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Real world, not Spice world

News that two Spice Girls and All Saints star Melanie Blatt are pregnant has triggered fears of a wave of young wannabes having babies as fashion accessories. Judith Mullen, newly installed president of the Secondary Heads Association, warned this month that teenage pregnancies in Britain are the highest in western Europe. "We fear a generation of Spice babies will be born to teenage mothers," she said.

So will Mum Power prove as alluring as Girl Power?

Roger Smith, head of policy at the Children's Society, believes teenagers are capable of recognising that a baby will not necessarily spice up their lives. "You have to give young people credit for making up their own minds," he says.

Despite this, increasing numbers of teenagers are becoming parents. In 1996 the conception rate among girls aged 13-15 in England and Wales rose by 11 per cent - the third consecutive increase. Nearly 9,000 girls aged under 16 are becoming pregnant every year.

In 1995-96 the Children's Society and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation ran a parenting project in five schools in Greater Manchester. The subsequent report - Tomorrow's Parents - led to the inclusion of parenthood education in last year's White Paper, Excellence in Schools. The report recommends making parenting skills part of the personal and social education curriculum and providing a minimum of 20 hours of parenting education for all 11 to 16-year-olds.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the forthcoming review of the national curriculum. The PSHE advisory group is due to report to ministers shortly.

The Children's Society regards the current provision of parenthood education as variable and inadequate. "None of the schools we approached were doing it systematically," says Roger Smith. "Some were teaching about family relationships and some were running the traditional childcare, nappy-changing type courses run almost exclusively with girls."

The charity has put together a pack of materials which it sells to schools. "Parenting education does work," says Mr Smith. "We are convinced it is worth doing. Our materials are good, but other material needs to be developed, as does training."

Penny Sharland, co-author of Tomorrow's Parents, believes schools should incorporate parenthood education across the board. "A good PSE strategy would mean parenthood and issues to do with the family are being tackled right across the curriculum - in history, in English, in science.

"It should also be in other bits of the school day, like assembly, parents' meetings, in displays, and so on, so that you get a feel for a school that's totally committed to good parenting."

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