What experiences and challenges do schoolgirl mothers and mothers-to-be face when continuing in education?
Ferguson, Beverley Elizabeth
Previous academic literature and Government agendas and policies share concerns about schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be not continuing in education and having lower qualifications. Despite this, research has not considered why schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be are more likely to drop out of education or why it is so difficult for them to continue. This thesis is an in-depth study of the experiences and challenges faced by schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be while continuing in education. Within this research consideration is given to: the deficit model that characterises schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be as discussed in the existing research literature; the experiences and challenges of schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be while attending school; and the support provided by education and health professionals to schoolgirl mothers/mothersto- be. The analysis of data (from questionnaires and interviews) was guided by three research questions: What experiences and challenges do schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be (aged 18 and under) living in Scotland encounter when continuing in education? What are the different approaches taken by local authorities in supporting schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be whilst at school? How do education and health professionals (school staff, health visitors) in schools and the National Health Service (NHS) support schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be while continuing in education during pregnancy and the early stages of motherhood? A review of policy was carried out across all local authorities in Scotland asking for information about how schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be are supported in school. The results of the review helped to identify the local authorities to be approached for inclusion in the study. Eleven local authorities and twenty-nine schools or alternative provisions across Scotland are represented in this study. Forty-three schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be who attended schools or alternative provisions within the eleven local authorities participated. Schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be completed a questionnaire and participated in an individual or group interview. A follow-up interview was conducted 9-12 months later. Seventeen members of staff from schools or an alternative provision that participants attended were interviewed. An interview was also held with five health visitors from the five NHS Boards across Scotland that the identified local authorities fell within. Overall, the experiences of participants in this study often do not fit with the deficit model that characterises schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be in popular accounts or Government agendas and policies. Many participants had a ‘really good’ or ‘good’ experience of school before pregnancy, conflicting with the expectation of disengagement with education. Schoolgirl mothers do have conflicting legal demands to remain in education and care for their baby but the data do not suggest that all are either engaged or disengaged from the education system. Professionals sometimes unintentionally exacerbated difficulties. Only a minority of participants were given the opportunity of a flexible tailored curriculum to attend school and college. Schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be could have had a much better experience at school had support such as childcare and transport assistance been provided. The relationship between professionals and schoolgirl mothers/mothers-to-be is key to help them overcome the different experiences and challenges of continuing in education while pregnant or after having a baby.