Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE)
The Importance of Teaching about Teen Pregnancy and Parenting
RSE provides an opportunity to help young people consider their roles and responsibilities as potential future parents, ensuring they are prepared for the challenges that parenthood brings.
According to the Nuffield Trust, most teenage pregnancies are unplanned and are associated with poorer outcomes for both young parents and their children. Teenage mothers are less likely to finish their education, are more likely to bring up their child alone and in poverty, and they have a higher risk of mental health problems than older mothers. The 15 to 17 age group is effectively seen as the ‘population at risk’ (Nuffield Trust – Teenage pregnancy).
Education on parenthood is important for empowering young people to make choices about whether and when they would wish to become parents in the future. It can equip young men and women to understand the needs and challenges associated with having babies and bringing up young children, and the impact their parenting skills have on the development of that child (Scottish Government – Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy).
Links to Other RSE Topics
Statutory RSE in all schools provides a key opportunity to strengthen support for young people to develop healthy relationships and prevent early unplanned pregnancy.
Links to other RSE areas include:
Building young people’s knowledge, skills, resilience and aspirations and providing easy and welcoming access to services helps them to delay sex until they are ready to enjoy healthy, consensual relationships and to use contraception effectively to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
An open culture and ease of parental communication around sexual issues are also associated with lower teenage pregnancy rates. For more information, see the Public Health England document Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Framework.
The Wider Benefits of Effective RSE
Throughout the period 2008–17, the birth rate for teenage mothers in Northern Ireland fell from 15.52 per thousand women in 2008–10 to 9.46 by 2015–17 (Statista – Rate of live births for teenage mothers in Northern Ireland from 2008 to 2017, by age of mother).
However, more needs to be done to further prevent unplanned pregnancy through better sexual education for young people, understanding the benefits of young people delaying or abstaining from sexual relationships, promoting effective contraception, and improving access to sexual and reproductive health services.
RSE provides opportunities to acquire comprehensive, accurate, evidence-informed and age-appropriate information on sexuality. It addresses sexual and reproductive health issues including, but not limited to, sexual and reproductive anatomy and physiology, puberty and menstruation, reproduction, modern contraception, pregnancy and childbirth, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
According to the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Framework, young people who report receiving RSE are more likely to:
- delay first sex;
- experience first sex that is consensual;
- be aware of, or report, sexual abuse; and
- protect first sex with contraception and condoms.
Young women and men who cite school as their main source of RSE are less likely to contract an STI, and young women are less likely to be pregnant by 18 and to experience an unplanned pregnancy in later life.
Teaching Boys and Girls
Both boys and girls should learn about pregnancy and parenting, the complexities of bringing up a child and the implications for their own lives. They should also be aware of the advantages of bringing up a child within a stable, healthy relationship or marriage.
Taking a gender-transformative approach (as in the If I Were Jack resource) to RSE on the topic of teen pregnancy addresses the often-neglected role and perspectives of teenage men.
It encourages reflection and discussion, challenges gender norms and power inequalities between different genders, and goes beyond the gender stereotypes surrounding teen pregnancy. It also highlights the importance of boys and men in the female reproductive health and rights agenda, and how unplanned pregnancy impacts on them.
Teachers could cover:
- the biological facts about pregnancy and its signs and symptoms;
- misconceptions and myths around pregnancy;
- individuals’ responsibility to ensure safer sex and use contraception to prevent both unplanned pregnancy and STIs;
- the implications of an unplanned pregnancy;
- social, emotional, health, educational and financial impacts of pregnancy;
- coping with an unplanned pregnancy and sources of advice and support;
- the roles and responsibilities of being a parent;
- challenges and issues faced by teenage parents;
- the law around the rights of the mother and father regarding co-parenting; and
- the importance of shared responsibility for child wellbeing.
School Age Mothers Programme
The Department of Education expects all schools to be supportive of pupils who become pregnant. Pregnant and parenting schoolgirls should be treated the same as any other pupil. They should be helped to complete compulsory education and stay in education beyond school leaving age if they wish.
The School Age Mothers Programme supports young women of school age, who are pregnant or parenting, to continue in compulsory education and beyond if this is appropriate.
For more information, see the Department of Education page School age mothers programme.
Teen pregnancy and parenting fit into Learning for Life and Work at Key Stage 3 in the Personal Development strand under the key concept Relationships, which states that:
Pupils should have opportunities to explore the implications of sexual maturation, for example sexual health, fertility, contraception, conception, teenage pregnancy and childbirth.
The Key Stage 3 Non-Statutory Guidance for Science includes factors for a healthy pregnancy as an example of developing pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills through the key element of Personal Health.
At Key Stage 4, teen parenting also sits under the Personal Development strand of Learning for Life and work, which states that:
- develop an understanding of how to maximise and sustain their own health and wellbeing;
- reflect on, and respond to, their developing concept of self, including managing emotions and reactions to ongoing life experiences;
- recognise, assess and manage risk in a range of real-life contexts;
- develop their understanding of relationships and sexuality and the responsibilities of healthy relationships; and
- develop an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of parenting.
Pupils who choose to study GCSE Learning for Life and Work will learn about responsible parenting, including the roles and responsibilities of parents, the social, emotional and economic impact of becoming a parent, the opportunities and challenges of parental responsibility, and the role of parenting in a child’s physical, social, emotional, intellectual and moral development.
Pupils who choose to study GCSE Biology, Double Award Science or Single Award Science will learn about the biological basis of conception and pregnancy, and contraception as a mechanism for preventing pregnancy.