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PARTNERSHIPS WITH PARENTS SHOW THE WAY FORWARD - BLUNKETT

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Education and employment secretary David Blunkett has said that support for good parenting is about the government ...
Education and employment secretary David Blunkett has said that support for good parenting is about the government assisting parents to enable their children to succeed - enabling them to be independent - and is not about developing what some have dubbed a 'nanny state'.

Mr Blunkett followed the announcement last week on the basics in the curriculum with a strong defence of the need for parents to play their part in the drive to raise standards in schools.

Speaking at a conference on parenting in Sheffield, Mr Blunkett said:

'It is many years since the issue of parenting has been at the top of the social agenda. The breakdown of the family unit, the underachievement of young men in education, the responsibility of parents for their children's behaviour and the impact of family attitudes towards educational achievement generally, have all been in the news recently.

'It is right therefore that politicians talk about the important role which parents have to play in education and the contribution which families have to make to social and economic policy. Our job is to determine what the responsibilities are for the government is developing public policies which will touch on these issues, and the role of the individual and the family in carrying out their responsibility for the well-being of the children in their care.'

'Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand for parents. Where there is a problem, it is all too often because parents claim not to have the time, because they have dis-engaged from their children's education or because, quite simply, they lack even the basics of parenting skills. With such a lack of commitment, too often there is

also a lack of expectation. It is such poor expectations which help to reinforce generations of disadvantage. And that is bad for the individual's life chances and bad for society as a whole.

'Many factors are linked to the breakdown of the family unit, low levels of achievement in school and the undermining of social values.

While poverty early on in life makes a great difference to the opportunities available later on, it is the poverty of expectation and dedication, and not so much the poverty of income, which is the deciding factor.

'That is why work with parents from a child's earliest years, the involvement of the family in the learning process and the links between home and school are vital to the success we are seeking in raising standards and providing real equality of opportunity.

'This Government is involved in a number of initiatives - often across a number of Whitehall departments, and particularly closely with the Home Office and the Department of Health - in order to support parents.'

These initiatives include:

-£4m has been provided to support family literacy programmes which will help to support 6,000 children in the next financial year

- The Basic Skills Agency is working with health visitors to provide new mums with materials help very young children to become familiar with books through a Books for Babies programme in Birmingham, Derbyshire and other areas

- A large number of projects in Sheffield including 'C'mon Everybody' and 'Raising Early Achievement in Literacy' give less well-off parents the support they need to ensure that younger children do not fall behind before they start school

- Home-school agreements are being developed for every school, as part of the new Standards Bill, which will set out parental as well as school responsibilities in areas such as truancy, discipline and homework

- New places for parents on both school governing bodies and on LEAs

- Mentoring programmes within schools which involve parents as well as teachers and older pupils who provide confidential support, advice on personal issues, set targets and provide extra help with school

- Bradford's Better Reading Partnership brings together volunteers from the community to help children with their reading

- Early Excellence Centres which offer a range of facilities including integrated childcare and educational provision, mother and toddler, or similar sessions for parents, other training programmes to help develop parenting skills and sharing best practice

Mr Blunkett said that developing strong employment policies - through the 'New Deal' - has an important part to play in re-engaging young people and sending the signal to their younger brothers and sisters that there is hope and opportunity for the future.

'We have to be both tough and tender, balancing rights and responsibilities. Government must not meddle where it has no right

to meddle. So, far from being a nanny state, we must become an enabling state which ensures that parents and families have the backing when they need it.

'That means that we cannot as a society accept intolerable behaviour which simply leads to a continued cycle of underachievement and disadvantage. The problem exists not just for that family, but for others whose children's education is disrupted by their children's poor behaviour, and indeed the wider community.

'Parents and the government must continue to work together as partners to make sure that from the earliest age all children have fair opportunity to achieve their best, supported and encouraged by those around them. Our programme throughout education of seeking from parents a commitment that they help with their children's early learning, encourage good discipline and support regular homework is

balanced by a new role for parents on governing bodies, in schools and at LEA level. That balance is essential if we are to give parents the support and the opportunities to play their part in our standards crusade.'

NOTES

Education secretary David Blunkett was addressing the 'Parenting: Creating the Future Today' conference at the Stakis Hotel in Sheffield on 15 January.

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