Submission note: This thesis is submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the] School of Psychology and Public Health, College of Science, Health and Engineering, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia.
The 2015 release of the national policy Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (AC:HPE) incorporates relationship and sexuality education (RSE). As a learning area that was subject to deep-seated values for or against it, school based RSE was often avoided despite its standing as an internationally recognised human right. Previous research has demonstrated effective RSE to be a catalyst for delaying the onset of sexual activity, increasing condom and contraceptive use, and improving sexual health outcomes. The aim of this research was to determine whether a national curriculum could positively impact the delivery and receipt of RSE by examining the aims of the AC:HPE in relation to RSE and its impacts on teachers’ delivery and students’ experiences. This research was divided into three components: (1) a text-based critical discourse analysis (CDA) of the AC:HPE; (2) the 2018 National Survey of Australian Teachers of Sexuality Education (n equals 239); and (3) the 5th and 6th National Surveys of Secondary Students and Sexual Health (2013 n equals 2,193; 2018 n equals 6,180). Findings reveal that: (1) the AC:HPE emphasises a teacher-facilitated approach to RSE, which is in line with recent shifts in education towards strengths-based learning that encourages students’ development of critical thinking skills; (2) teachers have not received sufficient preparation to deliver RSE material in line with the aims of the AC:HPE, and earlier training would increase their comfort delivering this material; and (3) students’ school-based RSE experiences remain unchanged since before the release of the AC:HPE, with their diverse needs continuing to not be fully met. Understanding the impacts of the AC:HPE on RSE delivery and receipt will help inform better teacher training, educational practices, and student experiences, and will help advance RSE policy developments that support both teacher and student needs.
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