Ed Balls defends record as teenage pregnancies fall

Schools Secretary Ed Balls today defended the Government's record on teenage pregnancies ahead of new figures likely to indicate that a key target will be missed.

Mr Balls said he expected statistics to show that the rate of teenage pregnancies is now the lowest it has been for well over a decade. But he conceded that it was going to be "really hard" to achieve the pledged target of a 50% decline on 1998 figures by 2010.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, the Schools Secretary also defended legislation passed last night that will force faith schools to teach sex education.

An amendment to the Children, Schools and Families Bill will mean that religious educators will be allowed to teach personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons "in a way that reflects the school's religious character".

Secularists have criticised ministers for allowing the Bill to be watered down.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: "The Government have once more bowed to pressure from the Catholic Church, betraying the children in faith schools who have a right to objective and balanced sex education."

He added: "This cowardice will blight many lives."

But Mr Balls told BBC Breakfast that the legislation was an important step forward.

He said: "It is a huge change to make sex relationship education compulsory in every school, including every faith school, for the first time.

"Currently, a faith school can choose not to talk about relationships, to ignore talk about contraception or abortion or any of those thing. That is now going to change.

"This is not an opt-out at all."

How successful the Government has been in its attempts to drive down teenage pregnancies will be revealed later today when new figures are released.

To date, it has has had some success in lowering the rate but has lagged behind stated targets.

A 2004 aim to cut the rates by 15% from the baseline year of 1998 was missed.

It is expected that a vow to halve teenage pregnancies by this year - figures for which will not be available for a couple of years - will slip.

Mr Balls said today: "It was a really ambitious target - it was 50% fall. I think it was right to set an ambitious target and it is going to be really hard to make that amount of fall."

As to what he expected to see in today's figures, the Schools Secretary said: "I think we will see that it is the lowest rate of teenage pregnancies for well over a decade."

He added that there has been a 10% fall in conceptions and a 20% fall in actual births.

"This has been really successful. But it is not enough. I'm still worried about it and there is a lot more to do," he said.

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