schools cannot opt out of providing this content.

Fourth, I would highlight the inconsistency in providing information about homophobia and transphobia to students, which as I have indicated above is a positive development, with the ongoing exclusion of the words lesbian, gay and bisexual from the document in its entirety, and the exclusion of the words transgender and intersex from the year band descriptions (which provide the main content of the curriculum).

It would seem nigh on impossible to appropriately teach students about the negatives of homophobia and transphobia (together with biphobia and anti-intersex discrimination, which should be added) at the same time that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students are either not explicitly mentioned in the year band descriptions, or not even mentioned at all in the entire curriculum.

Sexual health

One of the key aspects of any Health & Physical Education curriculum must be the provision of comprehensive, inclusive and up-to-date education around sexual health.

Unfortunately, none of the three drafts of the HPE curriculum released to date have provided even a bare minimum of information about the best practices to support sexual health, not just for LGBTI people, but also for cisgender heterosexual students.

While the Glossary does at least provide a definition of ‘sexual health’ (“[a] state of physical, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence”), there is either limited or no support to implement this in practice in the year band descriptions.

In the year bands 5/6 and 7/8, which represent key ages for sexual health education, there is some discussion of physical changes surrounding puberty, and even changing feelings and attractions, but there does not appear to be any unit or module where students are taught the ‘nitty-gritty’ of sexual health, including discussion of different sexual practices, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the best ways to reduce the risks of STI transmission (including but not limited to condom usage).

I continue to find it extraordinary that the national minimum standard for Health & Physical Education to students does not even refer to STIs or condoms.

One of the arguments that has been mounted in defence of this omission is that this level of detail is not necessary in the curriculum, and that it will be covered as different jurisdictions and school systems implement their own syllabus.

I completely disagree. Given how fundamental sexual health is to the health and wellbeing of young people, surely the national HPE curriculum is the perfect place to guarantee that all students, rights across the country and irrespective of whether they attend government or non-government schools, receive the best possible information.

In addition, the reticence to provide any real detail around sexual health in the curriculum, on the basis that ‘specifics’ are not required, looks more like evasion when compared with some of the other sections of the curriculum which are, in fact, quite detailed (for example, in the year 5/6 band description it suggests “experimenting with different music genres such as Indian Bhangra music when performing creative dances”).

If something as specific as Indian Bhangra music can be named in the HPE document, then there must also be space for detailed discussion of the importance of sexual health, different sexual practices, STIs and condoms.

HIV and other BBVs

My fifth and final concern is related to the fourth, and that is the complete exclusion of HIV, and other BBVs like viral hepatitis, from the curriculum.

As I have written previously, I simply cannot understand that a national Health & Physical Education curriculum, developed and written in the years 2012 and 2013, does not even refer to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which together directly affect almost half a million Australians.

It is vital that students learn about these BBVs, and most importantly how to reduce the risks of their transmission (for example, condom usage, hepatitis B vaccination, not sharing injecting equipment and safe tattooing and body art practices). If we do not provide this information, at the age that young people need it most, then we are failing in our duty of care towards the next generation.

The ongoing exclusion of HIV in particular looks odd (or, to be less charitable, short-sighted and ill-conceived). More than 30 years into the HIV epidemic in Australia, and with Melbourne hosting the 20th International AIDS Conference in July 2014, the proposed national minimum standard for Health & Physical Education curriculum does not even bother to mention it.

This is far from the ‘best practice’ approach that Australia adopted to the HIV epidemic in the 1980s. A best practice approach to the HPE curriculum now would, as a minimum, ensure that all students learn about HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, and the best ways to reduce the risks of transmission.

 

Conclusion

 

As I have outlined above, I have serious concerns about the second revised draft Health & Physical Education curriculum, including its continued exclusion of LGBTI students and content relevant to their needs, as well as minimal or non-existent education regarding sexual health and HIV and other BBVs.

As reviewers of the national curriculum, I believe it is your responsibility to remedy these significant shortcomings, and ensure that the final HPE curriculum adopted is one that provides for the best possible health education and outcomes for all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.

That is my definition of Students First.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Letter to Minister Pyne re Health & Physical Education Curriculum and Appointment of Mr Kevin Donnelly

UPDATE (Saturday 8 February): This week, I received a reply from Minister Pyne to my letter to him, on 11 January (see below), in which I requested that he sack Mr Kevin Donnelly from the national curriculum review because his homophobia made him unsuitable to be involved in any review of a Health & Physical Education curriculum.

In a somewhat unsurprising, but nevertheless extremely disappointing, response, Minister Pyne did not address any of the comments made by Mr Donnelly, nor deal with the problem that through his comments Mr Donnelly appears to be unable to oversee a HPE curriculum that serves the needs of all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and intersex (LGBTI) students.

So, while the issue of Mr Donnelly’s homophobia has received welcome public scrutiny, especially over the course of the past week, it seems Minister Pyne doesn’t really care about it – certainly not enough to actually respond to concerns which are put directly to him.

Which, sadly, makes me even more fearful of what the final HPE document will look like when it is released later in 2014.

Full text of Minister Pyne’s letter:

Dear Mr Lawrie

Thank you for your email of 11 January 2014 regarding the review of the Australian Curriculum.

As the Minister for Education, I am focussed on improving schools and student outcomes through proven policies and initiatives. Under our Students First approach, the Coalition Government is working with the states and territories on the priority areas of teacher quality, principal autonomy, parental engagement and strengthening our curriculum.

Over the past ten years, education outcomes in Australia have gone backwards, both relatively against other countries, but also in real terms. Some have identified that the reason for this is due to our curriculum not being robust enough.

I appointed Professor Ken Wiltshire AO and Dr Kevin Donnelly to review the curriculum to evaluate its robustness, impartiality and balance. Between them, Professor Wiltshire and Dr Donnelly have a tremendous amount of experience in not only the school education sector, but also in education curricula. I am confident that their considerable expertise will allow them to bring a balanced approach to this review process.

The reviewers are interested in hearing the views of parents and communities, educators and schools, and state and territory governments, to inform their analysis. This is an open public consultation process where the community are able to have their say.

I appreciate you taking the time to contact me to express your views. I encourage you to make a submission to the review. Comments will be accepted until Friday 28 February 2014. Information can be found at http://www.studentsfirst.gov.au/review-australian-curriculum.

Yours sincerely

Christopher Pyne MP

29 January 2014

ORIGINAL POST 11 January: Dear Minister Pyne

LGBTI INCLUSION IN NATIONAL HEALTH & PHYSICAL EDUCATION CURRICULUM AND APPOINTMENT OF MR KEVIN DONNELLY TO CURRICULUM REVIEW

I wrote to you in September 2013, following your appointment as Commonwealth Minister for Education, regarding the development of the National Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

In that letter, I raised serious concerns about the draft HPE curriculum, including both the initial draft released in December 2012, and revised draft, released in mid-2013, specifically:

  • That the draft HPE curriculum failed to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students, and content relevant to their needs;
  • That the sexual health information provided in the draft HPE curriculum was grossly insufficient; and
  • That the draft HPE curriculum was inadequate because it failed to even mention HIV, or other blood borne viruses (like hepatitis B and C), let alone ensuring students received the vital education necessary to reduce future transmissions.

I note that, since that letter, the COAG Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood (SCSEEC) met in Sydney on 29 November 2013. Significantly, that meeting did not endorse the draft HPE curriculum, but instead it was only ‘noted’. From the communiqué:

“The Standing Council today noted that ACARA has developed the Australian Curriculum content and achievement standards for … health and physical education … according to its current curriculum development processes.

Ministers noted that the Australian Government will be undertaking a review of the Australian Curriculum, and will bring forward recommendations from the review to the Standing Council in 2014.”

This means that there should be the opportunity for the Health & Physical Education curriculum to be improved as part of the overall review. In particular, there is now time for the HPE curriculum to be amended to specifically include LGBTI students and content, increased sexual health information and education about HIV and other BBVs.

Unfortunately, following your announcement yesterday, Friday 10 January 2014, of the two people entrusted with reviewing the curriculum, I have serious doubts that any improvements are now possible. Indeed, I am concerned that whatever amendments are made to the HPE curriculum will be entirely negative ones, and further contribute to the exclusion and marginalisation of LGBTI students in Australia.

This is because one of the people you have appointed, Mr Kevin Donnelly, has made sustained negative comments about the education needs of LGBTI students over the past decade.

For example, in 2004 Mr Donnelly is reported as saying that “[v]ery few parents would expect that it is the role of schools to teach children about the positive aspects of gay, lesbian and transgender sex lifestyles” and that “[f]orgotten is that many parents would consider the sexual practices of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals decidedly unnatural and that such groups have a greater risk in terms of transmitting STDs and AIDS” (source: Sydney Morning Herald, 3 May 2004, “Government staffer says new-age warriors waging culture wars in class”).

Mr Donnelly returned to similar themes the following year, criticising the Australian Education Union for arguing that “school curricula should “enhance understanding and acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”” He went on to write “[f]orgotten is that many parents would consider the sexual practices of GLBT people unnatural and that most parents would prefer their children to form a relationship with somebody of the opposite sex. This is apart from the fact that many parents expect that it is their duty, not that of teachers and schools, to teach such sensitive matters” (source: News Weekly, 26 March 2005, “Teacher Unions Enforcing the Gender Agenda”).

In the same article, he wrote “it is also wrong to introduce students to sensitive sexual matters about which most parents might be concerned and that the wider community might fine unacceptable” in response to a lesbian teacher simply telling her students of her relationship.

Mr Donnelly’s views are not confined to last decade, either. In an article published on The Drum website on 6 December 2011 (“Marriage Equality: Secrets of a Successful Campaign”), he wrote:

“Such has been the cultural-left’s success in relation to gender issues that the so-called Melbourne Declaration, the blue print for Australian school education, argues that all school sectors, faith based, independent and government, must provide an education free of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.

A strict interpretation of the Melbourne Declaration is that religious schools will lose the freedom they currently have to discriminate in relation to who they enrol and who they employ. One also expects that the proposed national curriculum, in areas like health, will enforce a positive view of GLBT issues.”

Implicit in these comments is that private/religious schools should be able to discriminate against LGBTI students and teachers, and that the national curriculum need not include a positive approach to ‘GLBT issues’.

In short, over the past decade, Mr Donnelly has repeatedly argued against positive representations of LGBTI students and issues, has argued that same-sex relationships are ‘sensitive matters’ that should not be referred to in schools, and has on multiple occasions repeated the view, without condemnation, that “many parents would consider the sexual practices of GLBT people (decidedly) unnatural”.

As part of his role in reviewing the broader national curriculum, Mr Donnelly will have responsibility for reviewing the draft national HPE curriculum. Based on his public comments of the past decade, he is eminently unsuitable for this position. In my view, Mr Donnelly has amply demonstrated that he is incapable of reviewing, and redrafting, a national Health and Physical Education curriculum that meets the needs of all Australian students, not simply those who are cis-gender and heterosexual.

Given this evidence, the responsible course of action for you to take, as Commonwealth Minister for Education, would be to terminate his appointment. I urge you to do so.

Irrespective of what decision you take in relation to Mr Donnelly’s specific role, your announcement of the broader curriculum review on 10 January has confirmed that it is now your responsibility to ensure that the final Health and Physical Education curriculum is genuinely inclusive, and meets the needs of all students, including LGBTI students. This is a serious burden, and one that I sincerely hope you give serious attention to during 2014.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of the matters raised in this letter. I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

No 4 Draft Health & Physical Education Curriculum Fails LGBTI Students

For people who read my blog regularly, you will know that this is something I have written a fair bit about over the past 12 months. For others, you could be forgiven for asking what exactly I am talking about. Which is a fair enough question, given this subject has almost completely evaded media attention, even within the LGBTI community.

In December 2012, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) released a draft national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum for public consultation. Submissions closed in April this year, before a second draft was released for limited public consultation in July 2013.

ACARA then finalised the draft curriculum from August to November, before submitting it for approval at the COAG Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood (SCSEEC) meeting in in Sydney on 29 November.

Through this process, it became clear that the draft HPE curriculum that had been developed would almost completely fail to serve the needs of young LGBTI people right around Australia. Neither the first nor the second draft curriculum even included the words gay, lesbian or bisexual, and, while the second included transgender and intersex, it only did so in the glossary and even then erroneously included them within the same definition.

Nor did the draft HPE curriculum guarantee that all students, LGBTI and non-LGBTI alike, would learn the necessary sexual health education to allow them to make informed choices. Almost unbelievably, COAG Education Ministers were asked to approve a Health & Physical Education curriculum that did not even include the term HIV (or other BBVs like viral hepatitis for that matter), just two days before World AIDS Day.

For more information on just how bad the draft HPE curriculums were, here is my submission to the first draft: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/04/11/submission-on-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ and second draft: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/30/submission-on-redrafted-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/

Given the fact the draft HPE curriculums so comprehensively failed to include LGBTI students, let alone content that was relevant to their needs, why didn’t this issue receive more attention, both from the media, and more specifically from LGBTI activists and advocates?

Well, there are lots of reasons – including but not limited to the inability of something as complicated as a school curriculum to compete with the much more emotive, yes/no, good/evil, photogenic juggernaut that is marriage equality.

But simply writing it off in that way is too simple – and lets us off the hook, free from our own responsibility for this failure. Because, if the exclusion of LGBTI students and content from the HPE curriculum was not a public issue, it is because we, as LGBTI activists and advocates, did not make it one.

In which case, I would like to sincerely apologise to future generations of young LGBTI people, who we failed over the past 12 months. If the HPE curriculum that is ultimately adopted resembles anything like its draft form, then we simply did not do enough to ensure that you received the education that you deserve.

Of course, I should not be alone in making such an apology – there are many other people, and organisations, who could and should have done more in this area throughout the course of 2013. Nor should we let off the hook the Education Ministers, both Labor and Liberal, who oversaw the development of the HPE curriculum, including Peter Garrett and Bill Shorten who were Education Minister when the two drafts were released, respectively.

There is however, a small glimmer of hope, and an opportunity to make things better, in the HPE curriculum and therefore for LGBTI students over the next 10 to 15 years. That is because new Commonwealth Education Minister Christopher Pyne has commenced a review of both ACARA, and of the curriculum development process more generally.

While overall that is probably not a positive development, it did mean that the HPE curriculum was not actually agreed at the 29 November meeting, but was instead simply ‘noted’. In short, there is still time to try to convince Minister Pyne, and any or all of this state and territory counterparts (Labor, Liberal and Green), that the draft HPE curriculum is not good enough when it comes to providing essential health education to LGBTI students.

Unfortunately, doing so would require the concerted effort of LGBTI people and organisations from around the country. Based on all the evidence of the past 12 months, I am not especially hopeful. Still, I can hope to be proven wrong.

UPDATE January 11 2014: As of yesterday, the small glimmer of hope that might have existed is no more. The Commonwealth Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, has appointed Kevin Donnelly as one of two men to review the curriculum. Unfortunately, Mr Donnelly is on record as making numerous homophobic comments in the past, including advocating for the rights of religious schools to discriminate against LGBTI students and staff. If anything, there is now a grave danger that the final Health & Physical Education curriculum will be significantly worse than the already poor versions released publicly in December 2012 and July 2013. How depressing for us – and how dangerous for the health and safety of the next generation of LGBTI students and young people.

The ABCs of Health & Physical Education Must Include LGBTI

Next week, a decision will be made that will have a profound and long-lasting influence on the health and wellbeing of an entire generation of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians. And it has nothing (or at most, very little) to do with marriage equality.

On Friday, 29 November, the COAG Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood, which includes Commonwealth, state and territory Education Ministers, will decide whether to approve the national Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum. The HPE curriculum, developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), has largely been ignored, struggling to compete for attention against photogenic images of same-sex couples in wedding attire, and empowered adults advocating for the right to marry the person they love.

While I obviously support that campaign (indeed, I am engaged to be married myself), the national HPE curriculum will arguably have a far greater impact on young LGBTI people, right across the country, than any other possible reform.

We already know that young LGBTI people experience significantly higher rates of mental health issues, and, tragically, suicidality, than other groups. Figures from the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell report reveal that young same-sex attracted people are roughly six times more likely to attempt suicide (20-42% compared to 7-13% of heterosexual young people). While there is less research, similar, if anything even worse, statistics affect young transgender people.

And we already know what causes poorer mental health outcomes for younger LGBTI people – the homophobia, bi-phobia, trans-phobia and anti-intersex discrimination that still occurs all too frequently. The 2010 Writing Themselves In 3 report found that 61% of same-sex attracted and gender questioning young people had experienced verbal abuse because of homophobia, 18% had suffered physical abuse, and 26% reported other forms of homophobia.

Disturbingly, “the most common place of abuse remained school with 80% of those who were abused naming school” (WTI3 pIX). Our young LGBTI people are being abused in one of the places that they should feel safest. And the trend is worsening, with that figure markedly up since 2004 (when 74% reported homophobic abuse at school) and 1998 (69%).

Just as worryingly, young LGBTI are not receiving an inclusive education in terms of content either. While just over a third of young people reported receiving useful information about homophobia and discrimination from school (WTI3, p80), less than one fifth were able to access information about gay or lesbian relationships (p81).

Our schools are also comprehensively failing to provide adequate, and appropriate, sexual health education to young LGBTI people. Writing Themselves In 3 found that less than one in five students were taught relevant information about gay or lesbian safe sex (by comparison, approximately 70% reported receiving information about heterosexual safe sex: p82). Young people themselves are aware of this gross inadequacy – 84% of LGBTI respondents found their Sexuality Education to be either not useful at all (44%) or at best only partly useful (40%) (p84).

I have painted this confronting picture because the development of a national Health and Physical Education curriculum was an ideal chance to rectify some of these deficiencies. An inclusive HPE curriculum, which specifically included LGBTI students and content relevant to their needs, could have gone some way to reducing the disparities in health outcomes experienced by young LGBTI people. But it seems likely the document that will be agreed at the end of next week will fall spectacularly short of this goal.

Two drafts of the HPE curriculum have been released for publication consultation: the first, an 82-page draft in December 2012, the second, a pared-down 50 page revised draft in July 2013. In neither draft are the terms lesbian, gay, homosexual or bisexual even used, let alone defined. The words transgender and intersex do make a solitary appearance in the revised draft: in the glossary, erroneously included together under the heading gender-diverse.

Not only is the national HPE curriculum not going to overcome the silence about LGBTI students and content which exists in many schools across Australia – it is more likely to perpetuate and further entrench it.

To be fair, the curriculum does include a single aspirational – some might say, less kindly, token – paragraph on the subject of ‘same sex attracted and gender diverse students’ (SSAGD) on page 18 of the July 2013 revised draft. But even this includes vague, and seemingly unenforceable, commitments.

It says the curriculum “is designed to allow schools flexibility to meet the needs of these [SSAGD] students, particularly in the health context of relationships and sexuality” (emphasis added). This leaves open the possibility that some schools, including but not limited to religious schools, will exercise that same flexibility to exclude LGBTI content.

The next sentence reads “[a]ll school communities have a responsibility when implementing the HPE curriculum to ensure teaching is inclusive and relevant to the lived experience of all students” (emphasis added). That could be interpreted, optimistically, to mean all schools must include SSAGD content – or it could be interpreted, by less progressive school bodies (or indeed state and territory governments), to mean HPE education must be inclusive only where they are aware of the presence of LGBTI students.

That might seem, on the face of it, to be an overly-negative reading – except that a statement that “students facing these issues [SSAGD] exist in all schools”, which appeared in the first draft of the curriculum, was axed from the revised draft. It is hard to ignore the possibility that religious and independent schools have ensured the removal of such a clause, thereby allowing them to continue to ignore LGBTI students and content unless those students identify themselves.

These schools know that many young people will not disclose their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status at school (often in – quite legitimate – fear of punishment from that same school), meaning that heterosexual and cisgender-only health education can continue on much as before. Even where LGBTI students do ‘come out’, the onus should never be put on them to do so in order to receive an inclusive education: all students have the fundamental right to be taught LGBTI relevant content, whether they have disclosed their status or not.

That right exists no matter which state or territory they live in, and irrespective of whether they attend a public, religious or other private school. The right to be taught LGBTI-inclusive content also supersedes whatever views the school, or its employees, may hold, based on religion or otherwise. To me, that is the definition of putting children first, something which conservatives and family values campaigners consistently tell us to do.

Any optimistic view of the curriculum, based on the ‘aspirational paragraph’ referred to earlier, is further undermined by the lack of specific content in the individual year band descriptions, which is the practical guide to what students are expected to learn (on pages 25-42). There are no sections that guarantee detailed LGBTI-relevant content will be taught. In fact, a single reference to ‘homophobia’, which was included in the original December 2012 draft, was excised from the revised draft released in July 2013.

Even worse, there does not appear to be any section which mandates that students be taught comprehensive sexual health information (and that absence even includes heterosexual sexual health). There are no references to safe(r) sex education, to condoms, or to sexually transmissible infections (STIs). Above all, there is not a single reference in the entire draft HPE curriculum to HIV.

Imagine that for a second. More than 30 years into the HIV epidemic in Australia, and in the same year that the Annual Surveillance Reports showed a 10% increase in HIV notifications (24% in NSW), our national Health and Physical Education curriculum does not even mention HIV (nor does it include other Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs) like hepatitis B or C, which themselves each affect 1% of the entire Australian population).

The idea that, just two days before World AIDS Day, Commonwealth, state and territory Education Ministers could sit around a table and agree to an HPE curriculum that excludes HIV and other BBVs is simply astounding (and a lot of other words which I am too polite to write here).

Taken together, these omissions – LGBTI students and content, comprehensive sexual health education, and HIV and other BBVs – from the national Health and Physical Education curriculum, mean that the document that has been drafted (or the public versions of it at least) is an abject failure.

And it is a collective failure, too. The original December 2012 draft, and the July 2013 revised draft, were both released under the previous federal Labor Government. Of the state and territory Education Ministers present next Friday, five will be from the Coalition, two from Labor and even one from the Greens, and they will each bear some of the responsibility.

But above all, this is a test for the new Commonwealth Education Minister, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP. He has come to Government expressing concerns about the ACARA process for developing the national curriculum, and the outcomes it has produced. Here is his opportunity to show that he is genuine, and to help ensure that the national Health and Physical Education Curriculum is genuinely-inclusive.

If he does not, if the document that is approved on 29 November excludes LGBTI students and content, comprehensive sexual health education, and HIV and other BBVs, then Minister Pyne will earn a large red “F” on his first term report card. He can – and must – do better.

Update (3 December): The Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood met last Friday, but did NOT endorse the national Health & Physical Education curriculum. Instead, they have noted its development, while also noting that the Commonwealth is reviewing ACARA and the curriculum development process more broadly. Basically, the curriculum is on hold until that review is finished, meaning it could be adopted at some point in 2014, amended and then adopted in 2014, or could be sent back for complete redraft, either by ACARA or someone else. I will obviously post further updates as I become aware of important developments.