Out Of The Mouths Of Babes

Launched in 1999 a £248 million Government plan to slash the number of teenage pregnancies failed miserably. The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy aimed to halve the under-18 conception rate by 2010, and establish a downward trend in the under-16 rate.

The plan was heavily criticised last year when official figures revealed that in 2007, 41.9 girls per 1,000 aged 15 to 17 became pregnant compared with 40.9 in 2006. The incidence of sexually transmitted disease amongst teenagers is also rising. Despite all the money and planning the UK still has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe.

The strategy seems to have had the opposite effect of that intended. Overall the rate of decline in teenage pregnancy has slowed over the lifetime of the plan. In 2009 the number of teenage pregnancies in England and Wales actually rose for the first time in five years.

A survey by Hull University and commissioned by East Riding of Yorkshire Council and NHS East Riding of Yorkshire investigated the sexual health knowledge, behaviour and attitudes of youngsters aged between 13 and 16.

Hidden away amongst the usual sociological verbiage there are a few interesting results. Irrespective of gender more youngsters wish to be taught about family values and the responsibilities of parenthood rather than the mechanics of intercourse and contraception. They at least realise that putting condoms on bananas is not enough.

The survey concluded that, “It is important to note that uniform by both gender and school year was the desire for more information about becoming a parent. An increased focus on the role of being a parent might impact on safe sexual practices.”

Half the girls wanted sex education to focus on the consequences of pregnancy, rather than the mechanics and biology of sex, what Lady Edwina Mountbatten termed “the hydraulics.”

The majority of 13 to 16-year-old boys wanted to know what “being a parent” is all about and that this is the most important issue for them.

Government sponsored sex education which did little more than facilitate casual sexual experimentation by school age youngsters has clearly failed, and the youngsters know it. Three out of five girls and almost half of boys said they would only have sex in a long term serious relationship.

Sex education which proceeded on the expectation that young people would have sex at the earliest possible moment and which majored on teaching the mechanics of intercourse and contraception has clearly failed.  It seems to have been predicated on the obsessions of the educators rather than the wishes of the pupils.

A growing number of youngsters are now looking for sex education which emphasises marriage and the family and which empowers them to say no to sex outside a committed relationship. Not exactly a return to Christian morality, but a vast improvement on what exists in schools throughout Britain today.

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About Campbell

Now retired but once upon a time a parish minister in Glasgow, before that the South West and initially the Black Isle. Been a prison chaplain and lecturer. Still am constantly bemused by the weird world around me.
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2 Responses to Out Of The Mouths Of Babes

  1. John James says:

    A blog post of 2 halves here.

    The first half, the statistics, seems to be a mishmash of cherry picked and even conflicting information in the alarmist tabloid tradition.

    So ‘In 2009 the number of teenage pregnancies in England and Wales actually rose for the first time in five years.’ but ‘official figures revealed that in 2007, 41.9 girls per 1,000 aged 15 to 17 became pregnant compared with 40.9 in 2006.’ I know, it’s apples and oranges. The 2009 figure is raw numbers, the 2006/7 figure is the raw number related to the total population, which showed a rise of 0.1% in that year, after a fall for at least 4 years leading up to it.

    Also ‘the rate of decline in teenage pregnancy has slowed over the lifetime of the plan.’ Doesn’t that mean that there has been a decline while the plan has been in place? The rate of teenage pregnancy has been in decline for almost a decade, year on year, and that is a ‘miserable failure’? Sure, the plan to halve teen pregnancy failed, but by these figures the numbers did decline. That’s not a miserable failure. The government was certainly unrealistically ambitious, and overestimated the effectiveness of the plan. The failure of the plan was in fulfilling their fantasies.

    The Hull study has shown once again that relationship education is an important factor in sex education. The attitudes of the kids come as no surprise for those who work with children in sex education. They know that education in the mechanics of how the world works is useless if it doesn’t tell us how that can positively (and sometimes negatively) change our life. Kids are good ones for questions of ‘why’. Unfortunately whenever it is suggested that sex/relationship education should be expanded, and started at an earlier age before peer pressure becomes the strong force it is for teens and before government targets for academic results squeeze teacher’s time so much that sex education becomes an annoying distraction to ‘the real business at hand’, the press howl at the sexualisation of our poor wee kiddies. Maybe a few more studies like this one will help to combat that, but I doubt it.

  2. Campbell says:

    You say I have used mixed sets of figures, that’s true. They may be ‘apples and oranges’ but both sets of figures were included to indicate that whatever way you look at it, either as a percentage or as raw numbers the strategy has failed.

    You write, “Also ‘the rate of decline in teenage pregnancy has slowed over the lifetime of the plan.’ Doesn’t that mean that there has been a decline while the plan has been in place? The rate of teenage pregnancy has been in decline for almost a decade, year on year, and that is a ‘miserable failure’?”
    There was already a decline in teenage pregnancy prior to the strategy, since the inception of the strategy that decline has slowed, so yes, that is a ‘miserable failure.’

    Professor David Paton, chair of industrial economics at Nottingham University Business School, who has worked as a government adviser, speaking at a Westminster health forum seminar said the rate of decline in pregnancy rates has decreased since the strategy was published while sexually transmitted infections (STI) figures have grown. “The hope was the more money you spend the faster and faster the declines – in fact we have seen the opposite, the declines have decreased.”

    You allude to an “alarmist tabloid tradition” in my writing. I really don’t think I deserve it, but thanks for the compliment anyway.

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