Landmark study released on gender and sexual diversity education in schools

A new national study by Western Sydney University researchers has found over 80 per cent of Australian parents support the teaching of gender and sexuality diversity in schools, as part of relationships and sexual health education.

The study, by Associate Professor Jacqueline Ullman and Associate Professor Tania Ferfolja from the University’s School of Education, is the first in Australia to comprehensively survey parents as to whether they believe gender and sexuality diversity should be included in classroom discussions.

The study – ‘Parents’ perspectives on the inclusion of gender and sexuality diversity in K-12 schooling’ – surveyed 2000 parents of public-school children from Kindergarten to Year 12.

Published in the journal ‘Sex Education’, the survey was conducted to be as representative of the broad Australian population as possible. Participating parents came from a variety of religions, cultural backgrounds and education levels.

The research found that:

  • 94 per cent of parents want Relationships and Sexuality Education delivered in government schools.
  • 82 per cent of parents support the curriculum inclusion of gender and sexuality diversity topics for all school students, from kindergarten to Year 12.
  • Most parents want to see gender and sexuality diversity introduced in the curriculum in primary school and the early years of high school.
  • The majority of parents support parents, schools and teachers all being involved in Relationships and Sexuality Education.

Associate Professor Ferfolja said: “The findings show Australian parents largely support the teaching of sexuality and gender diversity in schools. Most are comfortable about relationships and health education reflecting the spectrum of human sexuality and gender.”

“What makes this study so significant is that it’s the first nationwide and representative research of parents of school-aged children on this subject,” she said.

According to Associate Professor Ullman: “The majority of parents in the study rated gender and sexuality diversity-inclusive content as of high or moderate importance. Sexual health, safety and wellbeing were similarly ranked.”

“There are implications here for teachers. A recent Australian study of high-school sex education teachers found gender and sexuality diversity was the subject they were least comfortable teaching. Nearly two-thirds said they were careful around the topic due to possible adverse community reaction.

“Teachers would clearly benefit from more support to feel confident that discussing these topics is in line with the views of the majority of today’s parents. Our research findings support this.”

According to the researchers, the findings suggest Australian schools could update some aspects of Relationships and Sexuality Education, particularly as evidence shows routine discrimination against diverse young people.

“This research highlights the need for education departments and curriculum developers to recognise that the majority of parents support education that incorporates gender and sexuality diversity topics in government schools,” added Associate Professor Ferfolja.

This research was supported by an Australian Research Council (Discovery) grant.

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