Newell, S, Britt, W & Graham, A 2011, Evaluating Interrelate's School Education Programs: Where Did I Come From? and Preparing for Puberty, report prepared for Interrelate Family Centres, Sydney, NSW.
Where Did I Come From? (WDICF) and Preparing For Puberty (PFP) are two of the six relationship and sexuality education programs delivered by Interrelate Family Centres. They are usually run consecutively, with each involving a 60-minute evening group session for students and their families. WDICF is designed to inform Year 3-6 students and facilitate parent-child discussions about the male and female reproductive systems, conception, foetal development, birth and the different ways in which children can join families. PFP is designed to inform Year 5-6 students and facilitate parent-child discussions about the physical, emotional, social and intellectual changes associated with puberty (for boys and for girls). Each program has a clearly articulated structure, content and objectives, involves a variety of creative activities and teaching methods and is facilitated by specially trained Educators. This evaluation report is based on data collected from 39 WDICF and PFP groups using surveys developed by the authors, in collaboration with Interrelate team members.
Both students and parents really enjoyed the WDICF and PFP programs. Students rated the programs as enjoyable, interesting, fun and good to have discussed in a group, despite being somewhat embarrassing. Very few students found either program boring but up to one-third did find some bits hard to understand. Female and younger students reported higher levels of interest and enjoyment in both programs, while older students had less difficulty understanding the WDICF program but also felt more embarrassed during the PFP program. Students attending smaller groups tended to find both programs easier to understand and felt less embarrassed during the PFP program. Almost all parents rated the WDICF and PFP programs as enjoyable, interesting, good value and good to have discussed in a group. One-quarter of parents did find the program somewhat embarrassing but very few considered it too long or hard to understand. Parents attending both programs were more likely than those attending only one program to feel their experience had been interesting, helpful for them and better value for money but also a bit “too long” and a little more embarrassing. Compared to those attending only the PFP program, parents attending only WDICF found it more interesting and were happier with the program length and group approach but reported less personal learning. Students’ and parents’ written comments reinforced these positive satisfaction ratings, with only a few suggestions for improvement.
Both students and parents also reported having found the WDICF and PFP programs very useful learning experiences. Students reported moderate-high levels of learning across all topic areas, particularly in relation to how babies develop, how babies are made, women’s bodies and men’s bodies (for WDICF) and in relation to how girls’ bodies change, why puberty happens, how boys’bodies change and the different feelings they may experience as their bodies change (for PFP). Female students (from both programs) and younger students (from the WDICF program only) consistently reported having learned more than their male and older counterparts. Parents reported a refreshed understanding of the topics covered and increased confidence, comfort and capacity to discuss the topics covered with their children.
Parents attending both programs often reported more learnings than those attending only one of the programs. Again, students’and parents’ written comments reinforced their perceived learnings from the WDICF and PFP programs. The WDICF and PFP programs also appear to have been successful at facilitating parent-child discussion of the topics covered, with almost all parents expecting to discuss them further with their children (mostly “a lot”) and about two-thirds of students (particularly for those from smaller groups, female and/or younger students) expecting to talk more about the topics with their families. However, older students, female students and those from larger groups also felt more likely to discuss the topics with their friends.
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. The survey response rate for the WDICF and PFP programs was lower than hoped (primarily due to the larger group sizes and families’ limited time to stay after these evening sessions) but the findings presented in this report appear consistent with those from the evaluations of the similar MITTY and Minding Me programs (Newell et al., 2011a; Newell et al., 2011b). They are also in keeping with anecdotal feedback (about students’ and parents’ positive responses) from Educators in relation to groups where surveys were unable to be collected.
Therefore, Interrelate can confidently promote the existing WDICF and PFP programs as acceptable and effective ways of introducing primary students to the topics covered (ie: the male and female reproductive systems, conception, foetal development, birth and the different ways in which children can join families and the physical, emotional, social and intellectual changes associated with puberty) and of promoting child-parent discussion of the topics. However, Interrelate might like to consider whether the WDICF and PFP programs could usefully be further refined, based on the very few concerns or suggestions raised by students and/or parents and in light of the slightly lower satisfaction and learning levels often reported by male and/or older students. While these findings may simply represent more widely-occurring gender and age differences, it is an area Interrelate might like to consider in any review. They may also like to revisit their maximum group size, with some indication of more positive responses from groups with less than 100 participants. Where appropriate (based on children’s ages), there may also be a benefit in encouraging families to attend both the WDICF and PFP programs, rather than only one. With the current evaluation necessarily limited to the immediate post-program period, Interrelate could also consider conducting some additional followup evaluations in order to determine the extent and nature of any longer-term impacts of the WDICF and PFP programs.
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 WDICF and PFP programs (Years 3-6) 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 parental involvement is another valuable element of the WDICF and PFP programs, as it is argued to benefit schools, parents and students, by ensuring that young people receive similar messages from their two main environments (Macbeth et al., 2009) and by facilitating improved parent-teacher communication (Macbeth et al., 2009; Milton, 2003).