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Children: Parenting

Volume 729: debated on Monday 11 July 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they propose to accept the recommendations in the recent report by Frank Field MP on child poverty that all children should receive age-appropriate parental education in school.

My Lords, we will consider Mr Field’s recommendations as part of our review of PSHE. Evidence suggests, though, that parenting skills are best taught to parents through a mix of practical application and learning, which is likely to be more effective the closer it is to the age at which people have children. My honourable friend Sarah Teather will shortly publish a foundation years policy statement to respond to recommendations from the Field, Allen and Tickell reviews that deal with the foundation years.

I know that the noble Lord is aware that Frank Field, in this and previous reports, carried out research in his constituency on the teaching of life skills in schools and found a widespread majority of young people in favour of such instruction. This is not necessarily a question only of parenting; I believe that Frank Field recommended life skills and parenting. Is the noble Lord prepared to institute a wider inquiry to find out what children and young people really would find helpful in life skills and parenting education?

My Lords, part of the purpose of the PSHE review to which I referred is to look at what element of the content of PSHE is most helpful to children and young people. The other part is to look at what support teachers need in order to teach these important skills to children.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the Minister for being a bit hasty just now. Is the Minister aware that several programmes were run in schools that proved incredibly effective at, apart from anything else, ensuring that young people became parents later rather than early? If the Minister were to talk to some of those young people who had those very effective programmes, he might revise his view that it was better to leave it until they nearly were parents. This is about how young people and prospective parents begin to understand things about their own relationships and about the responsibilities that parenting brings. My experience is that when this has been done in secondary schools it has been very effective, and I hope that the Minister will look at this again.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the points that she makes, and I listen to her experience very carefully. The evidence that the department has had about later life is there, but I am not saying that to disagree with the point that what one wants ideally is a mix. That is why the PSHE review will take the views of children into account. We want to ensure that we learn those kinds of lessons and have the best possible PSHE that deals with those points.

My Lords, the Graham Allen report made clear the vital importance of the first few months, certainly up to three years, of a child’s life in brain development, personality development and so on. In the light of that, will the Minister accept that parenting education is needed before the parents are parents—that is, at school?

As I said in my earlier reply, my honourable friend Sarah Teather will respond in her early years foundation statement to the important points that have been raised. We will look at precisely these points and respond to Allen.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the thrust of the Good Childhood report, published by the Children’s Society a couple of years ago when I was chair, that argued that if PSHE education is to be undertaken in schools it is absolutely vital that it is undertaken by properly trained and qualified teachers who have as much experience and qualification as in other major subjects?

Yes, my Lords, I take that point. The right reverend Prelate will know of the Ofsted report that referred to three-quarters of PSHE education in schools being good or outstanding, but it also pointed out that there were some other areas of weakness. As I have already said, part of the review that the department will carry out, which I hope will benefit from the views of outside and expert opinion, is precisely to look at the kind of support that needs to be provided to help teachers provide good quality PSHE.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in the past two years the number of children before the courts has doubled, that the number of children in care is increasing and that the accommodation and opportunities for children in care are decreasing. With that scenario in mind, what else does he hope to do to ensure that children from poor families, whose choices will be even more limited, get the education that they need so that they do not repeat that cycle?

My Lords, there is a range of measures that the Government need to take, starting with our response to the early years, which will be coming shortly, the provision of the 15-hour free entitlement to two year-olds, the increase of that to 15 hours for three and four year-olds and the introduction of the pupil premium. Then there is what we can do to raise standards in our schools, which is clearly vital because we know the connection between failure at school, illiteracy and life going off the rails. There is a range of measures that we need to take across the board.