Cuts to services that support pregnant pupils are leaving teachers having to act as “miracle workers”, with many schools shifting mothers-to-be into pupil referral units (PRUs) while keeping them on roll at their old school.
An investigation by Schools Week has found at least three council services set up to support pupils parents have been cut or are set to close.
Unions say that teachers should not have to step in to support pupils without the family officers and tutors who used to provide extra help.
“Teachers can’t be expected to have the knowledge and skills to give all the right support to a girl who’s pregnant,” said Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. “Teachers work 50-hour weeks. They can’t be miracle workers, too”.
A pregnant school pupil needed “an awful lot of support” to continue into higher education after having a baby, but cuts to local authority services, as well as to other services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) and truancy officers, had left the responsibility with schools, she said.
Teachers work 50-hour weeks. They can’t be miracle workers, too
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by Schools Week show that of the 62 councils who responded out of the 120 approached, at least 89 pupils across 10 councils accessed some kind of alternative provision outside their mainstream school when they became pregnant.
The other councils said either no pregnant pupils moved into alternative provision, or they did not hold the information.
The alternative provision included “hospital education services”, as well as home tuition and PRUs.
Gloucestershire Hospital Education Service, a PRU, dual registers pregnant pupils with their main school. A pregnancy support worker gives the expectant mother a parenting course once a week at their school, and then a tutor gives one or two hours of face-to-face lessons a day in the PRU during the pupil’s 18 weeks of maternity leave. Ofsted rated the service outstanding in 2012.
In 2013-14, 22 pregnant pupils used the hospital service. That dipped to nine a year later, rising to 11 in 2015-16.
But similar services have been cut, with schools having to commission or deliver the help themselves rather than through councils.
Swindon’s centre for pregnant pupils was closed “some years ago”, with girls now supported by their school, said a council spokesperson.
In Lancashire, a “number of girls were previously supported by the pregnancy and parenting service”, but this had also been “disestablished”, said Lancashire council.
Meanwhile Coventry county council’s hospital education service, which provides education for pupils “unable to attend their usual school temporarily due to accident or illness, or teenage pregnancy and young motherhood” according to the website, is set to close next term.
“We are ceasing to run the dedicated pregnancy support service at the end of this term,” said a spokesperson, confirming “cuts” were behind the move.
Alison Hadley, director of Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge and a former national lead on the issue for the government, said the fall in the number of school-age pregnancies could explain why councils could no longer justify more support.
Sometimes their school had made a decision to withdraw them from their GCSEs
From 1998 to 2015, the conception rate among under-18s fell 55 per cent, with an “even steeper” drop in the number of pupils going ahead with their pregnancies, she said.
Councils were forced to ask if they could justify a particular service for that group.
She also said schools might be more willing to retain studious pupils who fell pregnant, but refer those already disaffected.
At Newcastle Bridges School, a hospital teaching school in Newcastle, three or four pregnant pupils in year 11 or below are referred each academic year.
Mark Jones, the school’s head, which was rated outstanding last year, said it was “down to the student and family if they wish to come”.
Pupils are referred when they are 12 weeks pregnant and study their normal curriculum full-time. They have a family support officer, parenting lessons, and can later place their baby in an on-site nursery.
He said most young mothers chose not to return to mainstream schooling.
East Riding Yorkshire Home Tuition Service tutored five expectant mothers in 2015-16 and three the year before. Pupils with the service were supposed to continue their GCSE curriculum, but sometimes their “school had made a decision to withdraw them” from their GCSEs, said a council spokesperson.
Pupils could be withdrawn for many reasons, including their parents or the girl asking to be withdrawn, not completing a course unit, long periods of absence and medical reasons, they said.
A spokesperson for the DfE said pupils should never be excluded because of pregnancy, but it was up to individual schools and councils how they offered provision to pregnant pupils.