TEENAGE mothers in the country's most deprived inner cities are to get their own learning mentors to ensure that motherhood doesn't spell the end of their education.
Teachers, education welfare officers, youth and social workers are to be recruited to work with them as Britain faces up to the reality of having one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed world.
Latest figures show that in 1997 more than 46,000 babies were born to mothers under the age of 20 and 1,600 to girls under 16.
The Government's social exclusion unit is to report later this month on teenage pregnancy and is expected to propose allowing under-age girls to obtain condoms from schools.
And the Department for Education and Employment has just told the 10 councils in its pound;350 million Excellence in the Cities initiative that they will have to provide one-to-one support for teenage mothers from the autumn.
The requirement comes in the job description it has drawn up for learning mentors to work in schools in inner and north London, Manchester, Leeds, Salford, Liverpool, Knowsley, Birmingham, Bradford, Sheffield and Rotherham.
While there are few national figures, the evidence suggests that pregnant girls are often excluded from schools or leave of their own accord - effectively ending their education.
Ministers have set aside pound;65m up to 2002 for the mentoring programme, which aims to raise standards and reduce truancy and exclusions as well helping councils and schools to hit government-imposed targets.
Civil servants said mentors would be responsible for ensuring that the arrangements for those who leave school mid-term before 16, including teenage mothers, were managed properly.
Mentors are expected to provide a complementary service to existing teachers and pastoral staff, helping children overcome barriers to learning both inside and outside the school.
They will be recruited by headteachers who, with local authorities, will decide pay and conditions. Teachers will not be able to work as mentors in the same school in which they teach.
Alongside learning mentors, there will be support units, city learning centres, more specialist and beacon schools and help for gifted and talented children.