Sunderland secondary schools criticised for failing to back contraception scheme

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Calls have been made by councillors for school leaders to explain why they’re refusing to back a contraception scheme.

The comments came during yesterday’s children education and skills scrutiny committee (April 12) where a report on teen pregnancy was discussed.

Sunderland’s most recent teen conception data is from 2016 and was published last month.

It shows reductions in rates for both under 16s and under 18s in the city since 2015.

Ahead of a new city public health service – set to start on July 1 this year – councillors and council officers raised concerns about secondary schools and their engagement with the teen pregnancy agenda

The 0-19 service aims to embed contraceptive advice and support in the role of health visitors and school nurses and to provide sexual health assessment, pregnancy testing and emergency contraception.

Sunderland City Council public health consultant, Lorraine Hughes, who delivered the report to committee, said she also aimed to embed the ‘C-Card’ in the service which allows young people to claim free condoms.

She explained that the aim was to offer drop-in services that could be delivered on school premises and in other youth services within the city.

But the committee heard that Sunderland secondary schools (11-16) had declined to make the services available, despite requests from the public health team.

Coun Philip Tye said: “Schools have declined them the provision to do that? It’s criminal.”

Committee chairman, Patricia Smith, added: “It’s not good enough that these secondary schools won’t take C-Cards.

“We’re going to have to find a way to find out what the reasons are for not taking them.”

She added that the issue affects young peoples’ lives and that the committee needs to talk to schools to “make something happen” in future.

In 2016, the rate of teen conceptions in under 16s was 7.7 per 1,000 population (aged 13-15 years) compared to 8.5 the previous year.

For teens aged 15-17 per 1,000 population, the rate in Sunderland was 31.9 compared to 24.6 in the North East and 18.8 in England.

Despite the continued reduction in rates, Sunderland still has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the North East – behind Middlesbrough and Hartlepool– and is the sixth highest in England.

The committee discussed potential reasons for city schools declining to accept C-cards and drop-in services, ranging from potential backlash from parents to the policies of faith-based schools.

Coun Paula Hunt asked about alternative provision around teen pregnancy and contraception, citing lack of visible services and outreach in the Thornhill area.

Committee vice-chair, Bob Francis, also questioned whether the service was being provided for teenagers in special schools in the city.

Director of education of Sunderland City Council’s childrens’ services agency ‘Together for Children’, Simon Marshall, also shared views on the issue.

“Schools potentially think it looks like we’re trying to promote sex and it’s very negative,” he said.

“It’s not that, you’re actively showing care for young people.”

He added that the scheme was about “getting the message out there” and starting a conversation around the issue.

The committee noted they didn’t accept the contents of the report, but that they supported the teen pregnancy agenda and the council’s efforts to tackle the issue.

They asked for schools opting out of the C-Card scheme to detail their reasons for refusal and will discuss their comments at a future meeting.

Since 1998, the teenage conception rate in Sunderland has dropped by 49.4 per cent – from 63.1 per 1,000 population aged 15-17 to 31.9 in 2016.

Over the same period. this equates to a drop from 357 in 1998 to 135 in 2016.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service