Shaped by research from Professor of Social Policy Research Dr Lesley Hoggart, and Senior Research Fellow Dr Victoria Newton, The Open University (OU) has partnered with sexual health and wellbeing experts Brook in delivering an online course supporting teachers in providing abortion education in schools. The free training is designed to improve the knowledge and confidence of those teaching about pregnancy decision-making and abortion to young people aged 13+.
The course explores abortion as an option, and features clear information, videos and guided classroom activities alongside real life stories gathered as part of the OU’s award-winning public engagement project, MyBodyMyLife.
Professor Lesley Hoggart said: “Abortion, like so many reproductive and sexual health issues, can be difficult to talk about. It is a topic often shrouded in secrecy and silence, which leads to stigma and shame. By featuring the real stories we gathered as part of our project – MyBodyMyLife – we can ensure that young people get an honest, realistic portrayal of all aspects of abortion – from how easily an unplanned pregnancy can become part of people’s lives, how different women have taken their decision to have an abortion, and what the process was like for them.”
45% of pregnancies are unplanned, with one in three British women having an abortion during their reproductive lifetime. Despite these facts, stigma and misinformation are still rife, and young people are missing out on a vital education about pregnancy prevention and pregnancy options. Research from the Sex Education Forum shows that teachers are least confident teaching about pregnancy choices, while 33% of young people report that their abortion education is either non-existent or inadequate.
From September 2020, relationships and sex education (RSE) will become mandatory in all secondary schools in England, while relationships education will be compulsory in all primary schools. In line with the new Department for Education statutory guidance, schools must provide ‘accurate, impartial information on all pregnancy options, including keeping the baby, adoption, abortion and where to get further help’.
Dr Victoria Newton said: “Abortion can be a very polarising topic and often in an educational setting it is dealt with as a moral issue, rather than a reproductive health issue. The reasons why people choose to have an abortion are wide and varied, and we’re really pleased that the module on Brook Learn encourage educators to have a greater awareness of this, as well as how easily an unplanned pregnancy can happen. Abortion is a very common and necessary aspect of reproductive healthcare and should be taught alongside contraceptive methods and RSE without being dealt with as a separate issue.”
Lisa Hallgarten, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Brook, said: “We’re really proud to have worked with The Open University, drawing on their research and our classroom experience, to bring this teaching resource to life. Everyone will know someone affected by unintended pregnancy and abortion at some point. It’s crucial that teachers are equipped with the knowledge, confidence and tools to separate facts from myths, challenge stigma; and facilitate engaging, impartial, evidence-based conversations on pregnancy and abortion in the classroom.”
The ‘Abortion’ course sits alongside a comprehensive suite of RSE resources for professionals, all available on Brook’s free-to-access online learning platform, Brook Learn.
MyBodyMyLife began as an OU research project into women’s experiences of abortion and has now grown into a broad public engagement project, co-led by the OU and the University of Oxford. The project seeks to address the stigma around abortion by bringing real stories of abortion into the open, creating a space in which people can share their stories. This in turn contributes to opening up conversations about real experiences of abortion – positive and negative – to enable everyone to speak, listen, and understand without judgment.