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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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35 The Employment Equality Act 1998 outlaws discrimination on nine grounds: gender, marital status, family status, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion, race and membership of the Traveller community.

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Since lack of qualifications will compound the barriers to employment resulting from difficulties of child care and of balancing responsibility for early motherhood and work, more flexible arrangements for the pursuit of educational qualifications need to be widespread to ensure that teenage birth does not lead to further diminution of life chances (Welling, 1999:25).

It is important to remember that leaving school early is a rational decision for some young people, including young parents. Bearing this in mind, it appears that assisting young parents particularly those who are early school leavers, to participate fully and equitably in education requires more than the provision of childcare or transport or financial allowances to allow them to participate in employment and education or training programmes. The further development of education and training support for young parents should not be based upon the assumption that involvement in education or training during pregnancy and the early years of a child’s life is the preferred option for all teenage parents. Respecting young parents’ decision not to participate in education or training and instead, to be a ‘full-time, stay at home’ parent, particularly during the early years of their child’s life is important.

It is clear that education or training incentives provided for teenage parents need to adopt a holistic approach to meeting their support needs. Young parents are not a homogeneous group and policy and service provision needs to recognise and respond to this diversity.

7.1. Policy recommendations

The following policy recommendations are proposed:

1. A commitment to "differentiated policy" (Davies et al., 199637) in forming education support strategies and policies for young parents. The approach would enable government departments and relevant agencies to acknowledge and respond to the full range of circumstances among the young parents to whom such strategies and policies are addressed.

2. The automatic proofing of educational policies to assess the differential impact of such policies upon young parents. This proofing should consider the diversity of needs evident amongst teenage parents. It is proposed that the Educational Equality Unit of the Department of Education and Science and the National Educational Welfare Board could play a key role in lobbying and monitoring progress on this issue.

3. Develop a policy for school authorities on how best to support pregnant and parenting school going teenagers. Such guidance should include issues such as maternity leave and home 37 Davies et al. (1996) discussed the development of ‘differentiated policy’ to support access of school age mothers to education in Northern Ireland.

58 tuition. Each school would prepare its own specific guidelines for use following this policy. It is suggested that the Department of Education and Science take a lead role in producing these guidelines in consultation with the appropriate school bodies in consultation with the Department of Health and Children as appropriate. The work undertaken by the Limerick TPSI pilot project in this regard could serve as a starting point for the development of a national policy.

4. It is proposed that schools participating in the Whole School Evaluation collect data on the number of pregnant and parenting teenagers participating in second level education and the numbers dropping out due to teen pregnancy and/or parenthood. It is suggested that these data are reported to the Department of Education and Science for monitoring purposes.38

5. To convene a National Co-ordinating Committee comprising representatives from all relevant national and regional agencies with responsibility for policy development and service provision in education and training. This Committee would act as a key driver in the development of an agreed framework for the education sector on policy and support services for pregnant schoolgirls and teenage parents.

It is proposed that the Department of Education and Science would take a lead role in convening the Committee with representatives from local and regional authorities, Health Boards, relevant Government Departments, FAS, VECs, primary and secondary schools and other key bodies. Regular progress reports should be submitted by the Committee to the Department of Education and Science.

6. An explicit commitment to consultation and participation by young parents in the policy process in line with the emphasis within the National Children’s Strategy and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on involving children within policy development.

7.2. Practice recommendations The recommendations in the following section are chiefly concerned with identifying practice issues for consideration by key players in education and training for young parents. The following practice

recommendations are proposed:

7. The current emphasis on local consultations by the Department of Education and Science with regard to policies on further education (the so called ‘District Approach’39) should not involve 38 The Whole School Evaluation process already collects data on the gender of students in mainstream second level education.

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duplication of efforts but emphasise the development of national, regional and local action plans. A key element of the approach in this context should be an emphasis on consultation and participation by young parents.

8. The development of locally based integrated networks to develop strategic approaches to meet the education needs of young parents with a particular emphasis on countering educational disadvantage. These networks could include formal and informal education providers, voluntary social services, local community organisations, youth organisations, parent associations and the community welfare service of health boards.

9. It is suggested that Home School Liaison Officers and Educational Welfare Officers should work in tandem with other social services to provide support for young parents of compulsory school age during and after pregnancy to return to full-time education either in school, college or an appropriate unit. It is proposed that regular reporting structures to the National Educational Welfare Board are implemented.

10.To further expand the provision of subsidised childcare for 16 and 17 year olds to allow them to participate in further education and training. This support may take the form of subsidising childcare provided by the family as carried out by the Teen Parents Support Projects or the provision of subsidised crèches within second and third level education.

Section eight

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a young parent’s life places it in a unique position to identify and work towards meeting the myriad of obstacles that may combine to impact upon their educational attainment, and in the long-term, their life opportunities.

8. Conclusions A key feature of the national programme of the Teen Parents Support Initiative (TPSI) is its emphasis on supporting and enabling young parents who wish to participate in education and training. In particular, the emphasis within the Initiative on addressing all the support needs of a young parent’s life places it in a unique position to identify and work towards meeting the myriad of obstacles that may combine to impact upon their educational attainment, and in the long-term, their life opportunities.

Its recognition and support of the decisions young parents make, particularly with regard to combining education, training, employment and parenting, and its emphasis on devising individually tailored support plans for each young parent illustrates its understanding of the unique circumstances each young parent experiences.

It is envisaged that, following the completion of the external evaluation of the Initiative the programme will be expanded nationally as per Objective L of the National Children’s Strategy.

Under the heading ‘Future Actions Proposed’, the Strategy suggests that:

The teenage parenting initiatives currently being piloted will be expanded to all health boards (2000: 74).

The existing emphasis in the Initiative on networking with agencies with a pre-existing focus on working with young persons and young parents, illustrates its understanding of the value and potential inherent in inter-agency working. Therefore, this paper suggests that the Initiative is well placed to play an important role in the development of local and regional integrated networks to meet the education and training needs of young parents.

In conclusion, this paper recommends that the Initiative’s projects should be supported and appropriately resourced to continue and expand their work in supporting young parents in education and training.

62 Appendix I

Initiatives to assist young parents’ participation in education:

selected examples from England and Northern Ireland United Kingdom Recent research in the UK has acknowledged the difficulties facing young parents in education and highlighted how ‘uncommon’ it is for young parents to finish their education. As early as the 1970s, recommendations were made for the provision of home tuition and other supports, to facilitate young mothers return to school after the birth of their child.

In the 1980s, a survey into the educational needs of young mothers in England found home tuition to be an established procedure for the majority of education authorities in England, with growing numbers of special educational centres for this group. Dawson’s (1994) survey of policy and procedure in this area, found an increasing awareness of young mothers as a special needs group, with responsibility for provision allocated most commonly to a hospital and Home Tuition service, or to a support, welfare or special needs unit.

During the 1990s, education authorities worked within policy guidelines set out by the Department of Education in 1993 and 1994. The majority of education authorities provided Home Tuition for both pregnant schoolgirls and young mothers with around 60% offering group tuition, mainly through a special centre, and 35% offering associated child care provision. Shortcomings and difficulties noted with provision included difficulties in offering particular subjects through special centres (especially Science and IT) and an absence of crèche facilities.

The 1999 Report of the Social Exclusion Unit (UK) on teenage pregnancy in the UK, identified a number of barriers facing teenage mothers in getting back into education. It found that many teenage mothers begin with a background of poor experience and attainment at school and exclusion during pregnancy. On top of this, the interruption of the birth, the stress of coping with a young child or children and the cost and availability of child care were often seen to be the final straw by teenage mothers. Difficulties in continuing formal education and in accessing relevant training opportunities are highlighted as a major difficulty faced by young parents and their children. It recommended the establishment of a ten year Action Plan for tackling teen pregnancy and supporting teen parents. A key element of the Action Plan is its focus on supporting teenage parents to return to education (with childcare provision to assist this). From this, the following

requirements and supports were announced:


• Under 16 year old mothers will be required to finish full-time education and be given help with child care to ensure this happens; and • 16 and 17 year old parents would be able to take part in the Education Maintenance Allowance Pilots from September 1999 (1999: 99 – 100).

The Report also identified specialist pupil referral units for teenage mothers as a possible suitable response to their support needs, as these can offer both child care and the personal attention that can motivate and engage young parents to return to education (Social Exclusion Unit, 1999).

Box 6. The Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood Initiative, UK

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The Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood Initiative (TPPI), established in Leeds as part of the Excellence in Cities Initiative, is developing a flexible and inclusive model of education for young women who get pregnant while still at school. It works with schools, colleges, city learning centres and creative arts organisations to provide a range of educational opportunities. A key success factor identified within this model is the appointment of Specialist Learning Mentors. These Mentors work to ensure that young women can access an appropriate education package at each stage of their pregnancy and after the baby is born, and who develop preventative work with schools (Midwinter, 2001).

In 2000, the Department of Education and Employment (DfEE) prepared a draft guidance entitled Pupil Inclusion which clearly established that pregnancy was not a reason for exclusion from school. The guide stressed the importance of consultation with parents and highlighted the need for clarification of the principles of good practice for content and delivery (Social Exclusion Unit, 1999, 115 – 117). The DfEE (with assistance from the Department of Health) is also in the process of developing more detailed guidance on how to support parents or pregnant girls of school age. The principle guiding these is that a period of 18 weeks authorised absence before and after the birth should be allowed, after which any absence will be counted as unauthorised.

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