TEEN pregnancy rates in Swindon have sunk to a historic low.

Public health managers at Swindon Borough Council said town youngsters were choosing to remain abstinent for longer. Better sex education was also cited as a reason for lower conception rates among under-18s.

It is a turnaround for Swindon, once branded the country’s teen pregnancy capital – with rates as high as 59.3 pregnancies for every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 17 in the early 2000s.

New figures published by Public Health England show that in 2017, the latest year for which numbers are available, there were 66 conceptions among girls under-18. It meant there were 18.3 pregnancies for every 1,000 girls. Detail on the pregnancy rates at council ward level are not yet available. However, the Advertiser understands that Dorcan had seen a pregnancy spike, whereas figures had fallen in the Parks.

The numbers have fallen steadily every year since 2011, when there were 118 recorded underage pregnancies.

Jo Walsh, senior commissioner in the public health team at Swindon Borough Council, said the fall could be partly explained by better education, but also cited teen abstinence and higher aspirations: “People are delaying when they start having sex. This generation is really cautious. We’re finding people are waiting later and later.”

She added: “We took a really long term, strategic view to look at this."

That strategic view involved investing more in education and prevention. The borough had pushed for better sex education and also made it easier for youngsters to get hold of free contraceptives from town pharmacies. And, said Ms Walsh, efforts to teach young people about safe sex would be stepped up a notch with the introduction of compulsory sex education classes in all schools by September 2020.

Ms Walsh said: “If you give young people the right information they can make informed choices.

“We’re following a national trend, one about education and aspirations. Most people young people want to do well.

Ms Walsh said access to contraceptives like condoms was now easier than ever, with young people under the age of 25 able to sign up to a council-funded service to get free contraceptives from town pharmacies.

The council wanted the town’s teen pregnancy rate to continue to fall in line with the national average: “But we also recognise that for some young people it is their choice to have a baby.”

The rate mattered because outcomes for younger mothers tended to be "pretty awful", said Ms Walsh. It could have an impact on their education.