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Should schools teach girls not to leave it too late to start a family?

By Rebecca Black

Published 11/11/2015

London head teacher Vivienne Durham
London head teacher Vivienne Durham
UTU leader Avril Hall Callaghan
Goretti Horgan

Northern Ireland schoolgirls should be taught the dangers of leaving it too late to start a family, a top educationalist has claimed.

Avril Hall Callaghan was speaking after London headteacher Vivienne Durham sparked a storm by claiming women cannot have it all, and "we need to stop telling them otherwise".

Ms Durham, principal of independent girls' school Francis Holland Regent's Park in London, said that girls need to be prepared for the real world and teachers should not tell them there is no "glass ceiling".

Ms Hall Callaghan said she feels Ms Durham's point is to encourage a greater acceptance of women's choices - "that a woman who decides on family over career should be as much respected for that as another who chooses career over parenthood".

She added: "However, I also agree with comments broadcast earlier this year by fertility expert Professor Geeta Nargund that girls need to be educated about their fertility so they can make the choice to delay having a family based on all the available information."

The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) chief says too much "lip service is paid to equality today", insisting there is "not a level playing field".

"Even in teaching, the majority of senior posts are held by men regardless of the proportion of women in the profession as a whole," she said.

"It is not a level playing field - life rarely is. If women face barriers which preclude their promotion in the workplace - and they want that promotion - then as a society is behoves us to ensure that their aspirations are facilitated. However, if a woman chooses to spend time at home with her family, then that decision, too, must be granted equal respect."

Academic Goretti Horgan queried why the approach was being suggested only for girls. "There is so much else for young girls to be worrying about first, such as exam results and getting a good job," she said.

"It is notable that we do not hear anyone saying that boys need to be told that if they want a family they should do so before they are 40."

Meanwhile, members of the Belfast Feminist Network reacted to the call by saying schools should start by teaching young people first about sex and relationships. Danielle Roberts said: "We need to value people who choose to parent as well as those who choose not to.

"Boys should be able to do it too and girls shouldn't be expected to. I don't think 'make sure you plan when you are having kids' is something schools should be covering."

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: "There are opportunities for teachers to cover fertility as part of relationships and sexuality education in primary schools and post-primary schools. The issue of fertility is also covered as part of biology. Equality of opportunity for females can also be discussed and debated."

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