Abortion advice in school 'just geography'
Polly Curtis
Thursday May 13, 2004

The Guardian

The department of education today defended its policy of bringing health services into schools after a row erupted over a 14-year -old girl who had an abortion without her parents' knowledge.

Michelle Smith underwent a termination after going to hospital on the advice of a health visitor at her school. Her mother, Maureen Smith, is now calling for a change in the law to make sure it doesn't happen again.

This morning the Department for Education and Skills, Nottingham county council and the school all said that the decision was taken in confidential sessions with health workers, and that teachers were not involved with helping her seek an abortion.

The school and its governors released a statement saying: "Contrary to some of the recent press coverage of an individual case we wish to make it clear that no teachers were aware of the student's situation. The matter was dealt with solely and in confidence by the health professionals. The student will receive the full support of the school on her return and any appropriate ongoing support will be made available."

The law dictates that parental consent is not required for an individual consultation between student and nurse and any subsequent non-invasive treatment, unless the young person is judged not to be sufficiently mature to make independent decisions. The school described such a ruling as "rare". The abortion was carried out by medical treatment at a hospital and did not require invasive surgery.

Brunts school in Mansfield, Notts, has a health outreach service onsite. Schools have long had health workers on site, but the government has recently been expanding its extended school programme, which sees health services for pupils and the community brought into schools. The scheme might eventually see social services, adult education and connexions services all brought into one place.

The school itself is not officially an extended school, but works with the Community Child Health Service to offer health promotion programmes, vaccination schemes and optional one-on-one consultations between pupils and a community nurse. Parents are informed of the services offered on site.

A DfES spokesperson said: "We're talking about services which are based in schools - that's just geography. The services are provided not by the school but by outside people, the school building is the centre of the community and it makes sense to provide services onsite. The role of the nurses in school grounds is no different to them being in a community health service next door."

Nottinghamshire county council released a statement refusing to comment on individual cases, but added: "A member of staff who finds out that a pupil is pregnant should ensure that the pupil receives full information about services in her local area, knows how to access them and has the opportunity to talk through the options with her. They will also suggest that the pupil speaks to her parents or carer. If there is believed to be a child protection issue, the teacher should liaise with the school's designated teacher for child protection issues."

The National Union of Teachers, the biggest teachers' union, refused to comment, saying it was a matter for the health authorities.

However, Graham Lane, chair of the Local Government Association's education committee said: "I would have thought that going through an abortion without the parent's knowledge would be unusual. It's a serious matter and I would have thought parents should be involved."

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