Baby no excuse to miss school

20th May 2005 at 01:00
Girls should not be excluded from school or "invited" to take a leave of absence if they fall pregnant, says draft guidance from the Assembly government. Schools should also do more to support young dads. But teenagers who use parenthood to dodge classes should be dealt with in the same way as other truants, it says.

Wales still has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe - for every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 17, 45 are pregnant.

The Assembly government also wants to make sure that teenage parents do not slip into long-term social exclusion. They are more likely as adults to be on benefits or in low-paid work, and low educational attainment and lack of qualifications are major contributory factors, it says.

The guidance stresses that pregnancy or health and safety concerns are not a reason for exclusion from school. And under no circumstances should girls be invited to take a leave of absence for fear of bullying. It also makes it clear that girls who use their baby as a reason not to go back to school should face the usual truancy procedures.

School-age dads should receive the same support as pregnant girls, says the report, which also spells out the procedure for teachers concerning confidentiality and requests for the morning-after contraceptive pill.

Sue Halliwell, deputy head at Ogmore school, Bridgend, and president of the Secondary Heads' Association Cymru, stressed that schools were often faced with forces beyond their control.

"It's usually financial pressures that create difficulties," she said. "One of our pupils who was pregnant during her GCSEs returned for A-levels but could not continue because of the cost of childcare."

She said schools usually have a system in place that reflects the new guidance, citing the example of another girl who kept up with her studies during maternity leave through home tuition. But she conceded that young dads are probably overlooked.

Mark Hendy, who works with young dads throughout Rhondda Cynon Taf for the Sure Start scheme, believes schools are more geared up to tackle substance abuse than help teenage dads.

He said: "We don't have the same system for boys who may be at risk of emotional harm and of hurting girls through early sexual activity. So we find it difficult to support these children."

Tonypandy community college, in the Rhondda, has a partnership board with representatives from the School Health Service and voluntary agencies.

Deputy head Helen O'Sullivan said: "We work together to make sure the pupils get qualifications."

Consultations close on July 29. See www.learning.wales.gov.uk

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