Talk About Choice

Talk about choice is a programme of direct sex and relationships education (SRE) work with young people in schools and other settings that gives them the facts about pregnancy choices including abortion. The programme is delivered by Education for Choice, a small, specialist voluntary sector organisation. Education for Choice describe the programme as the 'heart and soul' of their work, because the direct contact with young people informs all their other activities including resource development, training for professionals and advocacy work.


A difficult issue
Many teachers contacting Education for Choice have reported feeling ill-equipped to deliver education about pregnancy choices, and are especially hesitant on 'how' and 'what' to teach about abortion.  Parents and young people have also told Education for Choice about negative and sometimes traumatic experiences of learning about abortion in school. Legally, teachers must provide a balanced view of political issues and this may inadvertently motivate teachers (who may not have received any SRE training) to opt for a 'for and against' debate about abortion and invite anti-choice speakers. In contrast, Education for Choice values all pregnancy choices equally.  Through excellent classroom practice, Education for Choice demonstrates how to each about abortion in a safe, inclusive and unthreatening way.

Good classroom practice
Talk about Choice is currently being delivered in several secondary schools across London. Prior to working with a new school/institution a dialogue takes place. This is vital to build greater understanding and establish expectations. Teachers are sometimes surprised to discover that the Education for Choice session will explore values and attitudes relating to abortion as well as more clinical 'sexual health' facts. Education for Choice is also able to forewarn teachers about the extreme content of presentations from some anti-choice organisations, which may contain inaccurate medical information and use of inappropriately graphic images. The school SRE policy is shared with Education for Choice and a service level agreement set up.

Talk about Choice is usually run as a 40 - 60 minute session and is always delivered by trained facilitators. It is a pre-requisite that a teacher from the school is present during the session. sessions always start with groundrules to make learning safe.

Sessions are structured so that they respond to what young people already think and know about abortion and pregnancy choices. Techniques such as a brainstorm on 'ideas about abortion' bring out a range of statements; some relate to facts and others to opinions. Factual information is discussed and sorted into true and false statements - this exercise helps expose myths. Views and opinions are identified as such and are validated while making clear that people have different views and there is not a right or wrong answer.

An extended 'pregnancy test' role play activity in pairs gives young people a chance to consider the range of factors that influence decision-making about a pregnancy in real-life and to practice communication and empathy skills. Gender often emerges as a theme for further discussion from this activity as pupils are encouraged to consider women's and men's rights and responsibilities around pregnancy. Young men often comment on how powerless they felt regarding a hypothetical pregnancy decision and report feeling more motivated to use condoms.

While the pregnancy test activity can touch people at a personal level it is based on a fictional test and assumptions are not made by the facilitator regarding the pregnancy history or sexual orientation of the pupils. The benefits of being able to support a friend facing a pregnancy decision are also discussed, which supports all pupils to feel the session is relevant to them and something they can participate in. All sessions are closed with evaluation with both pupils and teachers. Focus groups are held periodically to get a deeper understanding of young people's experience of the sessions and suggestions.

A sample of questions from Year 10 pupils asked anonymously during a Talk about Choice session 

  • Is there any risk?
  • How do you choose whether you are pro-choice or pro-life
  • Is it dangerous?
  • How could you tell your mum you're pregnant?
  • Does abortion hurt?
  • What if you're scared to tell your family you're pregnant
  • Why do people have abortions?
  • Does the father have to agree with the abortion?

 

Supporting teachers to deliver their own abortion education
Education for Choice has found that it is not possible to meet the demand from schools nationwide to deliver Talk about Choice. Instead, the strategic approach is to maintain a manageable volume of direct work with young people and to support teachers to deliver their own abortion education.  Teachers and other professionals access free and low-cost resources, ad-hoc support, and widely available training to deliver their own lessons. Approximately 450 professionals including teachers, school nurses, youth workers and social workers were trained last year. This strategy supports a vision of all young people receiving accurate, thought-provoking and enjoyable education about pregnancy choices and abortion.

Talk about choice is joint award winner of the FPA Pamela Sheridan Award for excellence in SRE 2010.

For further information visit Education for Choice.