Pregnancy can't be the only option

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Teenage girls in Wales more likely to fall pregnant than their peers in any other part of Europe. And when they do, they are more likely to keep their babies. Leaving aside the inevitable debates between those who oppose abortion on principle and those who believe these girls should choose for themselves, these worrying trends raise all sorts of questions.

Why is this happening? Is our society offering many schoolgirls so little sense of purpose that having a baby is the best way they can find meaning in their lives? The Government's inclusional policies could make a difference, but the challenge for the Welsh Assembly will be to reach the most disaffected teenagers. As Gill Frances of the National Children's Bureau, appointed last month to lead an advisory group on teenage pregnancy, said: "The major contraception is aspiration." She is convinced that schools can make a big difference.

So what should schools do? Wales's chief inspector of schools Susan Lewis has said that both outside agencies and teachers should be used in the fight against teenage pregnancy, and that primary teachers should talk more routinely and openly to their pupils about sex.

Meanwhile, Michael Reiss, editor of the journal Sex Education, argues that teachers should not try to do things that are better done by others, such as providing confidential advice on sexual matters to teenagers. But he also urges more training and resources to help teachers provide high-quality sex and relationships education. Unfortunately, schools sometimes have the wrong influence. One study found that teenage mothers shared a dislike of school and a sense of educational failure.

Interestingly, motherhood motivated some of them to strive for a better life.

One thing is certain. Once the teenagers have had their babies, both mum and infant need good childcare and educational opportunities. But how can we remove the stigma from teenage mums who return to school while discouraging others from following their example?

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