**UPDATE: You can complete my survey about your experiences of being a young mum in education here
**


Ok, I've shortened the title a bit (and made it less emotive!) but the message is the same! The DfE are currently consulting on Raising the Participation age to 18 in 2015. (Click here for link to consultation). The things they want to know are:

  • Do you prefer option 1 (setting an overall hourly minimum level for full-time education for all provision) or option 2 (a more tailored approach)?
  • Or a 'hybrid option' that you think more effective - e.g. there is a blanket rate of hours but Independent Specialist Providers are exempt?
  • Do you agree with DfEs suggestion of 534 hours as the minimum requirement for full-time education under Option 1?
  • Should working not for reward, holding an office and self-employment be counted as valid means of participation when combined with part-time study?

Now these questions are VITALLY important for young parents. The responses (see attachment for Prymface's response) to a previous DfE consultation about Care to Learn identified a wealth of research that supported flexibility for young parents:

"Barnardo’s believes that maternity should not excuse young mothers from participating in education or training, but greater clarity and guidance is needed from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) about how much time young women may take as maternity leave. This should be flexible enough to respond to individual needs and take into account up-to-date research about which options improve long-term outcomes for both babies and their mothers...It has also been found that young mothers are rarely ready to continue their education immediately and want to spend time with their babies before re-engaging" Evans, J. & Slowley, M. (2010) Not the End of the Story: Supporting Teenage Mothers Back into Education, Ilford: Barnardos

"Staff and stakeholders cautioned against losing sight of the scale of the challenge that some teenage parents face in (re)engaging in EET. They emphasised that teenage parents should not be pushed into education or training too quickly, but rather be given sufficient time to develop a stable home life, adjust to becoming a parent, and bond with their child."
  Quilgars, D, Johnsen, S. Pleace, N. Beecham, J. and Bonin, E. (2011) Supporting independence? Evaluation of the teenage parent supported housing pilot – Final report, Centre for Housing Policy, University of York

The survey carried about by ‘prymface’ in October 2011 with 75 young mothers found that they were most likely to feel that the right time to return to education was within a year of having their first child (38.5%). 23% felt that the right time was when the children were at school and 22% felt that the right time was between 1 and 3 years. Only 15% felt that it was best to return to education 'straight away'. None felt that they should wait till children were grown up or that they should never return to education, supporting the need to understand how young parents can be supported back into learning.

Parents who gave birth when they were 18 or under were more likely the feel the best time is within a year whereas older parents (who gave birth in the years they turned 19–20) felt that the best time is within a few years. Those 16 or under were more likely to feel that the best time was straight away. However, many young parents commented that it depended on the individual or the support available:

"Depending on circumstances of that parent – both the child and the time needed to give to the education should be considered, there are many courses / environments for learning that fit with parents it needs to be widely accessible."

"It differs with every parent, some don’t want to, others like me go right ahead...."

"Depends on support available. Most important thing is to bond with child and feel like a 'proper mum'."


Looking back (retrospectively), the majority of young mums felt broadly the same now as at the time of birth with regards to the best time to return to education, although those who wanted to return straight away when their child was born were more likely to think that the best time was within a year rather than straight away when looking back.

Young parents felt that the most important support to help them return to eductation, not including issue around childcare, was 'support and advice', followed by 'flexible time tables', 'part-time courses' and 'maternity leave'. Other suggestions included:
  • Emergency leave (day) if child is ill etc
  • Specific support for young parents. Tutors who understand the need for flexibility, and willing to go the extra mile for young parents.
  • Maternity leave from coursework, allowances in assessments
Of the survey respondents, for those who gave birth during what would have been years 12 and 13, 76% were in education when they found out they were pregnant. Looking back, only 16% felt that the right time to return to education would have been straight away. 53% felt that the right time would have been within a year and 26% felt the right time would have been within a few years. This suggests that even for those engaged in education when they became pregnant a short period of 'leave' is often felt to be needed before they can return. Most young parents were not able to gain a level 3 qualification before having their child.

As well as allowing time off, the research suggested that for young parents who want to continue in education but are not ready to leave their child every day, FE courses could also be available on a part time basis (e.g. taking 1 or 2 A levels at a time) without the need for exclusion from mainstream education. 'Young parent only' courses (which may cover 're-engagement providers') tended to only be of value to younger mums or those living on their own. It is important therefore that mainstream education providers do not exclude young parents by being unable to meet their needs. 'Support and advice' was considered crucial for all young parents, whatever their circumstances.

Last month it was announced that DfEs plans to restrict Care to Learn funding to under 19s would be put on hold. This means that there is no reason why education providers can not also be flexible around provision and acknowledge that sometimes it may just take a bit more time for young parents to complete FE. Recognising the importance of settling into being a parent and caring for a child should not be ignored, just because a parent happens to be under 19.

It is really important that young parents voices are included in these reforms. Young parents should be supported to remain in education, which means ensuring that support and high quality childcare provision is available, but they should also be allowed to respond to their role as parent by having a period of 'maternity leave' allowed if needed, and the option to study part time.
 
Prymface's response to the DfEs questions would therefore be:

Do you prefer option 1 (setting an overall hourly minimum level for full-time education for all provision) or option 2 (a more tailored approach)?
 
A MORE TAILORED APPROACH BUT TAILORED TO THE YOUNG PERSON NOT THE PROVIDER

Or a 'hybrid option' that you think more effective - e.g. there is a blanket rate of hours but Independent Specialist Providers are exempt?

THERE SHOULD NOT BE A BLANKET RATE OF HOURS FOR YOUNG PARENTS, WHATEVER THE PROVIDER


Do you agree with DfEs suggestion of 534 hours as the minimum requirement for full-time education under Option 1?

NO, NOT FOR THOSE CARING FOR A CHILD

Should working not for reward, holding an office and self-employment be counted as valid means of participation when combined with part-time study?

POSSIBLY, BUT IT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAT YOUNG PARENTS ARE ABLE TO STUDY PART TIME AND THAT PARENTING IS RECOGNISED AS A 'VALID' USE OF THEIR TIME.

I will of course word it all better than this but if you want to copy and paste my above response to them feel free! The more voices the better!

This is Operation Flexible FE for Young Parents. Now spread the word!