Some schools are addressing the topic as part of comprehensive sex and relationships education (SRE), but there is evidence of widespread bad practice including medical misinformation being provided by teachers and visitors to schools.
The report pulls together findings from surveys with schools and young people, and an audit of teaching materials used. Young people describe negative experiences of the education they received, and report that some schools are using inappropriate teaching materials including graphic images and distressing, inaccurate video material.
Bad practice falls into three broad categories:
- Misinformation - providing misinformation about contraception and abortion - for example, claiming that taking the pill or having a contraceptive implant can cause an abortion, or linking abortion to breast cancer and infertility.
- Stigma - saying abortion is murder, that it is shameful and a sin. This is upsetting for those who have had an abortion, and may cause unnecessary distress for those who go on to experience abortion (one in three women in England and Wales).
- Equalities - some anti-abortion groups invited into schools express views about sexuality and the family which are likely to be at odds with schools' equality and diversity policies and may negatively impact on students' wellbeing. For example, SPUC's opposition to same-sex marriage as documented on ITV's This Morning.
"Schools have a key role in ensuring that young people are provided with education about pregnancy options that is sensitive and relevant to their experiences, as well as medically accurate, and must take steps to prevent students feeling stigmatised, distressed or discriminated against by information or images used.
"The government has said that schools should provide accurate information and many are not. This report includes recommendations for teachers, school governors and head teachers on how to deliver good quality education that supports young people's health and wellbeing."
Alice Hoyle, PSHE Advisory Teacher and Vice-Chair of the Sex Education Forum, said:
"Teaching about abortion is often seen as sensitive or tricky and this report shows some of the best and the worst examples of how it is done. It doesn't have to be that way. Young people need to know the law and their rights, they need to understand health issues related to pregnancy decisions and they need to understand there are a range of views about abortion. All teachers must have training and support to ensure this area moves from the too difficult box to a discussion they feel confident having as part of sex and relationships education. EFC's Abortion Education Toolkit will help them do that."
EFC provides a free toolkit on education about abortion which gives advice and examples of best practice in this area. EFC can also provide training, resources and advice for schools, teachers and professionals working with young people on all aspects of education about abortion. EFC's Abortion Education Toolkit as well as the report and executive summary can be downloaded here.