In personal, social and health education—PSHE— pupils are taught about the nature and importance of family life and bringing up children. They are also taught about the role, feelings and responsibilities of a parent and the qualities of good parenting and its value to family life.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but given the number of dysfunctional family backgrounds and given the fact that nearly every child becomes a parent and that children are necessarily brought up by amateurs, is there not a need for increased focus on this important area?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s point about the need to work with children, and work at an earlier stage. A great deal of work is being delivered through PSHE, as I said, and through citizenship classes in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I am sure, as in mine. Beyond that, in every community in the land we have parenting support programmes for young parents and older parents being delivered at over 1,000 children’s centres—there will be 2,500 of those by the end of 2008 and 3,500 come the end of the decade—and through 2,500 extended schools. That number will also increase. That is a fair indication of the Government’s commitment to children, to parents and to parenting skills.
Does my hon. Friend accept that effective parenting is even more important than good schooling in ensuring educational attainment? In constituencies like mine, Ofsted report after Ofsted report on primary schools states that the teaching is great, the heads are superb, we have a rebuilt or refurbished school, but the kids still do not attain. The reports always give the same explanation: those children cannot speak in a sentence when they arrive at school and cannot recognise a letter or a number.
Will my hon. Friend look again at prior attainment before children get to primary school, so that before those children reach the age of two or five, or even when they are aged minus nine months to two or five years, we give the parents the support that they need to enable those children to take advantage of the great education that is now on offer?
I know that my hon. Friend feels passionately about this topic. He had an Adjournment debate about the SEAL project in his constituency and in Nottingham with my predecessor, now the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), when she was in post. I agree entirely that the focus needs to be at a very young age, and that the SEAL project and continuing work on that, targeting the under-twos, will make a real difference by ensuring that children are school-ready at a much earlier stage.
Does the Minister agree that one key parenting skill, in which school leavers are often deficient, is the ability to prepare and cook balanced nutritional meals for children? Does he think that more should be done to improve the teaching of cooking skills in schools, which would address children’s diets not only for the five meals a week that they eat in school, but for the 16 meals that they eat in the home?
The tape says otherwise.
As part of the offer that we announced this summer, we will provide children with the opportunity to learn. As well as the additional money for school meals, the five-point plan includes the objective of children reaching the age of 16 with the ability to cook nutritional, healthy meals. I am looking forward to seeing that being rolled out, and I know that Jamie Oliver and others support it.