Craig Young delves into the government’s removal of the Relationships and Sexuality Education curriculum from our schools.

In order to critically debate the Relationships and Sexuality Education curriculum, it is necessary to delve into its origins and the evidence behind its introduction.

There is a reason for this. If there is indeed corroborative evidence about the benefits conferred by the introduction and implementation of the curriculum, then suddenly removing it will probably harm those who it was otherwise benefiting.


In September 2020, then-Associate Education Minister Tracy Martin (New Zealand First) announced the introduction of the new curriculum. She noted that it would foster inclusiveness of LGBTQI+ students, decrease school bullying, inform students about the dangers of online pornography, and that it was about self-esteem and self-knowledge, understanding their peers and what optimal relationships looked like. Otherwise, sexuality education was only covered briefly and in insufficient detail and at senior student levels, and some students had already left school by that point.

As a consequence of the introduction of the policy, two information documents were introduced to assist its implementation – Relationships and Sexuality Education: A Guide for Teachers, Leaders and Boards of Trustees, also released on 8 September 2020. One document dealt with Years 1–8, while the other dealt with Years 9–13.

As noted above, the primary objective was to build healthy relationships, resist the misinformation present in online porn and deter bullying. It supported safe physical spaces, private healthcare needs, and inclusive toilet and changing facilities, and deterred online porn and sexting. It deals with technology, social science, and information and data gathering within the context of mathematics. Safety, friendship, emotional maturity, healthy relationships, and physiology are all included. It also deals with disabled people’s sexualities and gender identities. Programmes are assessed through the Education Review Office. For that to happen, there needed to be serious evidence-based policies involved in the first instance, when the policy was first implemented and introduced. The Ministry of Health, Education Review Office, Family Planning Association, Teaching Council, and World Health Organisation were all cited in the bibliography. There was also evidence-based feedback and international advisory support.

What can one learn from the above? Clearly, as cited in the bibliographies of both Relationship and Sexuality Education documents, the curriculum was developed on best practice and evidence-based guidelines. Therefore, it is not ‘gender ideology’ as its detractors vacuously and ignorantly suggest. The burden of proof is on the opponents of the RSE curriculum to provide evidence that removing them will not harm students. I doubt they can do that.

Indeed, the Post-Primary Teachers Association and New Zealand Educational Institute (teachers unions) confirmed the above suspicions when they issued media releases in early January 2024, stating that consultation and guidance had not been provided on the abolition of the RSE curriculum. Without consultation and guidance, how are they supposed to deal with the substantive issues that the existing provision of the RSE curriculum deals with? Furthermore, this latest development raises troubling questions about whether due diligence was carried out before this retrograde policy was proposed. NZEI and PPTA objections now imply it was not.

So, where does the current New Zealand First-sponsored campaign against Relationship and Sexuality Education come from originally?

The most immediate answer is, ‘Family First, where else?’ The fundamentalist Christian New Zealand lobby group has been copycatting US Christian Right campaigns against trans inclusion within secondary school changing rooms and sports programmes and agitating against relationship and sexuality education for the last several years. They probably got the idea from the Australian Christian Lobby, their counterpart, given that the latter was responsible for pressuring and misleading the Turnbull Coalition Federal Government into axing the similarly inclusive ‘Safe Schools’ LGBTQ+ inclusive youth welfare and protection programme beforehand. Family First and ACL attend each other’s symposiums and collaborate across the Tasman.

Similar anti-LGBTQ+ campaigning against inclusive education has also occurred at the hands of the far right ‘Moms for Liberty’ pressure group in the United States and similar anti-LGBTQI+ and anti-trans pressure groups in Canada, such as the antifeminist ‘REAL Women’.

When one explores media coverage of the backlash against our Relationships and Sexuality Education curriculum overseas, one rapidly notices that there is an unhealthy preponderance of unbalanced coverage from Christian Right pressure groups and alt-right propaganda outlets like Spiked and Lifesite, none of which could even remotely be described as committed to professional, evidence-based journalism.

Then there’s the anti-transgender ‘feminist’ ‘Women’s Rights Party’ microparty and ‘Resist Gender Education’ group, which seem to be co-ordinated by the same activists and include content from Australian Christian Right including anti-trans activist Bernard Lane and the Manhattan Institute (a US social conservative think tank).

So how do we respond to this?

Look at the anti-smoking, Maori advocacy, and other opponents of the current government’s right-wing agenda. They’re getting out in the streets and demonstrating, as well as subjecting the government’s claims to critical analysis and rebuttal. We must do the same. We did it when it came to Homosexual Law Reform, Marriage Equality, and the right-wing capture of the Auckland City Council thirty years ago by the fundamentalist fringe.

We can and must do it again.