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Schools: Parenthood Education

Volume 740: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2012

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that secondary school children learn about responsibilities of parenthood.

My Lords, secondary school pupils can learn about the responsibilities of parenthood in non-statutory personal, social, health and economic education. Schools have the flexibility to include the teaching of parenting skills as part of PSHE education, based on local circumstances and the needs of their pupils. A review of PSHE education is looking at how to support schools to improve the quality of PSHE teaching.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. However, is the Minister aware—I am sure he is—that Ofsted’s recent reports show that in many, if not most, secondary schools, PSHE is taught, if at all, by teachers with little interest and no training in the subject? Will the Government take action to ensure that the nation’s secondary schools do more to warn young people about the significant and often onerous responsibilities attached to becoming a teenage parent?

My Lords, that same Ofsted subject survey in 2010 showed that about three-quarters of PSHE provided by schools was good or outstanding.

I take the noble Lord’s underlying point and the importance of that. Those are the issues that the review is looking into, in terms of the content of what is taught, the quality of the teaching and the support that goes to teachers.

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the objective in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is even more likely to be fulfilled if school governing bodies included at least some members who are parents of pupils in the school?

I think that the contribution that parents make to school governing bodies is varied. The connection between parents and schools is an important one, but that goes beyond the direct parental role and into the whole provision of education.

My Lords, the latest figures for teenage pregnancy rates—that is, for the year 2010—were the lowest for 40 years. That was driven by the Labour Government’s strategy centrally, delivered locally by teenage pregnancy co-ordinators. However, the coalition Government have disbanded the very small teenage pregnancy unit in the Minister’s department, which led on that. A third of the teenage pregnancy co-ordinators have been cut, many in high-risk areas. Do the Government have any concerns about losing the considerable and very difficult progress made in turning this intractable and historic situation around? What action are they taking to ensure that the downward trend in teenage conceptions continues, including, but not exclusively, the provision of sex and relationship education in schools?

The noble Baroness is right that the trend has been falling. As she says, the figure is at the lowest level since 1969. That is very welcome and I recognise that it is obviously in part down to the work of the previous Government. It is obviously important that the work delivered through PSHE and sex and relationship education is carried forward. That is something we are reviewing as part of that broader review to which I have already referred. Also, on the delivery of these services, and the progress that has been made on bringing down teenage pregnancy rates by local authorities, the Government think that the local authority is the lead on this. There is a quite a variation between different local authorities across the country but I am certainly in agreement with the noble Baroness that we need to make sure that that work continues.

My Lords, will my noble friend look at the work being done by David Lammy MP with teenage fathers from the Afro-Caribbean community, with a view to learning whatever lessons are appropriate from that work? Is this not an area where we ought to be able to work cross-party?

My Lords, will the Government encourage the teaching of financial literacy as an important part of parenting, and in particular stress that while child benefit is of immense value to those with children, it would be ludicrous to suppose that having children to obtain that benefit made any financial let alone moral sense?

I agree very much with the right reverend Prelate on his second point. On his first point, financial education is important. As he will know, it is delivered as one of the strands of PSHE education. Also, as part of trying to improve financial literacy, the Government could do work on things such as basic maths. There is a correlation: in well run schools, thriving pupils who have ambition and aspiration are less likely to get into the kind of difficulty that we have been talking about. I very much agree with the right reverend Prelate.

My Lords, does the Minister share my concern that many of our schoolchildren will not experience stable and enduring relationships at home and that they may see many adults pass through their lives? If he does, is it not therefore important to ensure that schools can model for children what an enduring and reliable relationship is? Teachers can be equipped to do that through good training in child development, consultation such as that offered by the charity Place2Be and others, and the importance given to vertical tutor groups in secondary schools. These all support children’s ability to know about enduring and reliable relationships and be better parents themselves. I hope the Minister will agree.

I very much agree with the noble Earl about the importance of trying to help children to understand the importance of stability and stable relationships. I take his point that unfortunately too many children suffer from transient relationships at home. I know that many schools do extraordinarily good work to give children more order, discipline, shape and structure, which helps to replicate some of those things that, sadly, they do not get from their home life.