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Govt urged to support teen mums at school

AAP logoAAP 14/11/2016 Belinda Tasker

The NSW government is being urged to reintroduce and expand across the state a program to help teenage mums finish high school.

Former principal Glenn Sargeant shot to fame across Australia in a 2003 documentary about a unique program he headed at Plumpton High, in Sydney's west, to help teenage mums finish school and find a job instead of relying on welfare.

More than 200 girls took part in the program, which ran for 14 years until Mr Sargeant retired in 2004.

Now on the eve of the release of a follow-up documentary about three of the teenage mums, Mr Sargeant wants the state government to introduce the program at all schools.

"It's very, very hard and difficult (for teenage mums) and this is where the Department of Education should come in and insist that every school put in place some sort of support network for the students who fall pregnant," he told AAP.

"We have support networks for autistic kids, we have support networks for all sorts of learning disabilities and so on and gifted and talented kids. This, to me, is just an extension of that.

"I believe it's a right."

The number of babies born to mums aged between 15 and 19 dropped by 630 to 8,574 in 2015, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.

In 2001, when the original Plumpton High Babies documentary was filmed, there were 11,704 babies born to teen mums.

The follow up documentary, Plumpton High Babies: 10 Years On to be screened on the ABC on November 28, catches up with three of the young mums from the original program to see what life is like for them in their 20s.

Mr Sargeant, who was awarded an Order of Australia for his work, said many teenage girls mistakenly believe they can't finish high school if they have a baby.

He says if more is done to support teenage mums finish high school, they are more likely to find jobs and not be a burden on taxpayers by relying on the welfare system.

"We hear people like (federal Treasurer) Scott Morrison whingeing about the welfare payments that we've got to give out," Mr Sargeant said.

"It would be a damn site cheaper if those girls who are teenagers ... if we educated them, got them to be fruitful members of society, got jobs in other words, it would be a cheap way of doing it."

A NSW Education Department spokesman said teenage mums were given adequate support including counselling, time off before and/or after the baby's birth, flexible lesson timetables and the chance to complete their HSC over five years.

"NSW high schools provide the necessary support and adjustments for students who are pregnant or parenting to support their continuing education," he said in a statement.

"Teachers, year advisers, head teachers and the school's executive staff all work as a team to support pregnant and parenting students to develop local solutions to individual situations."

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