Sex education lessons and freely handing out contraception to young people has   little impact on teenage pregnancy rates, according to a controversial study

Unwanted pregnancies have proved “remarkably resilient to policy initiatives”,   according to David Paton, professor of industrial economics at Nottingham   University, who says the under 16 pregnancy rate in England and Wales has   remained virtually static for 40 years.

Between 1969 and 2009 the rate has risen and fallen, he said, but not in time   with national efforts to bring it down.

Family planning groups strongly dispute his findings, arguing that the   evidence actually shows initiatives do work if given time. Drops since 2009   mean the rate is now the lowest since the end of the 60s, and they say   credit should be given to governments that have adopted a more liberal   approach.

Writing in the journal Education and Health, Prof Paton said: “Millions   of pounds have been spent by policymakers on numerous initiatives aimed at   cutting teenage pregnancy rates.

“However, identifying the impact of policy interventions … presents something   of a challenge.”

He said the conception rate among under 16s had changed little since 1969,   fluctuating between about seven and 10 per 1,000 per year.

It has peaked above nine three times: in the mid 1970s, the early 1990s and   again in 1996. Since then there has been a general if bumpy decline.

Prof Paton argued the 1996 peak came despite the introduction of the Health of   the Nation initiative in 1992, which aimed to cut sexually transmitted   infections and unwanted teen pregnancies, by making advice and contraception   more readily available.

He also found no link between councils judged to have the best sex education   policies, and falls after 1996.

He wrote: “Unwanted pregnancy among minors in England and Wales has proved   remarkably resilient to policy initiatives.”

The focus should be shifted so it was “aimed more directly at reducing the   level of underage sexual activity,” he argued.

However, Brook, the sexual health charity, said the under 16 pregnancy rate in   2010 was the lowest since 1969, at 7.0 per 1,000.

Reductions in the early 1990s, caused by better services for young people,   were only undone by a 1995 health scare about the contraceptive pill, said a   spokesman.

She cited the Netherlands, saying the country had the lowest teen pregnancy   rate in Europe because the Dutch had “an open and accepting attitude towards   teenage sexuality, widely available information and sex education, and easy   access to confidential contraceptive services”.