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Teen pregnancy and exam passes

March 4th, 2006

Dr Petra

New data from the UK’s office for national statistics suggests that areas of high teen pregnancy rates are linked with below-average GCSE pass rates.

Statisticians superimposed GCSE grades onto teenage conception rates in areas where 40% or fewer teens were getting five A-C grades at GCSE, and found that teen conceptions were a third higher in those areas.

This research is helpful since it provides ideas around prevention of early conceptions in teens. However, some of the press have interpreted the story as educational attainment predicts pregnancy prevention, which isn’t quite accurate. It may be for those in schools where grades are higher, sex education is also well provided. Those schools may also do more to improve the confidence and negotiating skills of young people that will help delay unwanted early sexual experiences.

Within schools with lower grade averages, aside from sex education possibly not being provided, there may be problems around school attendance and also general resources available to support young people. There may be associated problems of poverty and other community needs.

We have to be careful with data like this since it can privilege schools that offer good grades and cast blame over lower achieving schools and the wider community they serve. Blame is also cast over young girls who conceive – with perhaps now a suggestion that they’re less intelligent than their peers who don’t get pregnant (certainly I’ve heard some radio coverage of this story suggesting this).

The focus on teen conception tends to again focus on girls, and it would be interesting to look at a split between grades of boys and girls and look at their educational achievement over time. We do know that girls who proceed with teen pregnancy are often likely to return to study as adults, and do very well at this time.

Finally this sort of data can inadvertently prejudice different groups of girls – those who achieve low grades are assumed to inevitably be destined for teen pregnancy, whilst it’s seen as disastrous when this happens to a teenager with qualifications or from a high achieving school. Both kinds of views lead to unnecessary pressure and unfair treatment of girls, parents and teachers.

Whilst these statistics are helpful for us to be aware of our commitment to reducing teen pregnancy, they can carry with them a number of hidden (and not so hidden) agendas. Education generally – not just exam grades – will help young people. But most importantly high exam grades won’t make a difference unless combined with sex education that includes negotiation and confidence building skills.

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