Pregnant pupils face bleak future: Education authorities 'fail to give adequate support'

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SCHOOLGIRLS who become pregnant have little chance of successfully completing their education, a new study has revealed.

Just one-third stay on at school once they find they are pregnant, and many have to rely on a few hours' home tuition each week as they prepare for their GCSE exams. No more than one quarter of local authorities can teach them the full national curriculum.

The survey of 98 local education authorities, carried out by Bristol University, paints a disturbing picture of the future for girls who become mothers before 16.

Although many schools are prepared to let them stay, few do. Some of the girls have poor attendance records, and those who do stay often find it hard to cope with the censorious attitudes of fellow pupils.

Dr Nona Dawson, who carried out the research and who has tracked the progress of 11 schoolgirl mothers over the past five years, said even those who were keen to complete their education found it very difficult indeed. 'One girl in my sample was absolutely determined to stay on at school, but in the end she left because of peer-group pressure - the boys called her a slag. She said: 'I will stick my neck out - if they are going to call it a bastard I don't care.' But in the end she just couldn't put up with it.'

About 9,000 girls aged between 13 and 15 become pregnant in England and Wales each year - a figure which has hardly changed in the past 30 years. About 5,000 have terminations; the rest choose motherhood.

Education authorities are becoming increasingly aware of the problems the girls face, but many are still unable to offer adequate support.

Department for Education guidelines say that 14- and 15-year-olds should spend a minimum of 24 hours per week in lessons. But while 7 out of 10 authorities now provide home tuition, most girls have no more than five hours of lessons per week. The maximum home tuition available ranged from 15 hours per week in one area, to just one hour in several others.

However, the proportion of authorities providing special units for pregnant pupils and schoolgirl mothers has risen from 43 per cent to 60 per cent since a survey in 1987. Most authorities agree the best place for a pregnant girl is at school with her peers, unless there are medical reasons which prevent her from continuing her studies, and that it is wrong to exclude a pupil for this reason.

However, one local authority officer commented: 'Personally, I'm not in full agreement with this idea - they need not be excluded, merely suspended. I hardly feel I need to say why I think it totally inappropriate for a pregnant schoolgirl to attend a mainstream school.'

There were some hopeful signs, Dr Dawson said. A few local authorities now allowed schoolgirl mothers to attend further education colleges where they could learn part-time and where there were often childcare facilities. 'It is deadening trying to do a full-time job with a tiny baby . . . If we want these people to become taxpayers we need to educate them well and we need to give them support.'