Have your say: how can we help children get the best start?

Hansard Society

Lord NorthbourneI’m a Crossbench Peer and have tabled a debate in the House of Lords on good early parenting and its role in preparing a child for success at school this Thursday 3 February.

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.

23 comments for “Have your say: how can we help children get the best start?

  1. Lord Blagger
    01/02/2011 at 1:32 pm

    You can start by dealing with the debt issues.

    If its wrong for children of the third world to be born into debt because of the actions of corrupt politicians, its also wrong in the UK.

    With politicians such as you having run up 300,000 per household of government debts, isn’t it time that future generations don’t have to pay the price of Westminster’s corruption and fraud?

    As for the other things, such as better education, preschool bits, what are you going to use to fund it?

    There is no money. You’ve let idiots spend it all by not reviewing what they passed in the commons. It’s all gone.

    That’s the consequences of the Lord’s incompetence. You’re responsible.

  2. Carl.H
    01/02/2011 at 1:52 pm

    Just had a quick look on the Have Your Say forum and feel it may do members of the House some good to go and see how the general public see’s the House. Education is not just for children.

    “And so they go on to fail in school, disrupt the learning of others and pull down the standard of our school system.”

    Surely this is not parent failure but school and teacher failure ? In a system where bad behaviour can be rewarded, where the ultimate punishment is to be sent home which is where you want to be there will be problems.

    I shall come back to this when I have more time as I have much to say, for a change !

    • Dave H
      02/02/2011 at 8:53 am

      A child at our local swimming club, on learning that my son is home educated: “Wow! You mean you don’t have to go to school?”

      Too many children perceive school as an unpleasant place, so perhaps the authorities should be asking why this is, and attempting to fix the problemd.

  3. Maude Elwes
    01/02/2011 at 2:28 pm

    The best help you could possibly give today’s children is to turn the clock back on pushing mothers to work away from home, by creating this sense of inadequacy in them should they choose their duty as parent first. Or more importantly, promote the need for them to work away from home. The average man can no longer support a family with a single salary. Unless they are bankers of politicians!

    Children without mothers at home to care for their needs creates so much misery and feelings of disassociation, and is so obvious, it is difficult to understand why it needs questioning. And, as has been bandied around so often, it is a ‘no brainer.’

    For a child to feel part of society he first has to feel part of his family. The mother plays the most important role of giving that child a sense of worthiness, belonging and self esteem. This role cannot be replaced by any other. Child bonding does not take place through a wet nurse.

    Most studies following children through their formative years have proven this. A child will jump through hoops for his/her mothers approval and attention. Nothing else can take its place.

    And how it can now be asked again, when so many studies have proved this fact year after year, is an enigma. The first coherent studies were carried out in Kibbutz in Israel’s forming years, which showed clearly that children separated from their mothers were significantly lacking in ability, confidence, etc..

    Because it is not PC to even think these thoughts, let alone return to the research, it has been ignored by those who have an interest in pushing for an alternative view. Miracles are worked by a mothers dedication. She sets the pace on all levels of a child’s development.

    Of course this works best within a family unit. There is no new science that will free you of this fact.




    Latch key kids never did well, parents absence lowers the self esteem and creates a feeling of being superfluous.

    01/02/2011 at 4:30 pm

    I have to agree with Maude Elwes, and will go further. While it is popular these days, and certainly online, particularly on Lords Of The Blog, to favour the Fashionable Modern Philosophy of how “Humankind” should live, and we’ve all been told that there are multiple types of Family and its all just as good or that societal rules can easily Change and we all improve for it, time and again we’ve seen the massive Drawbacks of these new societal Changes that have failed to live up to the promise of greater Freedom and happiness, and have been utter failures at providing a more meaningful life. All it seems to have yielded is confusion, disarray, and a self serving society that produces selfish and indulgent people who themselves are never Happy.

    Traditional Values aren’t what we seem to think they were today: Stodgy old fashioned things that oppressed us. They were rather tried and True methods that worked because they were based on our True Natures, not the idle desires of a perfected new Humanity of the Philosophers of the Enlightenment.

    Familial Bonding and greater time spent with the Children with their Biological Parents would do wonders. if one or both of those are dead, then adoptive parents will do, but Blood is not to be dismissed.

    On that note I’d like to add that we should also strengthen traditional affiliations that promote social and moral training, hat are also not Fashionable, such as Churches, or other Bodies (Synagogues, Mosques, ect…) I don’t care if this is modern, secular Britain, as Secularism has failed. Its just a new competing Religion whose Values have proven inferior, yet which is forced onto everyone anyway.

    Those Organisations, when properly run, have also proven able to transmit Moral teachings that Ground the people in a proper way to behave and to Inspire the to achieve.

    Also, why not also promote active participation in other Traditional Orginisations such as the Boy Scouts?

    I feel that such a return to those sorts of ways would do us a world of good.

  5. Dave H
    01/02/2011 at 6:23 pm

    Umm… Where to start.

    Let’s kick off by stating that both Field and Allen are exacerbating the problem. We’ve had many years of ‘nanny knows best’ and an endless string of experts attempting to push children along. You don’t improve parenting by encouraging parents to hand their children over to the state at increasingly-earlier ages, you do it by providing them the opportunity to be at home with the children and be involved in their upbringing instead of forcing them to dump the children in child care and go to work.

    The state makes a very poor parent, as pretty much anyone who’s been through the care system will tell you, so why does the state think that by taking over more and more of a child’s upbringing will give a better result?

    To declare an interest, we opted out of the state system in favour of home education. This is not without difficulties, because the state system finds it very hard to leave home educators alone and various bits of it are convinced they have duties of monitoring in law when the law says nothing of the sort. It is indicative of the mindset of government at present that it feels the need to interfere when it’s not needed and not welcome. If you must spend the money, spend it helping those who do need it and ask for it and leave the rest alone.

  6. Janine O'Rourke
    01/02/2011 at 6:31 pm

    Perhaps you could start by recognising children as individuals rather than seeing them simply in terms of their employability in the future? You could provide low cost housing so that families find it easier for one parent to stay at home, or for both parents to work part-time hours, thereby spending more time with their children. You could accept that children learn at different rates and are interested in different things and stop herding them en masse and making them feel like failures because they aren’t working at a level set by someone in an office who has no direct link to their life whatsoever. You could put an end to the discrimination and lack of support disabled children are forced to endure and stop social workers removing children from homes because mum needs extra support to cope with depression. In short, you could start focusing on what you can do as a government to support and nurture the people that pay a fortune in tax every year, and you could start to recognise that our children belong to us, not you. I had a baby so that I could love and cherish him, not because I wanted to make sure your school league tables looked great and you’d have another minion to exploit and bleed dry for forty to fifty years.

  7. AutonomousOne
    01/02/2011 at 8:09 pm

    With all due respect, I do not think it the job of the State to meddle in family life. Blanket initiatives are bound not to suit or work for everyone, resulting in many individuals being caught up in legislation which goes against their philosophies or which simply does not work for them. Many parents feel that it is their job to bring up their children and not the job of the State. You make parents sound like they are working for you. Their role is not to prepare a child for school. Their role is to nurture and provide for their children and to keep them safe. They can’t do this properly if they are never with their children. They can’t do this effectively with the State breathing down their backs. Children learn to parent from their parents and from being immersed in family life. They don’t learn it from breakfast clubs nor government initiatives.
    The previous government placed a wedge right between parents and their children.It is shocking that parents have forgotten how to parent…this I’m afraid is what meddling does. It is time this government reversed that by doing the brave thing and standing back and trusting people to do the right thing. More meddling will not work. It is now time to step back and let families come together again and work this stuff out for themselves.

  8. Lord Blagger
    01/02/2011 at 10:39 pm

    Exactly, its a slave owning metality that the Lords have instituted.

    State owned stud book. People paid to reproduce. Next to balance the books they will be booking you down as an asset, to be milked for taxes.

    6,800 billion of debts is the reason why people have to pay a fortune in tax and get nothing back.

    The Lords with their profligacy and lack of control over their own expenses is a good example.

    How can they be expected to revise legislation when they can’t even control their own members committing expenses fraud?

  9. Senex
    02/02/2011 at 10:47 am

    I believe Lord Northbourne has covered most of his bases and there is some good informed posting within the linked BBC blog. However, when I did a search within the ‘Foundation Years Stage’ PDF I could only find one reference to grandparent.

    This speaks volumes about the societies we live in and the value we place on community and family cohesion. If we take the report at face value it seems grandparents have little to do with any of this.

    What is particularly sad is that parents are obliged to work to maintain a lifestyle when real incomes have been falling for years. Adhoc part time jobs for mothers with suitable hours are particularly hard to come by.

    This places enormous stresses on parents; children are so very often neglected in these life style pursuits which include childcare costs. It is essential in my view that grandparents live within an easy commute of their grandchildren wherever possible.

    Grandparents are both baby sitters and friends to their grandchildren and will often open up to the pressures they are feeling at home and even at pre-school centres. Why did the report neglect the role of grandparents? Could it be that they are invisible as most are economically inactive and do not feature on a statistic somewhere.

  10. Gareth Howell
    02/02/2011 at 1:40 pm

    Zarove has sensible things to say on such subjects.

    we’ve all been told that there are multiple types of Family

    and the cause of the multiplicity is the apparent need of the state to apply its
    stat-e-istics to everybody.

    Eventually the statistics drives the character of the people rather than the character of the people, the statistics.

    The first(developed) world suffers chronically from this disease. the underdeveloped one does not.

    A new word Zarove? “Statist-itis” ??

    The individuality and character of children can not possibly be enhanced by the ever increasing regimentation and tabulation of their achievements, or lack thereof.

    Lord Blagger describes it as a “slave owning mentality” and he may not be far wrong.

    The overlap between the police services, the mental health services and the NHS provide precisely those conditions for people to become enslaved by the system.

    Next to balance the books they will be booking you down as an asset, to be milked for taxes.

    Accounting and statistics!

  11. Gareth Howell
    02/02/2011 at 1:44 pm

    The regimentation most certainly applies to the university intake many of whom are unaware of the sponsorship of the courses that the universities enjoy.

    The course is geared to the industry that the
    undergraduate/student is expected to take up after completing his course.

    Many of those students are entirely unaware of the expectations for them.

    The same applies to the earlier years of school, and the expectations of them, class by class, mark by mark, as they progress through their “schooling” years.

  12. Mandy Potter
    02/02/2011 at 2:37 pm

    I have to agree with the other people commenting. Parents, by and large, do the absolute best job they can because they are programmed by nature to love and cherish their children. Most parents are devoted to their children’s care. It seems to me that the idea that parents should be chivvied along by interfering and possibly wrong-headed ‘experts’ who have a day’s training in pop Psychology could do more harm than good. Perhaps if you truly want to help parents you could give them the money that you are planning to spend on so-called ‘experts’ who will interfere to no good effect in other human beings’ lives. Families have their own dynamics and people outside those families can cause chaos by intervening where no intervention is required or beneficial. Stop jumping on the latest bandwagon and mouthing the latest pseudo-Psychology, and keep the state out of parenting. The state makes the worst parent. Why on earth are you promoting it?

  13. Hansard Society
    Beccy Allen
    02/02/2011 at 3:34 pm

    Response from Lord Northbourne:
    Thank you all for your comments. Some of you have expressed concern that these proposals will lead to further State interference in parenting. That is emphatically not what I want. Intervention must not become interference. I firmly believe that wherever possible, parents should be in charge of raising their own children. It is indisputable, however, that some children in this country today do not receive the early-childhood parenting they need. It is my view that the State should invest now in removing some of the obstacles to good parenting that exist today and should also provide considered, non-intrusive support to struggling and disadvantaged parents during the critical first three years of their child’s life. This would lead to fewer children failing at school, would reduce the pressure on our education system and would lead to a fairer society.

  14. Lord Blagger
    02/02/2011 at 4:35 pm

    How about unwinding the state control since it has clearly failed.

    1. Education vouchers. Puts the parents back in control.

    2. It is my view that the State should invest now

    With what? There is no money, just a huge pit of debts.

    3. nd should also provide considered, non-intrusive support to struggling and disadvantaged parents during the critical first three years of their child’s life

    Again, with what. The mismanagement means no money is left, just debts. You’ve got to service that debt with interest.

    4. This would lead to fewer children failing at school, would reduce the pressure on our education system and would lead to a fairer society

    Probably, but you’ve blown it. The money’s gone.

    So basically, you believe in mum and pop, apple pie, the tooth fairy and happy ever after.

    Quite why someone with such a fairy tale view of the world should be making decisions for us undemocratically shows yet again that the Lords is out of touch

  15. Committed Parent
    02/02/2011 at 8:25 pm

    “It is indisputable, however, that some children in this country today do not receive the early-childhood parenting they need”

    How can they, when the parents have grown up as children of the state? What young parents need is the confidence to parent and appropriate support when requested – not initiatives that rob them of confidence. How much money has been spent on assisted childcare places/breakfast clubs/after school clubs to get mothers out to work? Why wasn’t the money spent on enabling mothers to parent their own children? Successive governments have successfully ensured that children grow up with no idea of how to be a parent and now MPs and the Lords are wondering what to do? If you don’t like what YOU have created, step aside.

    Regarding ‘early years achievements’ and targets, it must be remembered a child does not grow by being measured. A child grows – and learns – from having the freedom to develop in their own time, trying to hurry this up is actually detrimental to the child and can affect future learning ability and confidence. Targets for achievement and regular testing do nothing more effectively than convince most of the subjects that they are somehow inferior, this is not the way to encourage ability and learning. What is needed is a completely new culture and an acknowledgement of the diversity of children’s intellectual and physical growth patterns. Standardisation of children is never going to work, trying to make children achieve more than they are capable of achieving before they are mentally and physically ready is nothing more than expensive bullying by the State.

  16. cloudberry
    02/02/2011 at 9:54 pm

    Regarding the idea of further government-led parent support programmes, my concern is whether parents will be given real choice in taking up such support ‘opportunities’ or will it become the same as the education system per se – ie those of us who, for whatever reason, choose to take direct parental responsibility for our children’s education by home educating are then considered deviant by the our local authorities and other statutory bodies.

    I agree that some parents could benefit from additional support, but I feel it is very important that this support is provided in such a way that parents feel neither stigmatised if they DO take advantage of it nor stigmatised if they DO NOT take advantage of it. I have seen both of these situations happen in the past.

  17. leboeuf
    03/02/2011 at 12:11 am

    Mr Allen is a very dangerous and deluded man. As another commentator has said, the State makes a very bad parent.

    Specifically, I suggest:
    Children should go to school later.
    They should play more when they are at school.
    Ridiculous league tables should be abolished.
    Home education should not be discouraged.

    And….the daft Blairite project of having 50% of children go to a “yooni” should be abandoned. This might change some of the policies regarding primary school children.

    Fundamentally, realise that there are things that a Govt just CANNOT DO.

  18. ZAROVE
    03/02/2011 at 6:57 pm

    But leboeuf, didn’t you know that what you said flies int he face of how we understand the idea of Liberal Secular Democracy, which we are all assured brings us all prosperity, happiness, and fulfillment…

    I’ll wait to have my number assigned, and so should you…

  19. Gareth Howell
    04/02/2011 at 10:29 am

    State makes a very bad parent.

    Hopeless. Childhood run by a committee,but better than childhood being run by a committee of criminal siblings for example, without order at all, or a street gang.

  20. Dave H
    04/02/2011 at 11:29 am

    I listened to the debate last night and was disappointed that no one really highlighted the fact I raised above, that we’re being encouraged to dump our children into childcare as soon as possible, so parenting is already off to a bad start. The state needs to encourage parents to be with their children and to accept that not everyone is going to be carefully following the State Childcare Manual because we understand that we’re all different even if the state system doesn’t.

    There is also fear of the state, and some examples have been in the news (Christopher Booker features quite a few in his Telegraph articles) where an apparently innocuous contact with social services has turned into hell for some families as they’ve had children removed for spurious reasons often totally unconnected with the original minor issue. Better to have no contact than risk that, which is a mindset shared by many.

    • Maude Elwes
      04/02/2011 at 1:03 pm

      @Dave H. Good points. Brings to mind so many couples and single parents who have had to flee to Ireland in order to be heard without prejudice regarding the trumped up reports made against their ability to care for a child they are the blood parents of.

      The one that immediately springs to mind as horrendous is the woman who was first denied the right to marry the man who was the father of her unborn child, for no reason at all, and then denied the right to keep her child once delivered, because, social workers deemed her to have a low IQ.

      Suddenly, the entire episode is hidden behind the Ward of Court fiasco we often see, until it was found the state, in this case, was wrong in its judgment of the mother’s intellect.

      Have you seen the quality of these social workers? And they have the power to decide over matters as serious as this. How can that be?

      Another unsettling issue, councils who take children in for adoption and find them a home are paid an enormous fee. Now why is that? Subsequently, children are being torn from their blood families at the drop of a hat and often given to the oddest recipients as perspective parents. Usually to push a politically correct agenda.

      A return to Oliver Twist and the workhouse children. Handing them over to those who put on a good face and, of course, resulting in payment of a fee of of some kind to the arrangers.

      Nothing changes.

  21. johnsdmiles@gmail.com
    10/02/2011 at 2:20 am

    The extinctional-enthymeme (missing formal-argumentation/moral-reasoning/fact-of-life) in this whole field of Child-rearing, Education, and indeed of Democratisation genericly world-wide as well as throughout Britain, is surely the twofold overarching and underpinning Need for firstly a workable and sustain-worthy curriculum and index for
    1. Individual Human Development (read Workable Development of the/each/every Individual as a Sustain-worthy Earth-Citizen; and secondly for
    2. An ecologically constructive economic formulation for the preservation and conservation of every kind of non-renewable and renewable resource and ‘stock-in-ground’.
    I believe you could (and in this ultimate-governance essential, should) go online and buy a copy of each of the following, just to start or continue yourself becoming an up-to-date, and sustain-worthily response-able, ‘expert’:

    “Wisdom of the Body Moving” and “Somatic Psychology” by Linda Hartley;

    “The Centering Book” and “The Moving Center” by Guy Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks (respectively);

    “Six Thinking Hats” and “Six Action Shoes” by Edward de Bono;

    “Effort” by Rudolf Laban;


    a copy of the personal “Short Meditation” broadcast by a mere-one-off-volunteer at the very end of SKY 275 Body-in-Balance’s late-evening “Conscious TV -Enneagrams” Tue 08 Feb 2011.

    PS Anyone, any family, any group whomsoever, might print-out an A4 single-page practical guide to the “friendly Method III for Needs & Hows Recognition and Cooperative Problem Solving”, from a Lords of the Blog older post (posted 1132am 05July2010 under Lord Hylton and Foreign Policy Debate “My Speech in Foreign Policy Debate on 1st July 2010”).
    ======== 239 words =========

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