It’s the first time the House of Lords and the BBC have run a pilot online initiative, asking for your views ahead of a debate in the Lords chamber.
For the last 17 years, I’ve spoken on children’s and family issues in the Lords; and have chaired the Youth Department at Toynbee Hall, helping to run a summer programme for disadvantaged children from London’s East End.
In our country today, most parents are doing a good job raising their children; but some need help.
A small but significant minority of children are not getting the sort of early-childhood parenting they need.
And so they go on to fail in school, disrupt the learning of others and pull down the standard of our school system.
I was disappointed that the previous government’s efforts to address these children’s problems did not produce many of the results we had all hoped for. I became convinced that we must do more to address these children’s needs earlier, from conception to five years old.
There are two objectives which the current government shares with its predecessor: an improvement in educational outcomes in our schools and a reduction in inequality in our society.
We can address both by paying closer attention to the first three years of our children’s lives – and in particular, the lives of the most disadvantaged.
Recent reports by Frank Field MP and Graham Allen MP both confirmed what I had long suspected – that problems created in the first three years of a child’s life cast a long and dark shadow over their future.
That is why I think this debate is important.
And I hope the debate convinces policy-makers of two things.
First, to adopt Mr Field’s proposal to add a third stage – the Foundation Years Stage – to the existing two stages of the education system.
The second is that the government develops ways of measuring the factors which contribute to poverty and disadvantage, and those which impact positively on child development before the age of five.
I also hope the debate will lead the government to encourage the teaching of life-skills and parenting skills at all stages in school, and that we place much greater emphasis on ante- and post-natal care and associated family support.
Our objective must be to provide, in a non-intrusive way, better education, guidance and support for struggling and disadvantaged parents who are raising nought to three-year-olds.
Only a serious focus on the foundation years will improve the education of our children and, therefore, reduce inequality.
The debate will be held in the House of Lords on Thursday 3 February. It can be watched on Parliament TV.
I very much look forward to hearing from you on these issues. Please post your views and experiences on the Have Your Say forum . I will be on the forum from 4pm today answering your comments and questions.