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School too cruel for teenage mums

Children can be cruel and no more so than when they discover that one of their classmates is pregnant - at the age of 13.

"I told some of my friends and word soon got around. I was called some terrible names," said Jo Maslen, now 16, and the mother of Zara, aged two and a half.

"One boy told me my baby would be dead by the age of three. I took that to mean that I wouldn't be able to look after her. It was awful.

"It's a shock being pregnant at that age. It's hard but it's not the end of the world."

Emma Page, her friend at Hillside, a study centre for pregnant girls and teenage mums, in Swindon, Wiltshire, agreed. Her son, Morgan, is now eight months old. "I always wanted to be a mum so my partner and I were very happy when we discovered I was pregnant. But school got nasty. I rarely turned up anyway so it was fine when I left," the 16-year-old said.

For both girls, school had been a difficult experience, punctuated by absenteeism and under-achievement. Becoming pregnant, and joining Hillside, has turned around their lives and ambitions.

Hillside has 15 pupils, aged 14 to 18. Four teenagers, all under-age, are pregnant. The babies and toddlers of the rest are looked after in an on-site creche while they do their lessons.

Judith Case, headteacher, has a staff of six part-time teachers, offering maths, English language, English literature, child development and art at GCSE. Pupils can also do art to A-level, and some ICT.

"About 50 girls have come through here in its six years of existence. I'm proud that we have a 100 per cent pass rate at GCSE. We've had a few A grades but no A*s yet," said Mrs Case, who retires this month.

"Many of these girls had no aspirations, but the small classes here mean they get virtually one-to-one attention and at some point you see them sit up and think 'hey, I can do this. I'm not as crap as I thought'."

Emma, who took GCSEs in maths and English this year, had considered midwifery as a career, until she experienced childbirth herself.

"I now know what women go through and I wouldn't want to watch someone else having all that pain. I'm still deciding what I want to do," she said.

Jo is taking GCSEs in English and child development and plans to return to improve her English grade next year and to take maths. "Before all this happened I didn't know if I could pass any exams. I thought about hairdressing. Now I'm hoping to go to college to be an accountant," she said.

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