Newell, S, Britt, W & Graham, A 2011, Evaluating Interrelate's School Education Programs: Moving Into the Teen Years, report prepared for Interrelate Family Centres, Sydney, NSW.
Moving Into The Teen Years (MITTY) is one of six relationship and sexuality education programs delivered by Interrelate Family Centres. It involves a series of four 90-minute class-based sessions (with a take-home workbook to encourage parental engagement). It is designed to enhance Year 6 students’ self-esteem, communication and decision-making skills, to provide in-depth information about boys’ and girls’ bodies, the changes they can expect during puberty, reproduction and sexuality education. The MITTY program involves a variety of creative activities and teaching methods, is facilitated by specially trained Educators and has a clearly articulated structure, content and objectives, which have been correlated against the NSW Board of Studies’PD/H/PE syllabus. This evaluation report is based on data collected from 56 MITTY groups using surveys developed by the authors, in collaboration with Interrelate team members.
Both students and teachers reported high levels of satisfaction with the MITTY program. Most students rated the MITTY program as enjoyable particularly male and older students), interesting (particularly older students), good to have discussed in a group (particularly older students) and fun (particularly older students), although half also found it somewhat embarrassing (particularly female students). Very few students found it boring but one-third did find some bits hard to understand. Similarly, almost all teachers rated the MITTY program as enjoyable, interesting, engaging for their students, good value and good to have discussed in a group. One-third of teachers did find the program somewhat embarrassing but very few considered it too long or hard to understand. Teachers, in particular, were very appreciative of the Interrelate Educators’ delivery style and of having an external professional to introduce the topics covered in the MITTY program. Students’ and teachers’ written comments reinforced these positive satisfaction ratings, with only a few suggestions for improvement. Both students and teachers also reported having found the MITTY program a very useful learning experience. Students reported moderate-high levels of learning across all topic areas, particularly in relation to keeping themselves safe, making good choices, how their bodies would change during puberty and how babies develop. The mixed-gender approach appears valuable (although there were a few requests for single-gender groups), with boys reporting having learned more about girls’ bodies and vice versa. Similar levels of learning were reported across all student age-groups but female students reported learning more than males in relation to "Making good choices"’, "How babies are made" and "How to keep yourself safe". Teachers reported a refreshed understanding of the topics covered, increased confidence, capacity and comfort to discuss the topics covered with their students and having learned more about their students, particularly in terms of the open and mature ways in which they engaged with the program. Again, students’ and teachers’ written comments reinforced their perceived learnings from the MITTY program. While most teachers expected to talk more about the topics with their classes, students felt most likely to discuss them furtherwith their family or friends (particularly the female students).
Although based on a post-only survey (for pragmatic reasons), the consistency of and concordance between participants’ ratings and written comments enhance our confidence in the validity of the findings presented in this report. This confidence is further strengthened by the very high response rates achieved from both students and teachers and the similar findings from our evaluations of Interrelate’s Minding Me and Where Did I Come From? / Preparing for Puberty programs (Newell et al., 2011a; Newell et al., 2011b).
Therefore, Interrelate can confidently promote the existing MITTY program as an acceptable, curriculum-relevant and effective way of introducing senior primary students to the topics covered (ie: self-esteem, communication and decision-making skills, boys’ and girls’ bodies, puberty, reproduction and sexuality). However, Interrelate might like to consider whether the MITTY program could usefully be further refined, based on the very few concerns or suggestions raised by students and/or teachers (although some comments may conflict with some requirements of the NSW Board of Studies). With the current evaluation necessarily limited to the immediate post-program period, Interrelate could also consider conducting some additional follow up evaluations in order to determine the extent and nature of any longer-term impacts of the MITTY program. Hence, Interrelate is well-positioned to contribute to addressing the reported demand (from Australian parents and youth) for more comprehensive relationship and sexual health education, which is seen to include topics such as personal safety, sexual coercion, puberty, sexually-transmitted diseases, relationship decision-making, safe sex and contraception, reproduction and the correct names for male and female genitals (Carmody and Willis, 2006; Macbeth et al., 2009). The timing of Interrelate’s Minding Me (Year 5) and MITTY (Year 6) programs is another strength, given most Australian parents’ belief that this sexual education should start in primary school (Macbeth et al., 2009) and evidence that it has more impact when delivered before young people become sexually active (Mueller et al., 2008). The teacher involvement is also valuable, given parent- and teacher-perceived room for improvement in training teachers in the delivery of sexuality education (Macbeth et al., 2009; Milton, 2003).