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Different sort of classroom labour

A pioneering project is helping pregnant teenagers to study.

Jill Tunstall reports

Most teachers have a story to tell about their memorable classroom incident and Teresa Foster Evans is no different.

"It all got quite hairy when one of the girls went into labour during her GCSE English literature exam," she recalls. "But she did finish it and yes, she did pass."

Incidents like this are not uncommon at Cyfle, a special project within Wales drawing together education and midwifery services for teenage mums-to-be.

And it symbolises the can-do attitude of teacher-in-charge Mrs Foster Evans, as well as her pupils, all of whom leave with at least five A*-G grade GCSEs.

Cyfle, which means opportunity, began in 2001. This year funding from Wrexham education authority allowed the unit to move from cramped accommodation to a mini-school on Wrexham industrial estate and join with Wrexham Maelor hospital's teenage antenatal service, Mums2B.

With Wales experiencing the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, the Assembly government is watching this project's progress with interest.

At Cyfle's official opening last month, education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson said the combining of services must be the way forward for both teenage mothers and fathers.

Class size - between three and 12 girls who are seven or more months pregnant - is enviable, as are motivation and results.

"The aim is to keep the girls in school because that is the best place for them," says Mrs Foster Evans. "But when they are in mainstream school their attendance and behaviour are usually appalling.

"Then they come to a unit like this where they are treated as adults, given more support, flexibility, a free on-site creche, and they just blossom."

Cyfle is reversing the trend of pregnant girls dropping out of the system by streamlining the school-pregnancy juggling act.

"I help the midwives to deliver the antenatal classes," says Mrs Foster Evans, once a science teacher, now delivering all subjects, and herself a mum of four.

"They are used to women of 30 so I transfer my teaching skills to get the information across to teenage girls and, in turn, the midwives help with our child development course."

Allanah Wright, who became pregnant at 13, credited Cyfle with giving her a future and called Mrs Foster Evans "more than a teacher, also a friend".

"I left school as soon as I knew I was pregnant," she says. "I didn't want to put my baby at risk. At first the school would send me work. Then they referred me here.

"I was nervous at first, but you get support and make friends who are going through the same thing - and I'm still here now," adds the 15-year-old, who is working towards seven GCSEs.

Thanks to Cyfle, Claire Westhead, 16, has nine GCSEs and plans to go to college. But there was a time when none of it looked possible.

"I thought that it was all over for Claire," says her mum Anita Williams, as she rocks her seven-month-old granddaughter Darcie in her arms. "Then a friend told me about this place."

As the posters on Cyfle's brightly painted walls say, they don't intend the blue line of a pregnancy tester to be the last test result these girls ever receive.

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