Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Why is it so hard to be a schoolgirl mother/mother-to-be and continue in education?

Dr Beverley Ferguson’s research explores issues surrounding teenage parents and looks at what support systems would be required to enable teenagers to continue in education after their baby is born. Beverley’s research was conducted as part of her PhD at The University of Edinburgh and was partly funded by Falkirk Council.

Schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be are objects of public dismay for dropping out of education and not valuing or using it as a route out of their poverty and into a secure economic position.

Despite this, academic literature and government agendas/policies do not consider why schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be are more likely to drop out of education nor do they ask the question ‘Why is it so difficult to continue?’ Neither have schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be been asked to comment on their experiences and challenges of continuing in education or what support from health and education professionals might help them to do so.

Previous discourse considers schoolgirl pregnancies as causing or perpetuating the cycle of deprivation and involving a greater risk of poverty, unemployment and isolation[1]. The importance placed on education as the preferred route for all young people therefore focuses education policies on raising standards, ensuring effective learning and teaching, gaining qualifications and going on to a positive destination.

Although policies have been produced by the Scottish Government to address health, education and socio-economic inequalities, consideration is needed on the way these have been translated into local practice in relation to schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be. The experiences of schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be continuing in education, and the way these are shaped by the social organisation of schooling and interacting policies also needs further exploration.

The role and influence of professionals in supporting schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be is crucial and some academics have highlighted the need for further research on this[2]. A lack of knowledge of the experiences and challenges of schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be can unintentionally exacerbate difficulties in their situation especially in terms of their mental health. In comparison, an in-depth knowledge of young mothers’ experiences and challenges can begin to build relationships between them and professionals.

The world of forty-three schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be (aged 18 or under) is explored in my mixed methods, mixed sources study which was conducted in twenty-nine Scottish secondary schools or alternative provisions across eleven local authorities.

Some of the experiences reported by these schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be included good experiences of school prior to becoming pregnant; searching for a connection with school staff; distractions from education; stigmatisation of pregnancy and termination; variations in response and reactions from partners, school staff and professionals. The challenges encountered included: changes in friendships; decisions and pressures of remaining in education; morning sickness; school uniform pressures; physical challenges of school buildings, getting to school, negotiating corridors, stairs, desks and chairs; timetable changes; and the emotional struggle of leaving their baby with someone else.

Participants in this study did not express regret about having a baby but talked about how it had positively influenced and changed the direction of their life. Motherhood helped participants to take school and their education more seriously even though they had to overcome disruptions and difficulties on their journey. If becoming pregnant while still in education increases the desire for educational qualifications and employment opportunities, then this presents an opportunity to take advantage of it to raise attainment, improve training and employment opportunities, potentially reduce poverty and break the cycle of deprivation.

Schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be could have a more positive and engaging experience of education during pregnancy and after returning to education if a range of supports and provisions tailored to meet their individual needs is provided. Although schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be do not all have the same needs or require the same level of help, support and provisions need to be consistent across Scotland and should not be dependent on where a schoolgirl mother/mother-to-be lives.

Dr Beverley Ferguson’s journal article 'Coming out' as pregnant or having a baby while attending school: Experiences and challenges of Scottish schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be is published in the International Journal on School Disaffection (Volume 12, Number 2, December 2016) DOI:


[1] Macvarish, J. (2010), ‘The Effect of 'Risk-Thinking' on the Contemporary Construction of Teenage Motherhood’. Health, Risk & Society, 12(4), pp313-322.

[2] Macvarish, J. and Billings, J.R. (2007), ‘Teenage Mothers’ Experiences of Parenthood and Views of Family Support Services in Kent. Service Users Report, Postnatal’. Centre for Health Services Studies. University of Kent, Canterbury.

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