“Is that consent?” Observing and analysing pedagogy in real sex education classrooms

Year: 2021

Author: Carr, Georgia

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Issues of consent, sexual harassment and sexual assault have captured the attention of the Australian public in 2021. In the wake of stories from young people including Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins and Chanel Contos, many have rushed to comment publicly on consent education. But teachers, researchers and young people have been calling for reform for decades, and many have proposed the same solution: well-resourced comprehensive sex education in schools.Comprehensive sex education has been proven to contribute to positive health outcomes, such as increased condom use, and positive social outcomes, such as better acceptance of sexuality diversity. School-based sex education is ideally placed to deliver these outcomes and has been the focus of most research in this area. However, schools have often been observed ‘from a distance’, that is through surveys, interviews and focus groups. While there is plenty of literature about classrooms, there is far less work conducted in classrooms. As such, there is an abundance of evidence for the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education, but far less understanding of how this is achieved.This paper will explore how sex education is taught using data from real sex education classrooms. 30 sex education lessons were observed and video recorded at an all girls’ high school in Sydney. Two different teachers were observed, one man and one woman, each teaching 15 lessons over 10 weeks. The lessons covered a range of sex and relationships content within stage 5 of the NSW syllabus, including consent, healthy relationships, pregnancy and contraception, STIs, sexuality and gender diversity, and sexual harassment and assault.This paper will focus on how consent was taught throughout the 10-week unit. The data will be analysed using Systemic Functional Linguistics, a linguistic theory which has a long and productive history of collaboration with literacy and education.  I will describe how students were apprenticed into consent from a technical, legal perspective, but also from an ideological one. As well as trying to understand how we can better equip students to be ‘successful’ learners, this paper has the broader goal of understanding how values are transmitted and help to shape a fairer and more equitable world. In particular, it aims to generate further dialogue on consent education, and hopes to help turn the current calls for action into concrete and lasting change.