A qualitative study of preservice teachers' knowledge, understandings and pedagogies of sexuality education

Year: 2012

Author: Burns, kellie, Blackburn, Rachel, Mustapha, Samira

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Although sexuality education is a curriculum priority across Australia, the content is not explicitly mandated and schools are free to cover the content to accommodate programming/scheduling issues and to uphold school values and ethos. Furthermore, sexuality education is mediated within a broader schooling climate that strictly governs the norms of sex/gender and which discursively constructs sex and sexual health as 'sensitive' or 'difficult' content knowledge (Allen, 2005; 2010; Robinson, 2005; Rasmussen, 2004; 2006). As such, some teachers and schools steer away from teaching sex education (Milton, 2004; Milton et al, 2001).  According to the 2010 National Survey of Australian Secondary Teachers of Sexuality Education (Smith, Schlichthorst, Mitchell, Walsh, Lyons, Blackman, & Pitts, 2011) teachers report a lack of time, knowledge and/or confidence and a fear of adverse parental or community reactions as key reasons for being apprehensive about teaching sex education. Further, teachers reported a lack of satisfaction with training, resources and external support, and highlighted a need for greater curricular and policy support and professional development opportunities in this area.

Teachers are important resources and support for students with questions about sexuality and sexual health (Allen, 2005). Providing correct and appropriate messages about key topics is reported to positively impact young people's sexual health decisions. Despite this, dominant pedagogies continue to focus on prevention and the negative outcomes of sexual behaviour, overlooking broader issues such as risk, decision-making, gender, power, relationships and pleasure (Allen, 2010; Smith et al., 2011).

Given the significance of effective sex education in shaping young people's knowledge and attitudes about their sexuality and sexual health, and given the need for sustained training and resource provision for teachers, this paper examines the knowledge and understandings pre-service teachers have about sexual health and their attitudes and beliefs about delivering this content to students in the classroom. Based on forty interviews (N=40) with preservice teachers in years 1-4 of an undergraduate BEd program, the paper provides a poststructural feminist analysis of key themes emerging from the data.