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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, by chance, the text for my short speech this evening is the same as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Wall. The gracious Speech stated:

I strongly support that objective and congratulate the Government on all that they are doing—for the huge investment that they are making in schools and the massive effort that they are making to improve schools. However, why are the Government spoiling the ship for a hap'orth of tar by not paying more attention to one important factor in success in education—the home background and parental involvement that the child receives, which does or does not send him or her into school prepared for school and ready to learn, and which does or does not support the child when he is in school?

The Minister will be well aware that, in a recent study of high quality, Charles Desforges identified three conclusions. First, parental involvement in a child's education takes many forms, including good parenting in the home. Secondly, good parenting in the home has a significant positive effect on children's achievement and adjustment, even after all other factors shaping attainment have been taken out of the equation. Finally, in the primary school range, the impact on a child's success at school caused by parental involvement is higher even than any differences associated with the quality of the school itself.

At the very least, such evidence makes a case for working more with parents and families to help them to prepare their children better and help them to support their children better when they are in school. Such interventions could not only improve the educational achievement of the children themselves—and the other children in a class if the child is disruptive—but it could also be the key to reducing disruption, bullying and anti-social behaviour.

How do parents learn to be good enough parents? The baby does not come with an instruction leaflet. Parenting seems to be the only important job that we take on in our life for which we have no preparation whatever. Recent research that I came across suggested that 30 per cent of young mothers believed that good parenting was instinctive and that they did not need anything other than instinct. Another 40 per cent on top of that were satisfied with what they learnt from their mum. Perhaps in the old days that would have been fine, but alas we live in the modern world and things are changing very fast. In addition, a lot of today's parents have sadly not had the experience of a happy family life themselves. Therefore, that belief is simply not good enough.
 
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Fortunately, parenting can be taught and so can the ability to communicate and relate to other people. Preparation for parenthood involves: an understanding of the physical, emotional and mental needs of children; acquiring social skills and the ability to communicate and negotiate—within the family, with the child and between the parents; techniques for controlling and guiding the child; building the child's self-esteem and sufficient basic education to prepare the child for school; and giving it the encouragement that it needs when it comes to homework and so forth.

In the Parenting, Education and Support Forum, which I chaired for eight years, we found that when parenting education and support was delivered in a sensitive and non-intrusive way it was very popular and successful. When parenting orders came along, we thought that they would be a total disaster because they made going to parenting classes a punishment. However, the big surprise was that that did not happen. The majority of parents who have gone through the classes come back to us and say, "Thank you for giving us the help that we needed". One father said the other day, "Why did I have to wait for my child to commit a crime before I could get the help I needed?"

The problem is that relationship education in schools is desperately underfunded and is being taught by teachers whose skills lie in other areas. It needs special training. I read recently that the Minister said, in answer to a Question, that the Government were pressing ahead with the training of teachers to deliver relationship education. Perhaps I should simply say, "Well done, and let us have more of the same thing". We cannot deliver that kind of education without teachers of a certain maturity and experience, because children will ask difficult questions and see through any kind of fraud.

I happen to be patron of a charity which teaches children aged five to say something nice to a teddy bear. From that, they learn to say something nice to one another. When I visited that project in the school, the headmaster came to talk to me, and I asked him how it was going. He said that school behaviour was much better—which is one thing—but that the amazing thing was that some of the mums were coming to him and saying, "What have you done to little Tommy? He's so much nicer!". One could start from that end of the equation and help children to learn to relate to one another, to negotiate and eventually to be able to communicate with their own children when the time comes.

Parenting education works, but it is patchy. The funding is inadequate and, above all, insecure. That is the sort of thing that is best done by voluntary organisations, because one cannot set up a voluntary organisation and get decent people into it if one cannot promise them that it will be there in a year's time. We need continuity of funding, and we need to follow up on success and not always go for new initiatives. Let us look where the successes are and follow them.

The Government should not be afraid that by offering support and guidance to parents they will be accused of creating a nanny state. The reality is that
 
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the vast majority of parents, when they hold their first child in their arms, long to be good parents. We should give them the help that they need, which is not intrusive, but is provided when and where they want it and at a price that they can afford.

Finally, there is another reason, of which the Minister may not be aware, why the Government should do more to promote and facilitate "good enough parenting". They have—boldly, in my view—undertaken to eliminate child poverty. I went to a conference last week, given by Dr Sarah Stewart-Brown of Warwick University. I have spoken to her since to make sure that I understood her correctly. She has produced research that shows that changing the well-being of the family does not necessarily change the well-being of the child. The well-being of the family is mediated through the parents to the child. The family may get richer and the child be no better off unless, at the same time, the parenting improves.

I hope that the Minister will think that that message is worth conveying to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is a strong case for more support for relationship education in schools and parenting education for young parents.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, this is a terrible slot, and I keep on drawing it for some reason. I shall try to say something interesting if not original, and to be as eloquent as others have been—including those three noble Lords who made outstanding maiden speeches with much purposeful intent.

My remarks will focus on education, and in some ways I shall follow the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, with whom I agree entirely, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who pinched half my speech—but I shall forgive him. As other noble Lords have said, education affects the implication of all legislation in the gracious Speech. It touches all our lives, in one form or another, and happens from birth.

I believe that this Government have a proud record of support for children, including improvements in education standards, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Warner. I was particularly delighted by the passage of the Children Act 2004, the creation of a Minister for Children and proposals for a children's commissioner—even though that may not be to the liking of all noble Lords. We have put children firmly on the agenda in relation to rights, education and welfare. It is wonderful to see all-party support in your Lordships' House for issues dealing with children. I speak as co-chair of the All-Party Group on Children, of which many noble Lords present today are members.

I know that there is some way to go. The Children's Rights Alliance has pointed out the shortcomings of many of our systems which still fail children. Sure Start is not in all communities, and children in care and young people who become involved with the criminal justice system still suffer educational disadvantage and social difficulties. However, the Government have shown
 
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leadership and vision—witness the five-year strategy for children and learners, which sets out challenges and opportunities.

I shall address today the importance of what I would call "informal" education, and the value that we place on it. By informal education I mean those areas of life which are not subject-based or tested, but which profoundly influence performance in all aspects, including academic performance. That education happens at home, in communities, religious meeting places, clubs and schools. It includes the fostering of self-esteem, curiosity, relationships, social skills, language and discipline—skills lacking in many of the young people to whom my noble friend Lord Rowlands referred—as well as literacy skills.

School ethos influences learning. Personal, social and health education, now in the curriculum, is valuable in its own right and also influences learning and achievement. The National Healthy Schools Standard, according to emerging findings, helps to influence pupil behaviour and general health and well-being. Will the Minister reassure me that school ethos and personal and social education will continue to be monitored under any new system that emerges?

As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, education starts with parenting. Parents encourage those positive skills to which I referred earlier—or maybe they do not. I should like parenting education to be available in all schools as part of citizenship. It is a skill that most people will need, one which does not always come naturally but which can be reinforced. I have come across parenting programmes in prisons and in other situations in which parenting has gone wrong. We must really try to prevent things going wrong in the first place.

I shall give an example of the importance of personal, social and health education. I know that 3,000 teachers are being trained to deliver drug education in schools. This morning, I attended together with other noble Lords a seminar about drugs, alcohol and families, as chair of the National Treatment Agency. It is clear that once a person is in the spiral of drug and alcohol misuse, it is very difficult to get out of it. That person's addiction affects families and communities in relation to health and crime. It is very costly, and it is devastating emotionally and draining for families.

Education and other support, through some of the strategies that I mentioned earlier, can help to prevent that terrible spiral. We need education on resisting pressure and making positive decisions, informed choices and social relationships. I find it interesting that young people themselves in recent surveys placed a high emphasis on being safe and healthy. That notion was taken up in the report, Every Child Matters, and in the Children Act 2004, under which the commissioner will have as part of his or her brief care of children's physical and mental health; the protection of children from harm and neglect; education and training; and social and economic well-being. A recent survey by the General Teaching Council indicates that teachers value emotional and
 
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spiritual development, creativity, the learning of skills to learn, and applying knowledge in different ways. The academic curriculum, while obviously important, is not enough to help children develop in this holistic way.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, in a recent address to head teachers, set out some principles for standards and expectations for discipline in schools which is understood by parents, pupils and teachers. Of course I agree that such principles should exist, but I think that he would agree with me that a punitive approach is not the ultimate answer.

The primary school in deepest inner London where I am a governor is not an easy school, but the staff have deliberately fostered the social skills I spoke of earlier. The school has a programme and a co-ordinator for personal, social and health education and it is enthusiastic about the National Healthy School Standard. Parents are part of this, and the school council—and this is a primary school—has been involved in policies on school meals, PE and behaviour including its discipline and bullying policy. The children have been active participants. They have developed self-esteem and social skills and the confidence to negotiate without aggression.

My school is again undergoing an inspection. Inspectors up to now have commented on the school's positive ethos and its seriousness about developing respect and self-discipline—without which, they and I maintain, it is difficult to learn. The children in my school, or at least most of them, do learn, and many perform extremely well despite difficult social circumstances. I hope that inspectors in future will not simply look at the academic subjects. As well as personal, social and health education, schools offer sport, music, dance and drama, all of which foster creativity as well as discipline and co-operation. I hope that inspectors will not neglect those areas either.

I now want to invite the Minister to a meeting which I think he will find fascinating. The National Children's Bureau and the Children's Legal Centre have secured funding from the Nuffield Foundation to examine for two years how legislation impacts on the life of children. I am delighted to be chairing the project reference group for this exciting work, and I am glad to say that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has agreed to become a member of that group. The project will examine four Bills in detail, involving focus groups, the voluntary sector and representatives from government departments, and it will report on findings. I hope that that work will benefit politicians of all parties, the voluntary sector which works so hard on behalf of children, professionals who work with children, and of course, ultimately, children themselves. One of the Bills likely to be examined is the Education Bill.

I have tried to express, in the brief time possible, the importance of being child-focused and of developing in children the skills necessary to be happy and fulfilled members of society. We know that, sadly, some children do not do that. We must look to legislation, education, parenting and life in communities to work
 
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for all children, and we must support professionals, parents and future parents to enable them to do their best for our children.


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