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«The Invisible Students Young Parents in Education By Sinéad Riordan, The Centre for Social and Educational Research, Dublin Institute of Technology ...»

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programmes, third level education) available. Rather, it identifies broad trends and issues arising for young parents who wish to return to or continue their education and training. It is hoped that this paper will contribute to the development of necessary services and supports for young parents in the field of education and training.

The key objectives of this paper are:

(i) To review and identify possible gaps in service provision and barriers to participation in education and training for young parents;

(ii) To discuss the policy backdrop against which TPSI pilot sites offer support to young parents to continue in or return to education and training;

(iii) To generate recommendations for the development of policy for young parents in education and training; and (iv) To briefly describe and discuss the work of the TPSI in education and training for young parents and to examine key demographic characteristics of young parents as they pertain to education and what this may mean for the work of the overall programme.

1.1. Rationale for paper Real difficulties exist in providing young parents with comparable education to that which they would have received had they not become parents. Teenagers’ personal, social and educational life may be disrupted by the demands of pregnancy and/or parenting and it can require considerable individual determination, family support and supportive agencies to resume or remain in education. For some there can be no doubt that in terms of their participation in education and


The push to leave is stronger than the pull to stay (Lynch, 1999:342).

Low levels of education combined with early parenthood will often have an immediate impact upon young men and women’s life chances and may contribute to their and their children’s long-term social exclusion (Social Exclusion Unit, 1999).

The growing recognition of the crucial influence of parental levels of education on children’s participation in education and their school performance (see McCoy et al., 1999) contributes to:

An increasingly compelling case for investment in the case of parents also (White Paper, 2000:49).

–  –  –

employment and household income. It concluded that teenage mothers were disadvantaged in all countries, but the severity of their position varied substantially between countries. Summarising the results by giving equal weight to the principal indicators (namely, poverty, education, family

structure and employment) showed:

on this measure, taking all things into account, Ireland was the worst place to have a baby while still a teenager (Berthoud and Robson, 2001:56).

Section two

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high, those who do become parents at an early age are more likely to experience multiple disadvantages including educational disadvantage, lower educational attainment and early school leaving (Hannan and O’Riain, 1993).

2. Introduction International and national research suggests strong links between early parenthood and a host of negative outcomes including educational disadvantage. This section looks at the key statistics available in relation to young parents in Ireland and reviews national and international research to explore possible links between early parenthood and educational disadvantage.

2.1. Young parents and educational disadvantage The intergenerational and cyclical nature of teenage pregnancy and parenthood and its links with poverty and disadvantage are widely recognised (Phoenix, 1991) and these issues also apply to any analysis of educational underachievement and early school leaving (ADM, 1998; O’Mahony, 2000). While the level of teenage childbearing in Ireland cannot be regarded as high, those who do become parents at an early age are more likely to experience multiple disadvantages including educational disadvantage, lower educational attainment and early school leaving (Hannan and O’Riain, 1993). Box Two provides an overview of key trends in teenage parenthood in Ireland.

Box 2. Key trends in teenage parenthood in Ireland.

The birth rate amongst Irish teens has remained relatively stable over the past decade with some minor increases and decreases.

• Teenage birth rates in Ireland are currently estimated as approximately 17 per 1, 000 of all births (Berthoud & Robson, 2001); and

• In 1999, 6.1% of all births were to mothers aged less than 20 years. This represents 3,301 births to mothers aged less than 20 years out of a total of 53,354 of all births (DSCFA, 2000:21).

Although fertility among teenagers is not high in Ireland, it differs sharply from fertility among women in their late 20s and 30s in that is much less likely to take place within marriage. The majority of teen parents are lone parents and female, and are not married or cohabiting with their partner and/or with the father of their child.

• In 1999, almost 96% of births to mothers under age 20 were registered as being outside of marriage.

Present day patterns of lone parenthood differ in that non-marital childbearing and marital breakdown are now the main causes of lone parenthood replacing premature death of a spouse/parent as the main source of parenting alone (Fahey & Russell, 2002). Yet it is important to note that not all births outside of marriage necessarily result in the formation of long term lone parent family units. A longitudinal study of unmarried mothers in Ireland indicated that one in five unmarried mothers had moved into marital relationships by the time of the child’s fourth birthday (Flanagan, 1996).

16 which represents 31.2% of all births. 2,876 of these births were to women under 20 i.e. 5% of all births and 16% of all births outside marriage. (CSO) While the numbers of early school leavers have decreased over the last 15 years, the consequences of educational failure have become more serious over time. Those who do leave school early today may become more marginalised, with fewer prospects open to them and are increasingly limited to unskilled manual occupations or/and at high risk of unemployment (Boldt & Devine, 1998). Studies consistently demonstrate the differing rates of unemployment among those with no educational qualifications, versus those with Junior Certificates and Leaving Certificates, with the former representing the most vulnerable group within the labour market (Hannan, 1986;

Rourke, 1994). Inequalities in education due to socio-economic differences are well documented and social class of origin remains strongly related to participation and performance within the education system (Clancy, 1995).1 Research conducted by ADM on educational disadvantage in Ireland (1998) suggests that the employment position of poorly qualified early school leavers is more insecure and vulnerable. Equality of educational opportunity is therefore important for young parents from an individual labour market standpoint, as access to paid employment is increasingly tied to level of education attained (Lynch, 1999).

Box 3. Key trends in early school leaving in Ireland The NESF Report on Early School Leavers (2002) highlighted the following trends in early

school leaving:

• In 1999, almost 13,000 young people left before completion of the Leaving Certificate, of whom 2,400 or 3.2 per cent left with no formal qualifications;

• Data from 1997 (most recent available data) estimated that approximately 1,000 students do not transfer from primary to second level schooling;

• In 1999, 4.1 per cent of males relative to 2.5 per cent of females left school without qualifications;

• The NESF note significant gender differences in school participation and early school leaving but argues that there is now a greater need to focus on the educational ‘underachievement’ of young men rather than on the needs of young women with poor educational qualifications;

• However, the Report acknowledges that supports are still needed to enable young mothers to remain at school, particularly in relation to childcare; and

• The links between socio-economic background and early school leaving remain strong – the percentage of students from the Unskilled Manual group who left with no qualifications (9.1 per cent) contrasts with less than 1 per cent from the Higher Professional, Lower Professional and Salaried Employees groups.

–  –  –

Although boys are more likely than girls to leave school early or without qualifications, the available data suggest that for girls, early school leaving and teen pregnancy and parenthood are strongly related. Fahey and Russell’s (2002) analysis of mothers with children under 15 by family status and education (based on data gathered through the Labour Force Survey 1997) found that, for women aged 20-24, unmarried motherhood was strongly related to low educational attainment.

Just over 50% of this group had Intermediate Certificate or lower qualifications, compared to 17% of the whole age group. McCashin (1997) found that 25% of ‘younger’ lone parents had ‘no qualification’ or only ‘primary level qualifications’. Being a married mother at this age was also linked to educational disadvantage (though not as strongly as was the case for unmarried mothers) with 27% of married mothers in this age group having Intermediate Certificate education or less (Fahey & Russell, 2002). Berthoud and Robson’s (2001) analysis of the European Community Household Panel survey indicated that only 49% of teenage mothers in Ireland had upper secondary educational qualifications. In comparison, in Finland, which has approximately 14 births to teen mothers per 1, 000, as many as 82% of teen mothers had upper secondary qualifications (Ibid, 2001:13, 22).

No national information is available as to ‘why’ or what the defining factor is that leads to early school leaving. It is not possible at present to estimate how many early school leavers leave as a result of pregnancy and/or parenthood. Although males are much more likely than females to leave school without effective qualifications, McCoy et al., observe that with regard to early school

leavers’ participation in the labour force:

Labour market withdrawal (which primarily consists of home duties) is much higher for girls than boys (1999:11).2 Labour market withdrawals for this reason are particularly prominent amongst girls with the lowest levels of educational attainment. While it is not possible to estimate precisely what ‘home duties’ may consist of, it is not improbable to assume that this figure includes some young women who are no longer available to participate in the labour market due to pregnancy or parenting responsibilities.

It is important to note that:

Measures of education taken several years after the pregnancy cannot distinguish cause from effect (Berthoud and Robson, 2001:19).

2 In 1996/’97, 3.4% of girls and 1.7% of boys withdrew from the labour market.

18 That is, it is not necessarily possible to distinguish within statistics between those who had already performed poorly within the education system and decided to have a child and those who left education in order to care for their child. Nevertheless, there is a strong indication that educational progress does not continue after a first child is born particularly amongst teen mothers (ibid:20).

Section three Literature review: key issues arising: young parents participation in education 20 For lone parents aged under 25 years …… the demands of parenting alone at such a young age and without adequate supports such as childcare and financial resources militate against continuing education and participation in training (NESF, 2001:57).

3. Introduction

The purpose of this section is to provide a brief overview of the key issues arising in relation to young parents’ participation in education as identified through a review of relevant national and international research and literature.

3.1. Literature review: key issues arising A key issue to consider when discussing young parents and their participation in education is that not all young parents are early school leavers nor is there necessarily a cause and effect relationship between early school leaving and young parenthood. However, a range of educational deficits are associated with teenage pregnancy and parenthood particularly in relation to lower levels of educational participation and attainment. Research in both Ireland and the UK suggests that, compared to mothers who are older, teenage mothers face higher educational risks such as early school dropout and gaps in education (Kiernan, 1995; McCashin, 1997; Social Exclusion Unit, 1999). Yet teen pregnancy or parenthood is not necessarily the causal factor in the observed lower levels of educational attainment amongst teen mothers. The relationship between lower educational attainment and teenage pregnancy may be ‘two-way’ (Clarke, 1999).

Research suggests a relationship exists between young mothers’ perceptions of the educational and employment opportunities available to them, teenage pregnancy and parenthood and lower levels of educational attainment (Phoenix, 1991; Milne-Home et al., 1997; SEU, 1999). The lack of future employment or educational opportunities for young women means some may not see early motherhood as in any way damaging their future opportunities. Phoenix’s (1991) study of young mothers in the UK found that those in full-time education usually did not finish their courses following birth but did not necessarily mind this as the majority did not consider themselves to be academic. Additionally, negative school experiences prior to or during pregnancy may also serve to sever already weak links between young parents and the formal educational system. Consultations with TPSI project staff and young parents suggest that this is an ongoing issue that needs to be tackled.

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