'School can save people'

10th February 2006 at 00:00
Schools can save lives, says the new chair of the group that advises the Government on issues surrounding teenage pregnancy.

Gill Frances, 57, director of children's development at the National Children's Bureau charity, was appointed to lead the independent advisory group on teenage pregnancy this week.

The 11-member group monitors policies on sex education and teenage pregnancy. Ms Frances believes schools have a vital role to play. "The major contraception is aspiration," she said. "If you think you're going to get somewhere in the world, you don't stop and have babies."

And she is adamant that personal, social and health education should be statutory for all.

"It's still a lottery," she said. "Some schools don't provide it, or don't think it's important to provide it. We're encouraging the Government to make sure any teacher who delivers the subject is trained. It really is quite obvious.

"School saves people. Vulnerable children don't just need PSHE, they need double PSHE. Schools can inspire young people, support young people, educate young people for life."

Ms Frances therefore welcomes the decision by the High Court to maintain government guidelines allowing teachers and health professionals to provide confidential sexual-health advice for under-16s. In most cases, she says, parents are informed of their children's decisions.

But the right to confidentiality is imperative: "I don't mind telling people about my business, but I don't want other people talking about it behind my back."

She hopes to ensure that teen pregnancy becomes a key issue - "not just a tag-on" - for all schools and children's services. She will encourage the Government to address young people's sexual education, despite attacks from the right-wing press.

But, in particular, she wants to work directly with young people, listening to their opinions on issues that concern them. To this end, the independent advisory group has appointed an 18-year-old and a 20-year-old to its panel.

"It helps us see things from their perspective. If we go all high-faluting, they'll just say, that doesn't make sense," she said.

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