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Book Review: Fertility Issues

13 September 2021
By Susan Tranfield-Thomas
Teacher and founder member of Daisy Network Premature Menopause Support Group.
Appeared in BioNews 1112

Fertility Issues is one of a series of educational booklets from Independence Educational Publishers, aimed at children aged over 11 in key stages 3 (KS3), 4 (KS4), and above, which aims to present and explore contemporary social issues in an unbiased way. Previous volumes have focused on issues such as poverty, animal rights, and the censorship debate, among others. Drawing from a varied set of contributing sources, including archive articles, statistics, government reports and charity literature, this booklet aims to inform readers about the many issues around infertility, providing cross-curricular resources for KS3, 4, and beyond. 

The slim volume packs a remarkable amount of information into its 40 or so pages. It covers an impressive amount of ground, including peri-menopause and menopause, and information on lifestyle factors affecting fertility. 

The content can feel a little jaunty, however. For example, graphic four on page three invites the reader who wants to know when they should 'start trying to get pregnant' by using a chart based on 'the size of family you would like', willingness to use fertility treatments and 'your desired certainty that you will achieve the family size you want' in percentage terms. This is on page three, long before IVF is even addressed. The chart and its conclusions are interesting from a statistical perspective but feel like a blunt tool as an attempt to engage a teenage audience. As no-one can successfully predict issues around fertility since they are connected to health and circumstance, the exercise feels a little trite. 

Elsewhere, there is a list of problems affecting fertility, with a page devoted to sexually transmitted infections, but only the briefest of mentions of ovarian, uterine and endocrine conditions is given and they are only alluded to in general terms. One could argue that it is beyond the scope of the booklet to provide this, but a long article reprinted from the Menopause Matters Website devotes several paragraphs to menopause within the 'normal' age parameters with little attention to premature menopause, which is surely more relevant to a discussion about fertility. This is not a criticism of the article itself, more an observation that not all of the secondary material can be repurposed without some editing that fits the audience and the educational aim of the booklet. 

The format instantly brings back memories of frantically photocopying A3 sheets in time for a personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education session, when I was a teacher. The quality of the information is impeccable and is presented in user-friendly language, frequently using a question-and-answer structure, with lots of colourful diagrams. It would be particularly useful for a time-pressed teacher working outside of their subject area, for example. What it purports to do is to 'stimulate debate' about topics around fertility and for this the teacher would need to create additional resources to use the content. Only one side of a page in total is devoted to suggesting assignments, which are divided into categories such as brainstorming, research, and design. Any teacher would inevitably be obliged to come up with something more defined and rigorous, as the suggested tasks are often vaguely defined, requiring a sequence of carefully designed lesson plans before they can be assigned. For example the suggestion, 'Conduct a survey throughout your year group to find out how many young people have thought about their fertility/if they want children' is a problematic task.

In most of the schools I have worked in this would not be ethical for a variety of reasons. It is a personally and culturally intrusive question, and fails to take into account the range of existing conditions and disabilities that children routinely live with in mainstream education. It is also inconclusive in terms of end data – what does the task achieve? As for tasks which are variations on 'Create a pamphlet/poster'... these are very much at the entry level of tasks (a lower ability KS3 class, for example, and even then it is a brave teacher that tries this when Ofsted or managers are prowling the school corridors) and feel at odds with the density and quality of the information on offer, which necessitates a more careful planning and delivery on the part of the teacher. 

This is not to suggest that teachers expect everything on a plate, but a publication that is marketed for schools and for 'cross-curricular' use will inevitably invite the expectation of clear educational activities to accompany the chapters. For many schools, PSHE is something that happens in tutor time, in the ten minutes between taking the register and dealing with many other announcements. The cross-curricular potential of the content is interesting as a source of material to dip into rather than a standalone text. Many schools have neither the will nor the resources to support enrichment activities such as debate clubs, where much of this material would sit more relevantly. 

The statistical information has the potential to go out of date and while this would not be a short-term concern, it is always a consideration. This publication and its series is available by a series of subscription packages on its educational digital platform, presumably enabling regular updating. This would also raise the interesting possibility of crowdsourcing educational tasks created by those delivering the curriculum, encouraging a real and collaborative conversation between educational publishers producing these materials and the end users. 

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Fertility Issues Vol 387
Independence Educational Publishers |  14 July 2021
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