MY SUBMISSION TO NSW CURRICULUM REVIEW

https://nswcurriculumreview.nesa.nsw.edu.au/home/siteAreaContent/19e4f544-6d8b-4fbf-ba85-d3f9fc0b55e5

13 December 2019

NSW Curriculum Review

Online Feedback Portal

Re: Submission on PDPHE Curriculum

Context

I am a more recent LGBTIQ Advocate, having been married in a mixed orientation marriage for some 20 years, coming out late in life in my mid 50’s.  I have two young adult children who in recent years completed their schools, one in a public school, the other in a religious private school.

Contextually, apart from being a national executive member of Uniting Network the LGBTIQ community within the Uniting Church, I also hold a number of leadership roles within the Uniting Church, both on the board of a major commercial enterprise, and as well as Parish Council of my local church at Eastwood, I am a member of the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery and have been a member of both the recent NSW/ACT Synod and national Assembly meetings.

I also volunteer on the Finance Audit and Risk Committee of ACON Health and so have a broader understanding of the health issues in the LGBTIQ community.  I recently attended Stanford University to attend their LGBTIQ Executive Leadership Program.

I am also an adult educator, as a facilitator with the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

I am the Managing. Director of a boutique management consulting firm.

In summary, I have a broad understanding of the needs of business, the LGBTIQ Community, the religious community and families as well as involvement in the education sector.

This context being said, the comments expressed in this submission are purely my own.

I apologies in advance for spelling and grammatical errors in this submission, as there are a significant number of issues currently confronting the LGBTIQ community and a wide variety of submissions that are requiring attention, and unfortunately this submission has been prepared at the very last minute.

Preliminary Commentary

We are at a challenging point of time within the Australian community.  There has been much greater acceptance of the LGBTIQ community within Australia, as seen by the significant vote for marriage equality and the subsequent carriage of related bills in the Australian Parliament.

Unfortunately, there is a push back from the conservative religious quarters in Australian society, with the current Australian Prime Minister releasing the latest exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bills, which I suspect may well remain friendless, or only have a very limited number of friends.  Regrettably these bills are they stand are likely to create further disharmony within Australia and could be said to create a “religious apartheid” within Australia.

It is therefore even more important that the PDHPE curriculum in NSW adequately incorporates the existence of LGBTIQ students in schools and the broader community. Failure to do so will only continue the high levels of bullying of LGBTIQ kids in NSW as well as maintaining homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia within our society.

It is very concerning that NSW will continue to ignore LGBTIQ students and have effectively erased their existence of LGBTIQ students from the Interim Review and the curriculum.

Interim Review Commentary

The report quite correctly comments:

They are witnessing increasing public cynicism about traditional institutions, including religious and political institutions and their leaders; the erosion of traditional values; growing questioning of ‘truth’; and the emergence of ‘fake news’. Many are concerned about environmental sustainability, social inequalities and the future, and large numbers of today’s students are exposed to the realities of substance abuse, easy access to age-inappropriate online content, and cyber-bullying.”[1]

And yet in many of our schools, religion is used as justification for limited effective PDHPE education, particularly around sex education, modern understanding of gender and more broadly the LGBTIQ community.  Yet at the same time there is an awareness of social inequalities as the report states, but LGBTIQ exclusion in education is a contributor to this inequality.

The lack of willingness for inclusion leads to bad outcomes for students and families.

As an example, a school in Sydney north west where friends of mine had their first child attending had to withdraw their child from school as the end of K as the school was unable to adequately deal with the bullying that their child suffered because he had two mums. The failure to identify different types of families I believe is a direct contributor to this type of outcome recently in our school system.

Rapid changes are also occurring in workplaces and to occupations that once provided destinations for school leavers. “[2]

Workplaces expect well rounded and educated people to enter their workforce, and modern workplaces have LGBTIQ inclusion as part of their safe workplace environments.  And yet our education system fails to include and prepare our students even on the basic understanding of LGBTIQ people and  their existence.

Page 5 of the report discusses the diversity of our student population, but completely ignores the existence of LGBTIQ students within our education system or students of Rainbow Families.  These students are valuable, but unrecognised and often rejected people in our education system.

My search of the document identified 44 references to the work Aboriginal, which is completely appropriate. 18 references to students with disabilities, again most worthy. 10 mentions of non-academic students.  8 references to “other than English” a particularly challenging cohort of students.  There is not one mention of LGBTIQ students, who make up at least 10% of our population plus children of Rainbow Families and for whom their school period of life can be the most challenging as they become aware of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (from about the age of 10 years), bully, issues with mental health, all of which can have a very significant impact on their learning capabilities.

After the recent international testing results, there will be further push back on the “crowded curriculum” beyond what the report already indicates.

Numerous references were made to other pressures resulting from decisions to delegate to schools responsibility for addressing various social issues. One person observed that schools had become ‘the solvers of all of society’s ills’, with new issues constantly being added to the curriculum. The Review was told that a recent scan of political announcements had identified a diverse set of issues that schools were now being asked to address, including ‘anxiety/depression, resiliency training, childhood obesity, road safety, water safety, Asian studies, healthy school canteens, bush fire safety awareness, languages, cyber safety and anti-bullying’. Others mentioned drug education, first aid, stranger danger, healthy eating and pet safety. Additional programs of these kinds consumed significant teaching time and detracted from other aspects of teaching and learning. (my emphasis in bold)[3]

LGBTIQ are in need of resilience training, assistance with anxiety/depression and definitely anti-bullying within the school environment.  It is important to be reminded that many LGBTIQ kids are threatened by their sexuality in their home environment and may not obtain the necessary support there.

Ensuring that all students can maximise their learning capability should be a key focus of the education system, which therefore means the visibility, inclusion and fully acceptance of LGBTIQ students within the school environment.

There is a consequential issue with ‘Reform Direction 13: Introducing a major project’[4], and in particular the proposal that this project – which would apparently contribute a significant proportion to a student’s final school results – be undertaken by working in teams.

I agree that developing these skills is an important student development and one that is required in the world place.  However, requiring students to work together in teams is only possible where schools are safe learning environments for everyone – and that NSW schools, both government and non-government, currently are not safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.

This is not just because of the exclusion of LGBTI issues from the PDHPE syllabus (see further commentary below), but also because of high rates of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersex bullying within our schools (and the broader society).

Regrettably LGBTIQ students in non-government schools are especially vulnerable given the exceptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), allowing all private schools and colleges (whether they are religious or not), to discriminate against and expel LGBTIQ kids.  Whilst the Prime Minister has stated this discrimination should be withdrawn, the NSW Government and the NSW Department of Education have been silent on this matter.  Parent may enrol their child into a non-government school in year K, and it is only from the age of around 10 do students start to become aware of their sexual orientation (transgender children often know much earlier).  It creates a greater danger for these students to know that they may well be unsupported at home and risk being expelled from their school and removal from their circle of friend as a result of their innate sexual orientation.

Whilst page 45 of the interim report states:

“studies have highlighted the importance of inclusive, supportive environments in which all learners’ backgrounds, strengths and starting points are recognised and welcomed, strong relationships are built, and collaborative learning (including project-based and problem-based learning) is encouraged.”

Unfortunately for too many LGBTI students, in too many NSW schools, they do not enjoy ‘inclusive, supportive environments’ in which they are ‘recognised and welcomed’. Unless and until this is fixed, then any proposal for a team-based major project in the final years of the NSW curriculum will not be achieved and should be considered for rejection from being implemented.

2018 PDHPE Curriculum

The 2018 PDHPE curriculum is not appropriate for our century, and after the withdrawal of the ‘Safe Schools Program’ in NSW, continues to ensure the ongoing invisibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTIQ) content, and therefore of LGBTIQ students.  More than invisibility, it is actually contributing to a current trend of some in the political sphere of trying to erase the existence of the LGBTIQ community.

As in the above interim review where LGBTIQ students are completely non-existent. In the 138 pages of the syllabus, these words occur three times each. However, two out of these three appearances are found in the document’s glossary – with a definition of each term, and then as part of the broader definition of LGBTI people.  Q is completely missing and as is the concept of queer, questioning and gender non-conforming students and the like in society.

Teachers are only required to teach the content for each year stage of the syllabus. And the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex can be found only once in the prescribed content, together on page 96:

‘investigate community health resources to evaluate how accessible they are for marginalised individuals and groups and propose changes to promote greater inclusiveness and accessibility eg people in rural and remote areas, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI), people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, people with disability.’

The problem with this is that LGBTI comes after ‘for example’ therefore suggesting that any commentary on LGBTIQ students or population is optional.

Effectively LGBTIQ students and the broader LGBTIQ community appear just once in the entire NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus, as part of an exercise around marginalised groups and inclusiveness, and schools and/or teachers can choose to remove even this most cursory of references, meaning a student in a school may never hear about LGBTIQ people in their entire PDHPE schools live.

The school curriculum is effective reinforcing the marginalisation and exclusion of LGBTIQ content and students which is not acceptable in the 21st century.  This approach is not only damaging to LGBTIQ students, but also to all students who will not be prepared for their interaction of LGBTIQ people in schools, their communities or the workplace.  This is a failure in our education system.

The curriculum continues to fail to adequately develop students understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Again, we know that transgender children often have a particularly difficult time a school and their lack of acceptance there and elsewhere is a significant contributing factor to the very high rates of suicide within the transgender youth community.

Unfortunately, the anti-transgender movement have been successful in creating the concept of gender ideology, but the continuing evolution of medical and science understanding of transgender people only continues to confirm and conform with that transgender people have always know.  When education steps away from knowledge and falls into position of political and religious ideology, then society becomes disadvantaged.

The erasure, or lack of visibility of LGBTIQ people in the NSW PDHPE Syllabus is itself nothing short of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic.  Which is ironic where the curriculum does briefly discuss homophobic and transphobic bullying on pages 77, 88 and 111

Once again, these references to homophobia and transphobia are merely examples, and so therefore options that schools and/or teachers could use or reject to discuss.  Again, issues for bi-sexual and intersex people are once again ignored and queer or gender non-conforming students don’t exist.

We continue to see an antiquated approach with the new NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus in relation to sexual health.

The curriculum has only two compulsory references to sexual health one on page 96: ‘explore external influences on sexuality and sexual health behaviours and recognise the impact these can have on their own and others’ health, safety and wellbeing’.

The other reference is on page 95, describes ‘identify methods of contraception and evaluate the extent to which safe sexual health practices allow people to take responsibility for managing their own sexual health.’

This approach is rather problematic. Firstly is places an emphasis on contraception rather than on sexual health.  Sexual health, and LGBTI sexual health especially, is a much broader concept. 

Critically, and with the rise of STI’s in our society, it does not specifically mandate that schools and teachers instruct students about sexually transmissible infections (STIs).

It is amazing that the only reference to STIs in the general curriculum is found on page 84 (‘identify and plan preventive health practices and behaviours that assist in protection against disease, eg blood-borne viruses, sexually transmissible infections’) makes teaching about them optional. The only time the term HIV even appears in the entire document is in the glossary.  Whilst many unfortunately see HIV as a “gay issue” recent reports from WA Health show that there have been more new incidents of HIV in the heterosexual male population than the homosexual male population.  It is important to also remember that female are also susceptible to HIV.

In terms of STI-prevention, it can be observed that the NSW PDHPE syllabus has actually gone backwards from the previous 2003 document, which at least outlined that students should be learning about:

‘sexual health

  • acknowledging and understanding sexual feelings
  • expectations of males and females
  • rights and responsibilities in sexual relationships
  • sexually transmitted infections, blood-borne viruses and HIV/AIDS’ as well as to
  • identify behaviours that assist in preventing STIs, BBVs and HIV/AIDS and explore the interrelationship with drug use.’

Page 12 of the PDHPE K-10 Syllabus states the aim of the curriculum is:

‘The study of PDHPE in K-10 aims to enable students to develop the knowledge, understanding, skills, values and attitudes required to lead and promote healthy, safe and active lives.’

Regrettably, the 138-page curriculum does not support this aim generally for students and particularly it completely fails to promote healthy, safe and active lives for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students. How can they learn if they do not exist in the curriculum?

Conclusion

The ongoing erasure and non-inclusion of LGBTIQ students poses them and the wider society a significant risk, and this must be addressed.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require additional information or clarifications.

Yours sincerely



[1] Page 4

[2] Page 4

[3] Pages 26 and 27

[4] Page 97

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