Sarah Millington, subject advisor for Health and Social Care and Child Development
If you are teaching a student who is pregnant, there are a lot of things to consider. My blog aims to provide you with helpful information, suggest where to go for further support, and make you aware of special considerations that could be applied.
Although pregnancy in the under 18s has been declining rapidly in recent years, it does still happen across the UK. If you work in education, I’m sure you will have heard at some point about a pregnant student. As teachers, we need to make every effort to help students to be able to continue their education and access the services they need.
If a student is under 16, they will be under the age of consent. According to the law, only those who are aged 16 or over are able to freely agree to any sexual activity.
The law is there to protect young people from sexual exploitation and abuse, not to punish consensual sexual activity between two young people of a similar age. If both young people consent, then there may be no legal repercussions. If the sexual activity is between an adult and a young person under the age of 16 it is against the law in the UK and the adult will be held responsible.
If it is consensual and one person is over the age of 16 then the parents of the younger person may decide to press charges against the person over 16. Also, if the parents of the under 16-year-old knew what was happening, they could be prosecuted.
In education, the welfare of children is paramount and all practitioners within settings should follow the principles of the Children Act 1989 & 2004. This allows local authorities, partner organisations and agencies to work together to promote the welfare of children. Teenage pregnancy should be part of a school’s safeguarding policy, giving guidance about what procedures need to be followed and who should be informed. It may need investigating if it is felt that the young person has been subject to exploitation or abuse.
A student who is pregnant is entitled to up to 18 calendar weeks of authorised absence to cover time immediately before and after the birth of her baby.
From conception to birth and at new-born baby stage, pregnancy has a big impact on the body, both physically and mentally, and this needs to be considered. How can you support a student during each of these stages throughout their studies?
The first area of focus is around openness about the pregnancy, so you can help all the relevant parties involved – the expectant mother, the father, family members and teachers.
Every young parent’s story is different, so their needs will be different too. Here are some practical hints and tips.
So that the student can continue with her education for as long as possible up to the birth, some small adjustments could be made, such as:
If your student is suffering from morning sickness, it might help if she could start the school day a little later or join their classmates at the start of their first lesson.
Even though a student may wish to keep her pregnancy private, key staff such as subject teachers, form tutors, pastoral leaders and school nurses need to be aware of the situation from the outset.
Your student will need a designated adult that she can go to for support if they have questions or concerns. You could also allocate a buddy, which may be a suitable member of the student’s peer group.
Adults will have more awareness of what is deemed safe for an expectant mother and her unborn baby and what isn’t. Some subjects and activities that students take part in could carry a degree of risk, so you need to manage risks within the school setting.
Pregnant students should not participate in any contact sports or start any new activity they did not take part in before pregnancy.
Additional special safety considerations would need to be planned around PE lessons. Does the student feel comfortable, can another sport be planned that is non-contact, can other arrangements be put in place for any practical tasks or assessments?
Food technology is another area of concern. The student should avoid foods that could be a risk during the pregnancy if consumed or handled, alongside other routine health and safety practices.
Pregnancy and post pregnancy can be mentally and physically draining, for adults let alone teenagers. If your student is in school, emotions can be exacerbated with the thought of extra responsibilities as well as coping with the hormonal changes.
Everybody involved with the student’s wellbeing needs to be aware and mindful of all the challenges she could experience: how people might react when they hear about the pregnancy, tiredness that makes completing work challenging, bullying, changes to physical appearance, post-natal depression. Providing a safe space where your student can go to with a friend or speak to a member of staff is important. Allocating a member of staff as a ‘go to’ person for your student can also help manage these aspects.
Public Health England has published a framework for supporting teenage mothers and young fathers, which outlines the key services that are available to pregnant teenagers. Other charities and organisations that can offer support:
JCQ has published Special consideration guidance that includes information about pregnancy.
Complications of pregnancy may also be an eligible reason for a special consideration absence, subject to meeting the minimum requirement set out in the JCQ document. Special consideration could be a possibility if a student is able to sit the exam, but is suffering from medical complications at the time, due to the pregnancy. The decision is made by the awarding body, such as OCR, and may vary from one subject to another. These may include:
The candidate would only be entitled to special consideration for adverse effects caused by pregnancy, not the pregnancy alone.
If you are delivering an OCR qualification and unsure if special consideration can be applied, please contact the special consideration team for advice.
We’d like to share the thoughts of Helen Anderson at Sir John Leeman High School, Bungay.
“Having a pregnant student was something I wasn’t prepared for. Schools can find it difficult to be open about teenage pregnancies. As it isn’t a common occurrence in certain schools, they sometimes don’t know how to approach it.
From my own experience, I am fully aware that this happens, and have fully accepted that the child needs support. The student will need work to be carried out at home and this needs to be set, but if there is good communication and openness then it’s achievable. Some teachers won’t have this approach, and this can have a huge impact on the student involved.
It’s very dependent on the student and subject and teacher. If the student feels safe and comfortable within the group, they will do their best to be there. If there are issues with other students making comments and the group is not seen as supportive, they will not attend and will try to hide the pregnancy for as long as possible. The student would then miss lessons as they were too embarrassed and ashamed to come to school. The student I taught had morning sickness and missed lessons to go to appointments and meet with outside agencies. Al this needs to be taken into consideration.”
If you have any comments or questions, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @OCR_Health. You can also sign up to subject updates and receive information about resources and support.
Sarah joined OCR after teaching Health and Social Care and Child Development over a period of 16 years. Having been a teacher, subject lead and moderator within her career, she has planned and developed subjects to meet the need of her students to allow them to become independent learners, focusing on effective teaching and learning skills. She has experienced and survived several qualification changes: GCSEs to Cambridge Nationals, and A Levels to Cambridge Technicals.