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Schools: Parenting Skills

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 17 May 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to implement the recommendation of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances that parenting and the responsibilities of parenthood should be taught in all secondary schools.

My Lords, the teaching of parenting skills in schools falls within the remit of personal, social, health and economic education. We are reviewing PSHE to determine its core body of knowledge and improve the quality of teaching without being overly prescriptive about it. Schools will have the flexibility to determine whether they include parenting skills as part of their PSHE lessons based on local circumstances and the needs of their pupils.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. However, I cannot help wondering whether the Government take this issue sufficiently seriously. Are they aware of the number of children who arrive in school at five years old damaged by a lack of appropriate parenting—sometimes almost by a lack of parenting at all? Do the Government realise the extent to which this damages and will continue to damage those children, and makes difficult the coalition’s commitment to developing social mobility and equality in schools?

The Government do take this issue seriously. I know how much the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, cares about it and I was glad to have the chance to discuss some of these issues with him a month or two back. The Government are taking a range of measures such as extending free education and care to 15 hours a week for disadvantaged two year-olds from September 2013, and doubling that again by September 2014. We have announced parenting trials and more flexible parental leave, so there are a number of measures. When one draws those together, I hope he will see that we take this issue seriously. We need to approach it across a broad front.

Is there any thought of including parents, along with the children, in these educational matters because the parent very often knows nothing about them? It is all very well to think of the next generation, but the present generation could do with a bit of help too, and if schools could in some way include parents in this scheme it would be to the good.

My Lords, many schools do precisely that. They might have Sure Start centres on the same site as the school. They often run programmes to involve parents and educate them more generally. My noble friend makes a good suggestion and I know that schools already undertake it.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask two brief questions. First, how seriously are the Government taking the recent reviews on early intervention and social mobility? Secondly, when will we have the results of the review on personal, social and health education?

We certainly take those reviews seriously and, as I have said, we have already made some announcements and introduced new policies on the back of the recommendations that we received from Frank Field and Graham Allen. We are in the process of setting up, for example, the Early Intervention Foundation to help provide evidence for some of the policies that we have been discussing. So far as the PSHE review is concerned, I hesitate to raise this again—actually, I have not raised it; the noble Baroness raised it with me but we have been having this exchange for a long time. I know the delay is probably too long, and I know that that is what she feels. As she knows, the sequence is that we want to make our announcements on the national curriculum review, which we expect to do shortly, and then, on the back of that, it seems sensible to bring the PSHE review together with it—so the national curriculum will be first and, after that, the PSHE review.

My Lords, does not the recent spate of cases of horrendous sexual exploitation of young girls, many of whom were in care, demonstrate that the lack of good parenting makes them very vulnerable? In which case, does the Minister accept that high-quality PSHE in schools can go a long way towards making up for that? It must be provided for every child in every school because, as we know from recent press coverage, sexual exploitation happens all over the country, not just in Derby.

I agree with my noble friend’s remarks about those appalling cases, which are shocking. I also agree that good PSHE in schools can help to raise some of those issues, educate children and warn some of those who are most at risk of the kind of behaviours that they ought to avoid. Part of the PSHE review is looking at the question of best practice, the quality of the teaching—which is vital—and the content of PSHE.

My Lords, bearing in mind that citizenship education, through which it was intended to teach parenting, became devolved and was never sufficiently taken up, can the Minister assure us that parenting skills are emphasised to the young people concerned, because it will be one way to encourage early intervention to be successful, particularly if you can make it clear to young children from deprived backgrounds that their skills are going to be important for future generations?

I agree with the broad thrust of that point. One should also say that there is quite a lot of research, which, as one might expect, says that young people think most about parenting just before they become parents. Children in different kinds of schools in different parts of the country will also tend to need different kinds of education. That would include PSHE. However, I agree with the broad thrust when the noble Baroness says how important that is.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the cuts to childcare support and work incentives such as the working tax credit will inevitably result in more children living in poverty, and will therefore inevitably make the role of parenting even more difficult for existing parents?

As I have said, we are extending the offer of free education for three and four year-olds to 15 hours a week. We are extending it to disadvantaged two year-olds from September 2013 and to 40% of all two year-olds by 2014. The new universal credit will extend childcare help to those working less than 16 hours a week—that is, families who had not previously been eligible for it. We obviously need to do more to help people with parenting—particularly those from the poorest backgrounds—and I hope that the range of measures we are taking will result in some progress being made in that direction.