Letter: Motherhood can signal success against the odds

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The Independent Online
Sir: In her article of 6 July, Sue Slipman says: 'The Government always refers to the 'teenage mums' who, it is assumed, fall pregnant deliberately to obtain a council flat.' There are, I suggest, deeper psychological reasons for teenage pregnancies, which have more to do with the Secretary of State for Education than with the Social Services ministry.

The years during which I was responsible for the education of young people of all abilities, as headmaster of a comprehensive school, convinced me of the profound need to succeed shared by virtually everyone. An educational system that is almost exclusively geared to success in public examinations - on which not only pupils but schools are judged, and categorised in league tables - will condemn some young people to an almost daily confrontation with failure.

One way in which girls so trapped can experience success is in having babies. With friends and families gathered around the pram they become the centre of admiring attention. That is an easy and a real success. It becomes more difficult when the baby becomes a child in need of careful upbringing, so why not cling to success and have another baby? Hence what Sir Keith Joseph (as he then was) called 'the cycle of deprivation'. Boys similarly trapped tend in school to demonstrate their talent to abuse and to disrupt, and, out of school, their skill at 'taking and driving away'.

The challenge for comprehensive schools is to find ways in which all pupils can succeed. It can be done; but it is expensive in staff time and effort and is unlikely to be achieved by trying to coax whole classes of 30-plus through the same hoop at the same time.

Yours faithfully,

A. N. JOHNSTON

Sawston,

Cambridgeshire

6 July

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