Teaching about pregnancy options is an essential part of any comprehensive programme of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), but our recent poll of 1000 young people aged 16 and 17 years old revealed that 12% of young people had not learnt about pregnancy options at school.
One of the barriers to covering pregnancy options in a school RSE programme is a lack of teacher confidence on the subject. When asked to rate their confidence on a range of RSE topics, teachers of RSE placed ‘pregnancy options’ and ‘explicit online material’ as the two issues where their confidence was most lacking (Sex Education Forum, 2018).
Fortunately, the proposed new Government guidance on RSE describes what should be covered under ‘pregnancy options’ really clearly. By the end of secondary school, pupils should know:
- that there are choices in relation to pregnancy (with medically and legally accurate, impartial information on all options, including keeping the baby, adoption, abortion and where to get further help).
- the facts about the full range of contraceptive choices and options available.
- the facts around pregnancy including miscarriage.
- the facts about reproductive health, including fertility and the potential impact of lifestyle on fertility for men and women.
This helpfully spells out that teaching about pregnancy choices needs to be based on medically and legally accurate information about all the options, abortion included. Government guidance leaves flexibility for schools to structure their RSE programme, but emphasises the importance of a developmental and sequencial approach. For example, pupils will need to have learnt about the human life-cycle and how conception occurs in order to understand how contraception works. Building on this knowledge pupils need to learn at what point pregnancy can be detected and why early detection is important. There are some key facts to include about abortion, for example that the majority (92%) of abortions in England take place under 13 weeks of pregnancy.
Teachers should remember, there may be young women within the older classes they teach, who have experienced pregnancy and abortion.
It is important to create a safe space free of stigma. As an educator you don’t need to share your own views on abortion, just present the facts clearly and respectfully. It is also important to plan lessons which explore the emotional impact of pregnancy, and to build in activities that develop communication skills to discuss pregnancy decisions including about abortion.
The Sex Education Forum is pleased to support the publication of a new fact sheet on abortion and abortion care produced by the professional medical bodies RCOG and FSRH. It provides teachers with a reliable source of information about abortion. This will help address the gap in teacher knowledge, but more in-depth training and support is needed to ensure teachers of RSE have the tools and confidence to craft high-quality lessons on the subject.
With the start-date for statutory RSE getting ever closer, we urge the Government to address the gap in training as a matter of urgency.
We will be signposting schools to the new abortion factsheet, and introducing teachers to a range of resources and approaches in our ‘Teaching Positive Sexual Health’ one-day course, facilitated by sexual health specialist Doctor Eleanor Draeger. The next course is on 21st May 2019. Sign up here and follow @sex_ed_forum #Countdownwithus for free updates to stay informed about how RSE is changing.
Director, Sex Education Forum
31st January 2019