HL Deb 16 July 1997 vol 581 cc1019-46

4.5 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, I too am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for initiating the debate. It is particularly timely in this week when the Government are sending such confusing messages to our teenagers. In the words of the Evening Standard: It's OK to be gay at 16 but don't smoke". After four moving and uplifting speeches in the debate, I shall limit myself to practicalities. What is the best way of preparing adolescents? The very word means "in the process of growing up". I would say: a good, rigorous, demanding, balanced education. There is no doubt that in an ideal world the best people to train children for life after school would be the parents and those parents would be married. But we do not live in an ideal world.

Recently, the Health Education Authority, of which I am a non-executive director, initiated some useful research through its European network for health promoting schools. Together with the National Foundation for Education Research, it compiled a report on Parents' Views of Health Education. Clearly, parents of secondary school children want attention paid in the curriculum to health education: drugs, healthy eating, sex education, smoking and exercise. In other words, schools have a strong and necessary role in preparing students for adult life. As noble Lords may recall, I argued that information about AIDS should fall naturally within the core science curriculum at key stage 4; that is, for children aged 14 to 16. The report of the Health Education Authority also emphasises the importance of the school environment: clean lavatories, walls regularly painted, and desks and furniture kept in good repair.

The Children's Society has devised, as we heard, a pack to fit into key stage 4. It is called Parenting in Education. The suggestion is that it could be used in the weekly classes on personal and social health that take place in many schools. I am sure that the pack contains much sensible and useful material. I question, however, the value of tackling a subject like parenting in an isolated lesson which is neither examined nor tested. The best way of dealing with personal, social and indeed moral issues for the young is in the natural context throughout the curriculum. For example, it should be in the context of science, particularly biology and chemistry, human geography, history, English—especially poetry, drama and the performing arts—and, of course, religious education.

As chairman of governors of a large inner-city comprehensive, I have been able to see cross-curricular projects working superbly. For example, at the beginning of their very first year in the secondary school, the 11 year-olds take part in a special cross-curricular course. It is run by the science and religious education departments which collaborate to devise a special programme spanning the whole range of relationships, including sexual behaviour, all within a moral framework with an emphasis on caring relationships.

From my experience, I am afraid that most teenagers are not too concerned about being parents. They have much more on their minds. It is essential that parents and schools should imbue children from the very start, and in all subjects at school, with a sense of responsibility for themselves and a responsiveness to the needs of others. The secondary school curriculum is already overloaded and fragmented. We do not need an extra subject put into it.

I conclude with a quotation from Professor John Abbott, director of Education 2000: The pressures of modern life make it so much harder to find time for our children', honest people confess, while others fail to accept that the pressures they put on themselves do irreparable damage to their children. The average father of a 14 year-old boy now spends, on average, no more than five minutes a day in solo contact with his son". We cannot ask more from our over-stressed teachers. This is a problem not just for schools; it is a problem for parents and the community at large.

4.12 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I am, like other noble Lords, very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for initiating the debate this afternoon, following, as it does, so closely after the debate that my noble friend Lord Elton introduced on young people and crime. I was not able to be present during that debate but it was very interesting and illuminating.

The implications of parenting and parenthood are taken by some people as a fact of life, but I suggest that they are far more complicated. For that reason I warmly welcome the Motion before us today. It brings our attention to a few problems that children and parents will encounter in life.

Like other contributors this afternoon, I have received a quantity of well thought out and informative literature from the Children's Society, the Gulbenkian Foundation and others. But I also draw on my own experience of parenthood, grandparenthood, step-greatgrandparenthood and many years of coping with the results of school and parenthood throughout my years as chairman of a youth bench.

Parenthood is a privilege, not a right. Parenthood includes fathers—some of us tend to forget that fact. I ask the Minister to use her considerable interest and expertise in trying to persuade young men—but not necessarily young—to go in for teaching in the middle schools. So many children are brought up without a father; without a father's discipline, without a father's example and without a father's love. In my view, that has greatly impaired the future of the children's lives. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider that matter. Wherever I go, there are practically no men teachers.

One is encouraged to be sorry for single mothers bringing up children. I am sorry for the children of single mothers. They are often deprived of true love and are also, to my certain knowledge, very lonely children.

Children learn by example, which does not always fit in with classroom teaching. But teachers must be encouraged and should be encouraged from the debate in your Lordships' House this afternoon. They should be made aware of the enormous responsibility that they have for the future generations. Being a teacher and being a parent both involve very hard work and are mentally and physically exhausting. However, one's children are worth their weight in gold throughout their lives.

I have a voice that is giving way and some noble Lords who have known me for very many years may say, "Thank goodness!". My throat is becoming very sore. But, in conclusion, I should like to quote from Libby Purves in the Children's Society publication Education for Parenthood: You can't be a professional parent: all parents are amateurs, working out of love and interest. They use their instincts, and their own best childhood memories, to pass on love and security, sense and kindness and courage to the next generation". How vitally important that statement is.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for an opportunity to reflect not just on the role of schools but on Excellence in Schools, the recent White Paper.

The ambitious targets and plans that are set out for every classroom will play a major part in equipping our youngsters for the challenges of adult life, as mentioned in the Motion before us. I applaud the White Paper's resolve to build upon the structures and institutions established over the past decade, such as SCAA, Ofsted, TTA and the Technology Colleges Trust. While further efforts must indeed be made to root out poor performance in whatever quarter, I welcome the proposals to celebrate the excellence that already exists and to stimulate still more.

Good teachers—beyond doubt, the vast majority—have suffered from the adverse publicity deservedly and necessarily aimed at the bad minority. Now we are promised a system of rewards and hence a teaching profession that will be held in higher regard and attract the best recruits to its numbers.

I welcome too the linking of school and home. Closer involvement of parents with their children's schools, schooling and teachers will be of greatest advantage to families of least advantage. The initiative on homework is a good example. Apparently, 90 per cent. of parents believe that homework is valuable. Yet, in their first year of secondary school, 25 per cent. of children are set homework that takes half an hour or less; and, in their last year of primary school, 43 per cent. of children are set no homework at all. But throughout those two crucial years a dismaying 50 per cent. of youngsters watch television for a dismaying three hours or more every evening. What a missed opportunity for parents to be involved at home with their children and their children's learning.

Naturally, the White Paper could not be expected to cover all aspects of the school as the training ground for life's responsibilities. It has little to say, for example, on the problems encountered by the 10 per cent. of ethnic minority children. It has still less to say on the issue of school-leaving exams and the present GCSE system. It has only a little to say on parenthood education. But not so the recently published Gulbenkian Foundation's report, whose content has been alluded to by several noble Lords.

Its findings provide no basis whatever for the recommendations that emerge. Indeed, the recommendations do not emerge; they were there from the start as the fundamental premise. The report insists that the teaching of parenthood must, specifically avoid overtly or covertly promoting any one model of the ideal family". This is a premise which is wholly eccentric to the ethical norms of British society and indeed of any society on earth with which I have had any acquaintance.

A telling confirmation that this ideology is pervasive in the report is the remarkable fact that a document on parenthood for children can stretch to over 100 pages without a single sentence on the possible relevance of marriage. Quite a tour de force. Even the word "marriage" occurs only once in the document, and that in a dismissive, passing reference to, different contracts, including marriage, between parents in different religions and cultures". No mention is made of civil marriage or the fact that the vows thus taken are scarcely less solemn or binding or, not least, less public than those in a Jewish, Moslem or Christian marriage.

There is no indication either that, among those religions, Christianity is not all that uncommon in Britain, though the only reference—in relation to one teacher who was said to have "an overtly Christian perspective"—gives the impression of a field anthropologist stumbling upon an exotic sect. Nor would one guess from the report, which studiously (and subversively in my view), marginalises one of the more obvious models of family life, that in 1995—the latest year for which we have figures—two-thirds of all children in this country were born within marriage. While there are indeed over 1 million unmarried cohabiting couples in England, there are well over 10 million married couples, according to the Department of the Environment which projects broadly that ratio for some 20 years into the next century.

One is not unfamiliar with cautious evasion of leadership in the alleged interest of protecting minority sensibilities. But the Gulbenkian report takes cravenness to the point of perverse mystery. Approval of any one type of family structure, could lead to accusations of discrimination", on the grounds of "racism and sexism". Racism and sexism? Which are the races in our midst who are ideologically opposed to marriage? And if marriage is sexist, what are the unmentioned alternatives that would be free of such a stigma?

I would not have dwelt so long on this report were it not for its sharp recommendations directed explicitly at SCAA, and particularly the first recommendation, that programmes on parenting aimed at 11 to 13 year-olds must, avoid promoting a single model of family structures or cultures". It must be our hope that SCAA will resolutely reject that and stick to the position that it set out in its "Statement of Values" published in May this year. Those values included explicit support for "the institution of marriage" with the equally explicit rider that this is to be interpreted as the, positive promotion of marriage as an ideal". This is surely a robust assertion of commonsense consensus that matches the equally robust assertions of common sense in the education White Paper. Our schools will play their proper part in preparing children for the responsibilities ahead only when our entire education system acknowledges that the permissive cringe of yesteryear is not only outmoded, but totally unacceptable.

4.25 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, I wish to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on initiating this important debate. I speak as an individual and not on behalf of my party and therefore the views that I share with the House today are personal. I must also admit at this stage that I do not speak as an expert, but very much as a mother who just tried to do her best. I wish to address my remarks to parenthood training.

There is a saying that children grow up in spite of their parents. That may or may not be true, but one thing is certain: most parents do try by example, discipline, encouragement and advice to give their children as good a start as possible so that they may develop into responsible citizens with an ability to establish loving relationships. Creating such an environment includes the choice of school. I believe that the school should share the same philosophy, allowing the child to develop, flourish and cope with the many and often difficult challenges that adult life can bring.

Success in education is not merely training pupils to pass examinations; it is assisting with the development of the whole being. That enables the pupil to reach his or her full potential and so contribute in a variety of ways to enrich both the community and him or herself.

I too was pleased to receive a briefing from the Children's Society drawing attention to the project that it is pursuing in developing parenthood education in schools. The pilot scheme in five schools appears to have been well received by the schools and enthusiastically supported by most parents and children. It has not yet been fully assessed and I look forward to reading the full report in due course.

I was brought up in a single parent family as my father died. I do not believe that I suffered because I had a very special mother. But just as many children today do, I missed the stability and warmth of a two-parent family. I am sure that such a family is the natural and best atmosphere in which to raise children, where both parents, living under one roof, are able to share the thrills and spills of their children's upbringing at first hand.

I awoke on Monday to listen to the seven o'clock news. I could not believe my ears. The first item concerned the Government's wish to lower the age of consent for homosexuals from 18 to 16, and the second concerned the age at which young people could purchase cigarettes, that to be raised from 16 to 18. What a topsy-turvy world in which we live! Peter Brooke's cartoon in yesterday's The Times summed up the whole matter brilliantly and showed the silliness of a party's propaganda machine in overdrive, spinning out of control.

However, I find both those points disturbing and I hope that they will not be the subject of Bills in your Lordships' House without further consideration. In relation to the first matter, I have adult friends who are homosexual and understand their situation. But that subject was debated fully only three years ago and, on a free vote, the age of consent was reduced from 21 to 18. There were many impassioned speeches in both Houses. But the decision was made and the law changed. I therefore find it appalling that the Government now feel unable to uphold British law in the European Court of Human Rights. I worry about the message it sends to young people. There are many, aged between 16 and 18, who are immature, vulnerable and learning about life. My concern is that evil and perverted older men may prey on such people and lead them into a different way of life. I know it may not be politically correct to voice such views but I feel that I would not be true to myself if I did not do so.

I believe the second issue—raising the age for the purchase of cigarettes to 18—will not stop the practice of smoking but will hit retailers who have the difficult task of guessing the age of the customer. Sometimes it must be impossible to make the right judgment. It smacks of the nanny state and will only make unlawful smoking even more exciting.

We should think long and hard before making changes in legislation. If that is necessary due to changing circumstances then a major factor should be the effect on family life. The family is the basic unit in society and has served us well for countless generations. The best is within marriage, where a commitment has been made by two people. Sadly, we know that things can go wrong, but the ideal was right.

We expect much from our schools. Teachers have a huge responsibility but they cannot tackle this subject alone. There is no more important task than the training of our young people for parenthood. But we must all share in this work. I am thrilled that this initiative has become high profile. I wish everyone involved the greatest success and I thank them most sincerely for accepting the challenge.

4.31 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for initiating this debate and for the opportunity it provides to welcome initiatives which the Government have already taken, especially those to promote literacy and numeracy as essential for adulthood, and also to ask some questions concerning the spiritual dimension of education.

Many of the Government's proposals in the consultation paper Excellence in Schools are to be warmly welcomed, including the emphasis on standards, support for schools providing good education, "zero tolerance" of under-performance and a great improvement in achievements in maths and English at the end of primary education, to meet national targets". The need for these commitments is underpinned by research which has shown that although there are many good schools there are also those which are failing to give pupils essential knowledge in literacy and maths. Research has also shown that children who can read well by the age of seven achieve much better by the age of 16 than those who cannot. But many children have not attained basic reading and writing skills not only by the age of seven, but by the age of entering secondary school at 11; and many even leave school at 16 functionally illiterate and innumerate. Clearly, literacy and numeracy are essential for adulthood and parenthood, and a failure to ensure that all young people are equipped with these skills is a betrayal by some schools of their responsibilities to pupils. I therefore welcome the Government's determination to ensure that this failure will not be tolerated.

Declaring an interest—not pecuniary—as a member of the board of the Teacher Training Agency, I also warmly welcome proposals to ensure that teachers will be enabled to teach effectively, including core requirements for all initial teacher training courses, new requirements and standards for all trainee teachers, the emphasis on literacy and numeracy for primary teachers and proposals for effective appraisal. But other proposals are a cause for some concern, especially those which might reduce the proven success of grant-maintained and grammar schools. And there seems to be a lack of proposals to promote the spiritual dimension of education through religious education and worship, which were reaffirmed in the Education Act 1988. It is this to which I now turn.

Schools inherently have a deep and pervasive influence on the beliefs, values and attitudes of their pupils. They thus play a major role in shaping the society of the future, including the next generation's moral values, attitudes to family life and parenthood and knowledge and understanding of their religious heritage. As the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, emphasises in his profoundly important book Faith in the Future, Faith, family and community are, I suspect, mutually linked. When one breaks down, the others are weakened. When families disintegrate, so too does the sense of neighbourhood and the continuity of our great religious traditions. When localities become anonymous, families lose the support of neighbours … when religious belief begins to wane, the moral bonds of marriage and neighbourhood duty lose their transcendental value and begin to shift and crumble in the high winds of change. This is precisely what has happened in our time and the loss, though subtle, is immense". He sees a significant part of the solution in education which is explicitly and deliberately designed to preserve moral values and is rooted in the great spiritual traditions. Perhaps I may quote a few more words: The answer lies in a particular concept of education, one sharply at odds with prevailing moral fashion but which can be found in Aristotle and until relatively recently might even have been described as self-evident. On this view education is not simply a matter of imparting information, inculcating skills and training the individual to make autonomous choices. Instead, it is a matter of inducting successive generations into the society in which they will become participants. It involves transmitting a particular society's history, norms and 'habits of the heart'. Education is an apprenticeship in being a citizen. It is a process of learning certain roles and then internalising them so that the law is no longer an external constraint but becomes, in Jeremiah's phrase, a law 'written in our inmost being and inscribed upon our hearts'". It is with this affirmation of the crucial importance of moral and spiritual education for family life, for parenthood and for a stable, moral and just society that I conclude by welcoming the recent publication by Ofsted on The Impact of New Agreed Syllabuses on the Teaching and Learning of Religious Education and with a plea to the Government to give a substantial commitment to the preservation and promotion of the moral and religious dimension of education.

I welcome the improvements noted in the Ofsted report in the extent of compliance with the law in teaching RE; in knowledge, attainment and attitudes of many pupils, especially in primary schools, and in teachers' subject knowledge, facilitated by agreed syllabuses. But there are still areas of concern. I finish by asking the Minister whether she can give an assurance that this Government will give a commitment to encourage the teaching of RE for all pupils, consistent with their religious heritage and recognising, of course, the right of parents to withdraw their children if they so wish. In the great majority of cases the spiritual heritage will be the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and those of other faiths also have the right to RE and worship which respects the integrity of their faiths.

To teach in ways which preserve knowledge and understanding of the spiritual traditions of our country is not to be dismissed as indoctrination but to be appreciated as providing a fundamental freedom for all children: the freedom to make an informed choice as to whether and how they wish to develop as they grow up, the fundamental spiritual dimension not only of education but of life itself.

4.36 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Mon

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Northbourne for giving your Lordships the opportunity of debating this most important subject.

Some years ago one of my nephews said, "The most important thing in life is not taught to us in school; that is, to be a good parent". Many of your Lordships might say, "But that is the job of parents, not the school". But, sadly, I have to say, that nephew was a boy typical of many young people. His parents divorced when he was aged seven. He was torn between them. He ran away from his prep school, confused and unhappy.

Homes with love, security and good routines are what children need, with parents who give them good healthy examples to follow. But so many young people do not have such homes. Many children have to contend with parents who have an alcohol problem. They can feel ashamed and insecure. Many come from violent homes, from the homes with the stresses and strains when parents are unemployed. Some come from homes where there is serious illness or a single parent.

I feel that all children should have life skills and health education taught as part of the school curriculum to prepare them for the challenges of adult life. In 1988 I moved an amendment, with all-party support, on this subject. We all live in a very complex world which for many years has put such emphasis on material things. Many young people cannot cope with the endless pressures put on them by their parents, who only want successful children, or from advertisements on television which show lifestyles beyond their means, and the very strong peer pressures which often lead young people into drug taking and crime.

With so much pressure on the National Health Service all children, both boys and girls, ought to learn basic home nursing and first aid. That would help society as a whole and make young people more responsible for their own and their families' health care. They should learn basic food hygiene and nutrition and about the dangers of HIV, drugs, alcohol and smoking, as well as basic health and safety issues. They should also learn about money matters, such as banks, mortgages, pensions and budgeting. They should learn about child care and what it means to be a responsible parent.

Since abortion became so available and 5 million babies have been aborted, the value of life seems to have been trivialised. We now have convenience food and convenience babies. I am sure young people need to have the opportunity of learning the values of life. When you have very nearly lost your life, as I did, you realise what life is all about. You value what you have and what you wish you had.

I agree with the report Tomorrow's Parents when it states: Parenthood education must be valued and given priority as a core part of the school curriculum". That sensitive subject needs to become part of teacher training.

In the United Kingdom today there are enough children and young people out of school, education and training to fill the whole of Wembley Stadium twice over. I should like to congratulate Cities in Schools, which is the only national charity working solely with children and young people who are excluded from mainstream education, on tackling that problem.

Many of those young people have multiple needs. They may have special educational needs, be living in children's homes or with foster parents. They may have been involved with the police and may feel that they no longer can cope with their school or their problems.

At any time 55,000 children and young people are in the care system, of whom three-quarters will leave without any educational qualifications. Young people living in children's homes are up to 80 times more likely to be excluded from school than those living with their own families. Those at-risk young people need more not less preparation for the responsibilities and challenges of adult life. May I ask the Minister to give this matter urgent consideration?

4.43 p.m.

Viscount Chelmsford

My Lords, I am a great admirer of the single-minded way in which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, pursues better parenting. I am not an expert in this area, but I hope to offer one or two separate, disparate strands which may help us to improve the general way in which children are brought up to become adults.

My noble friend Lady Brigstocke mentioned John Abbott. When he returned from the USA some 15 or 20 years ago, he carried with him a set of principles which became Education 2000. Perhaps I may refer to one of the principles which he advocated and which has actually happened. He said that schools should at all times have some of their teachers away from school, either retraining or in the local community trying to find out what the schools should be doing with regard to jobs.

That is the theme of my first strand, because the key to moving children into adulthood is to get them jobs. I well recollect that in my own children's schooldays—now some time ago—the careers room was almost a joke. I am not sufficiently qualified to know how far the position has advanced, but anything that we can do to improve the careers aspect of school life should be considered. The Government have recently said that they intend to try to make school league tables more sophisticated. Perhaps I may therefore ask the Minister whether there are any plans to measure jobs for school leavers to try to get a feel for how schools are doing in a particular area.

The Education 2000 theory about having teachers out of school suggests that that might be possible through the proper use of computers as fewer teachers may be needed in school at any one time. Clearly, computers offer teenagers an excellent opportunity to learn at their own speed, in their own time, choosing their own subject, using menu-driven courses. But I have learned recently of research which suggests that computers are even more important for toddlers than for school children. That surprised me a great deal.

This brings me to my second strand, because we now know that the first two years from birth are the most formative in a child's experience. That is why we now attach such importance to learning to play before a child learns how to work. I am told that three year-olds are experts with mouses and that as long as they have a PC with sound they can gain a great deal of knowledge from speaking story books; identifying words; having small amounts of texts to read; hot buttons to press so that birds fly out of trees or other forms of animation; matching objects; placing items in order on the screen; recognising numbers; or identifying shapes, such as circles and triangles. All of those things can improve concentration. Toddlers learn with short attention spans and by moving from subject to subject and back again. Researchers were surprised to find that without any pressure on anybody's part, three year-olds could concentrate on computers for up to 10 minutes at a time.

That is just one of the activities that is available to a toddler if it is handled correctly. The software is now very much more generally available than people realise. I suggest that the returns from improved development prior to playschool are much more important than the returns later, although computers will obviously be important later. I hope that well loved, well developed toddlers will get off to a flying start in school, find learning easier, and make better adults.

I come now to my third strand. I should like to tell your Lordships a very quick story from a charity that I support, West London Action for Children. A single mother was desperate because her hyperactive two year-old would never leave her alone. She could not even do the housework without being pestered all the time. At her wits' end, she called for help. A social worker arrived with a bag of toys, sat down in the middle of the room and put out the toys. At the end of 10 minutes, the mother was gasping because the child had concentrated on the toys—and on nothing else—for 10 minutes. That had never been seen before. The point was that the social worker had to teach the mother—a young unmarried mother who herself had never experienced a proper childhood—that as long as she had a pact with the child that there would be a "children's hour" and some time that would always be devoted 100 per cent. to the mother and the child, everything would gradually get better. The mother had been failing ever to give the child its own time. That was a consequence of the mother never having had that sort of childhood herself. Other noble Lords have already made similar points, but it is worth asking the Minister whether she thinks that enough is being done in the way of training to help parents, particularly single mothers who may not themselves have had a reasonable childhood, to achieve better parenting.

Finally—and again on computers—I am told that it is now customary for computers to be removed from school children some six months before their exams because computers are not allowed to be used during exams. That is understandable, but this is the age of the Internet and the web. It is the age when children can, with great ease, access data bases from home. I wonder, therefore, whether such a prohibition is sensible in today's world. As we now know that the reform of teacher training is being postponed for a year, I wonder whether the Government might use that delay to consider how they could further improve ICT teacher training—that is, teacher training for information and communications technologies—so that the teachers will feel confident with the technology. Perhaps we could also use the period to consider whether we might change to an exam system which does not have to consider whether children will cheat if they can access something through a computer.

It is said that a stitch in time saves nine. I have offered four small suggestions. I hope that they are four stitches and that the savings will come from special education needs, less unemployment, less mental illness and less crime if we can promote children towards a better adulthood.

4.50 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I too warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving me this opportunity to speak about world citizenship in education. I also speak as someone who has had to learn the difficulties of parenting all over again by taking on the care of my late sister's 15 year-old son. By gum, it is difficult to get world citizenship over to 15 year-olds. He is a budding geographer and zoologist and I have high hopes for him.

For those of us who are concerned about global perspectives as a moral force in education, a good deal of comfort can be drawn from recent statements by Ministers representing the education and the international development departments. There appears to be a genuine new official enthusiasm for awareness of world affairs in the classroom such as did not seem possible when I initiated a debate on this theme just over a year ago. For example, the new DfEE document Excellence in Schools frequently mentions the wider world and the global economy. In section 6 of the document, under the heading "Helping pupils achieve", there is an important passage on skills for life which mentions citizenship and work-related training alongside parenting.

There are also some encouraging signs from the Department for International Development whose Minister has a strong personal commitment to development education and has promoted the importance of global and environmental education, for example through fair trade in the supermarket which is attracting the interests of a good number of young people. Her department is already reviewing its support for development education initiatives in schools and colleges, and a good deal is expected of the forthcoming White Paper.

Enthusiasm at a high level is all very well but we must make global education attractive as a subject. As to the curriculum, everyone welcomes the new emphasis on life skills and the spiritual and moral dimension. I am increasingly convinced that the present curriculum contains all of the elements that make up the spiritual and moral dimension, specifically in world citizenship education, and that we should not waste time endlessly searching for new definitions and cross-curricular themes. Let us make the best of what we have and what we have worked upon.

I also believe that the gradual strengthening of geography, which I discovered at a recent RGS seminar had to fight its own corner, will provide further encouragement. However, teachers who try to bring a global dimension into schools without much guidance have a problem. Certainly, Ofsted will help them through the core subjects and can identify life skills or cross-cultural exchanges by highlighting them in reports. There is some promise that that will happen. The Institute of Education is to hold a conference on this theme in October with the aim of drawing up a charter for initial teaching education and reinforcing the urgent need for a curriculum specifically for teacher training in this area.

The Development Education Association is another body that has become highly experienced in this field. For example, it has analysed key stages 3 and 4 of the curriculum for the benefit of teachers. It has emphasised the value to education of ethnic minorities in our society and has brought together various specialised non-governmental organisations—Christian Aid, Save the Children and so on—to promote activities in education. These are important resources alongside the new Government's policy. There is a high expectation of lottery money and the Cyberspace, some of which will certainly not be fulfilled.

Professor Michael Barber has put the question: if the ethics of teachers do not promote world understanding, whose will? If the Government have said that they intend to halve the number of people in the world who live in extreme poverty by the year 2015 they must waste no time in spreading awareness of the world's problems in the schools and in the minds of our young people.

4.55 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I too am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for initiating this debate. It seems to me that education is paramountly meant to be a preparation for adult life, particularly for employment but for a number of other purposes as well. I was very interested in the parenting report, which has been mentioned frequently. I do not propose to talk much about parenting itself; many noble Lords have already done so. However, I do not believe that parenting will be an abstruse item in the future for all our pupils. Many of them are aware of 15 year-old girls who already have babies. Such a girl, with or without a boyfriend, will have to act as a parent to that child. It is therefore highly relevant for teenagers to be taught about parenting, although I fully agree with my noble friend Lady Young that parenting should be taught in the context of marriage.

I make one comment on marriage that a number of noble Lords have amply covered. I believe it is important that there should be teaching on marriage in schools to stress the difference between marriage where there is a commitment to live with another person for life as opposed to the all-too-common boy and girl who live together just so long as they both so wish. I believe that there is a place in school, probably in personal and social education classes, for dealing with matters like commitment, trust and loyalty. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Plant, said that he did not consider that that was appropriate. However, because the parenting report speaks about the participative and facilitative teaching of this subject, I believe that this could very well be covered in that way in schools.

The main point on which I wish to speak—it has already been obliquely referred to—is relationships. Perhaps I should admit that I am chairman of an advisory group of a charity called Relationships Foundation. The whole teaching of relationships might provide a framework for a good deal of the other subjects that could be taught in PSE to teenagers. I was interested that pages 57 to 58 of the parenting report showed that relationships between teenagers and their parents, their peer group and teachers all improved by parenting teaching. I believe that teenagers could be helped in this participative and facilitative style in all manner of relationships.

Relationships are not always easy for teenagers. They may be much easier for the extrovert. I believe that relationships could be taught beneficially on a much wider scale. I give an example. For the teenager as for the adult, there is a fundamental difference between being an assertive personality which is perfectly acceptable and a good thing and being an aggressive personality which is unacceptable. The latter will lead to a good number of other things like bullying. I believe that relationship teaching in PSE can help to clarify the issue.

The other aspect of relationships is how families relate together. That has value. When one of my children brought a friend to stay with the family for a couple of days I found that the visiting child was amazed because we all sat down together for meals and talked. One or two visiting friends say that in their families they go to the fridge, get the food that they want and take it to their own rooms to eat, probably in front of the television. A family that sits down to a meal and talks together—that is a real way to build relationships within the family. It is something which could usefully be brought out in that same style of teaching.

I turn to finance. It needs to be taught in this series as part of adult lifeskills. The Micawber principle is income £1—and to modernise the jargon—expenditure £1.05p, result misery; income £1, expenditure 95p, result happiness. I have always tried to teach my children that principle. Finance, incorporating such matters as how to handle a chequebook or loan and how to use cards, could usefully be taught in PSE as part of lifeskills. It is a parental duty, but many parents fail. Let us have a long-stop and have lifeskills taught in schools.

5.1 p.m.

Lord Paul

My Lords, I first add my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for introducing this Motion. It is timely as the scope of education has expanded: freedom, prosperity, competitiveness, and the ability to shape events are all linked to education.

Education is not just an economic priority, it is a social priority. Education is an essential link between the individual and society: it is the cement that holds us together. Therefore the boundaries of education must be increasingly stretched to embrace all in our society. Perhaps this is because modern life has given rise to a central paradox—that is, the way we live today erodes the cohesion of society; yet only by working together as a community can humanity sustain civilisation and progress.

That contradiction is aggravated by the dramatic growth in single-parent and two wage earner families, and the general decline of family life almost everywhere.Such circumstances thrust an enormous task upon our schools. They have to be more in loco parentis than ever before. Schools not only have to teach the academic curricula, they have also to help students to prepare for, and function in, the contemporary world. Many schools are ill-prepared for this. The case for modernisation and reform of the educational system, especially primary and secondary schools, is clear and urgent.

I am not a proponent of state intervention. However, I do believe that a state-supported programme for educational development is a necessity. The needs are pressing. Let me mention a few. We need to upgrade teacher training, and interest more professionally qualified individuals in teaching. We need to revise and upgrade pay scales so that teaching is seen to be an attractive form of long-term employment and a permanent commitment. We need to consult teachers to improve the ways in which teaching is perceived and restore the levels of professionalism. I believe also that we should devise ways in which to invigorate parent-teacher groups. In too many instances, PTAs have become a formality.

I was raised and received my early education in India. The values which were encouraged in those days had three special elements: the importance of family, the significance of duty and obligation, and the worth of experience. Underlying all was an effort to instill a sense of civic responsibility in young people. I would advocate some kind of value education, especially some kind of training in social and professional ethics at school. For example, while the majority of children receive lessons in sex education, much of this relates purely to the biological. It seems that they receive little help or moral guidance on what will be the most important decision they ever make: parenthood.

I shall say a word about another facet of education—the virtue of experience. In our haste to keep pace with what is going on, we often forget that education is balance. Because our society discounts the importance of experience, schools also reflect this attitude. Experience is an essential counter-weight to the dangers inherent in narrowly focused and highly specialised modern pedantry. It is what humanises the learning of technological communities. Sixty years ago, T.S. Eliot addressed this concern in words that have special resonance for our time: I quote: Where is life we have lost in living?. Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?". Education does not come cheap. But there is no other social investment which has a better long-term pay off. We have to find the funding - and the sooner the better. We must build a society where education is recognised and valued as being primarily about human development, about the realisation of human potential and about the promotion of human values.

5.7 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, first, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising this important subject. We have been privileged in the House in recent months to debate important issues facing young people, whether they be the impact of family policies or education, and therefore this debate is indeed timely. We know that the new Government have placed education firmly at the centre of their agenda. Their proposals for change have been laid out in the White Paper Excellence in Schools. It is a good White Paper. I congratulate the Secretary of State on it. It is not the normal bland, stupefyingly boring White Paper to which we have all become used to grinding through. I pay a compliment to the Government for producing it.

I hope noble Lords will agree that it is not enough for our education system just to be producing competent scientists, entrepreneurial businessmen and the like. Of course those skills are important for the nation as a whole and for the individual as he or she seeks work. It is also important for schools to be producing pupils with a deep sense of citizenship who are prepared to be part of a caring community.

In the previous Parliament we debated the work of SCAA and its consultation with the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community. One of the purposes of that consultation was to make recommendations on ways in which schools might be supported in making their contribution to pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. I suspect that noble Lords would agree that pupils need such values when they leave school and face the outside world of work, relationships and home life with all its responsibilities and rewards.

I understand that SCAA will be running some pilot projects on those values from September. I look forward to finding out how they are received. I was glad to read in the White Paper that the Government are continuing to support SCAA's work. In the later years of school there is an emphasis on careers, job interviews and CVs. I would like to propose that there should be an equal emphasis on marriage and parenthood, which are decisions as important to the pupils' future as their careers. In this day and age, people are expected to change careers during their working life, but, ideally, marriage should be for life. Parenthood certainly is a lifelong vocation and yet there is no training within the curriculum for this most vital and demanding of jobs that has so much impact on another life and the very future well being of our society as a whole.

The White Paper acknowledged that parenting should become part of the programme of education given the title Skills for Life. I hope that the noble Baroness the Minister will agree that this subject should become an important part of our national curriculum. The Government are consulting on the question, "What should parenting education programmes contain?". Perhaps I may suggest that parenting education should contain some guidance about marriage, too, as I and many others believe that that gives children the most secure start to life. I look forward with interest to hearing how the Minister will respond.

I wish to raise one further issue, which is the latest UN convention on the rights of the child, whereby the local authorities are to be given the mandate to usurp parental authority when the child is not satisfied with his or her treatment. Is that not completely unbalanced? I assume that we can rely on the good sense and sound judgment of Her Majesty's Government to resist this half-baked, anti-family UN convention. If the Minister in winding up can confirm that the Government will stand firm against this insidious undermining of family values I am sure that the House will be much in her debt.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for initiating today's debate. It is a testament to him that it has generated so much interest in your Lordships' House and that we have no fewer than 15 other speakers. The result is that they have had to be limited to six minutes, a frustration which I am sure they have all felt because much more could be said. I am the first to be allowed an additional four minutes, which will be insufficient to cover all the points that I would wish to cover, let alone respond to the many points that have been made.

Many noble Lords have spoken about marriage. I do not believe that it is appropriate for me to comment on that from the Front Bench, save to say that in a week's time my wife and I will celebrate our silver wedding anniversary and this weekend we will have a family occasion as a joint celebration to celebrate her parents' golden wedding anniversary. Perhaps that is the most eloquent comment I can make on the subject.

More neutrally, I am sure that we all recognise the importance of stable, long-term, loving relationships to good family life. I recognise that some noble Lords went further than that, but I am sure that it is the basis with which all of us can agree. Several noble Lords made reference to the Children's Society report, which I, too, received and read with great interest. I do not have time to develop upon it, except to say there was a great deal with which I agreed, particularly its introductory comment that now was the time to talk about how parent education is incorporated in the school curriculum and not whether it should be.

I am pleased that much of today's debate has been about parenthood. That is not surprising as it is referred to specifically in the Motion before us. That is recognised in the White Paper, which begins its section on helping pupils achieve by stating: Parents are a child's first and enduring teachers. They play a crucial role in helping their children learn. That is a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree and I am sure it is a view shared in your Lordships' House.

I am pleased that today we have been talking about the responsibilities of parents. I believe that for many years, until comparatively recently, too much emphasis was placed on parents' rights and schools' responsibilities and not enough the other way around. Therefore, I welcome the shift towards talking more about parents' responsibilities and helping and enabling them to understand those responsibilities and to meet them.

Teachers play a vitally important role in shaping the society of the future, but they must do so working in the context of the society of today. I speak with teachers often and therefore I know that sometimes they feel that they are, in a sense, working against a tide. They feel that society as a whole does not always support them as it should in their work to try to instil such values and to teach parental skills in schools. It is important that the Government have recognised that in the White Paper. There is a section devoted to it and I hope that it receives the response that it deserves. I hope, too, that the Government will be able to act upon it.

As I have mentioned in almost every education debate in your Lordships' House, I continue to be the leader of a London borough council which is a local education authority, and I thought that on this occasion I should take advantage of it by seeking advice from what perhaps no longer should be called "the chalk face"—although I still use that term. I spoke to two headteachers at two of our excellent secondary schools in the London Borough of Sutton. The first was Greenshaw High School, a mixed school, which my two sons attended. In every year of the school it teaches issues about adult life and parenthood through the tutorial programme. I was told that children explore a range of issues relating to topics of parenthood and so forth.

I also spoke to the headmaster at Carlshalton High School for Boys, which is obviously a single sex school. It runs parentcraft lessons in years 10 and 11 which look at the role of parenthood. They teach boys about washing babies and changing nappies—lessons I could have done with some years ago—as well as more usually first aid, ironing, washing and so forth, together with health and sex education. The headteacher told me that those classes have been extremely successful, in particular due to the strong personal commitment of the staff involved in running them. I venture to suggest that that is usually the reason for successful teaching.

Another school will open in my borough in September. It is a purpose-built comprehensive school which I recently visited with the headteacher. He, too, told me of his determination that all pupils who leave the school—the first will start in September—will know how to lead responsible adult lives and be able to look after themselves in all the necessary basic skills such as cooking, sewing and so forth.

Those are important issues. Many schools are undertaking excellent work and I asked the teachers to whom I spoke what it was they wanted. Although they had different ways of expressing themselves, there was astonishing commonality in their responses. I spoke to the teachers separately and the first thing they said they wanted was recognition from government and others that schools are achieving a great deal against all the odds. They meant resources—they were, of course, talking to the leader of their council—the national curriculum and all that that imposes and, sadly, too many disinterested parents.

I asked them about the national curriculum. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, suggested that teaching parenthood should be part of the national curriculum. The headteachers to whom I spoke believed that it should not and I am inclined to agree with them. The fear was that if it were, it would be too prescriptive and the problem is that the national curriculum is already too crowded. They also considered that it might stifle different initiatives in carrying out this essential work.

They suggested that government should collect and promote good practice and that they should encourage schools to adopt schemes to develop children's skills in these particular areas. It was suggested that a manual of good practice could be drawn together and given a high profile launch. In other words, they want encouragement, the dissemination of good practice, a higher profile and the reward that recognition brings, but they do not want the prescription which inevitably follows with the national curriculum. That is extremely important and I am sure that that will come in the response to the White Paper, which I welcomed when it was published and welcome again today. In the context of today's debate, I look in particular at the relevant section. We very much support the proposals in the White Paper in relation to work-related learning. We recognise with interest and support the points that are made about parenting. The White Paper states: We want all secondary schools to help teach young people the skills of good parenting, both formally and through contact with good adult role models. We heartily endorse that.

The final area on which I should like to touch has been touched upon briefly in the debate, particularly by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, with whom I agreed in particular; that is, citizenship. There is a section in the White Paper on citizenship. The White Paper recognises that a good democracy needs to be a healthy democracy which means that it needs to be active. It is a matter of particular concern to me and, I hope, to all your Lordships that disillusionment with our political system is at its greatest among young people. Two-fifths of young people eligible to vote do not do so. Indeed, in the European elections, only 11 per cent. of young people eligible to vote actually did so.

As regards choosing role models, it is interesting that when young people were asked whom they would ask for advice on managing their finances, one in five said Chris Evans or Gary Lineker. Only one in 100 said Kenneth Clarke at the time that he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was at the bottom of the table with Mystic Meg. I make no comment on the late lamented Chancellor of the Exchequer but that is a sad comment on whom young people choose as their role models.

There are some things that the Government can do. For example, of those appointed to quangos, only 5 per cent. are under 40. I doubt very much whether young people think that under 40 is young but to many of us, it is. The average age of those appointed to quangos is 57. All those important issues need to be addressed and I am pleased that the Government, in their White Paper, are trying to address them and are to set up an advisory group to discuss citizenship. In doing so, I hope that they will draw on the valuable work done by many voluntary organisations, in particular the British Youth Council, which does excellent work on a very small grant from central government.

This has been a useful debate on a very important subject to us all. I think that we have learnt from it. I hope that the Government will receive a good response to that section in the White Paper and I look forward to being able to take those matters further.

5.22 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I too welcome being able to take part in this debate today. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for making that possible.

The phraseology that we have heard expressed by other speakers has included marriage—and I stress marriage—stable relationships, caring relationships, parenthooding and the linking of schools and homes. I was pleased to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Paul, about the importance of family, duty and experience.

There is no doubt that we all share a common concern for the problems facing parents and families at the present time. None of us doubts that schools have a role to play in the promoting of stability in those areas of society. However, the problem is that we live in a community without an agreed system of values, as my noble friend Lady Young implied earlier. Marriage—and I declare my own interest, I believe in marriage—is an acknowledged important part of life but we recognise also that it is an individual choice of people.

I have been appalled, as I am sure have other noble Lords, by the age at which children are being expelled from schools. A case reported in the newspapers only last week involved a boy of five being excluded from his school. I understand that six children per week of primary school age are being excluded. That highlights the growing problems faced by teachers in our primary schools.

Schools share in some of the moral confusion and teachers themselves reflect the diversity of lifestyles within our society. I fear that it can be said that in some senses they reflect rather than mould society. When issues like the family are discussed in schools, the atmosphere is one of moral relativism—that is, all relationships are seen as equal. I do not wish to pile on the pessimism but we must consider the difficulties facing us. This country has never had an atmosphere of secular or civil morality such as exists in France and, to a lesser extent, in America. Traditionally, the teaching of morality has been left to our churches. And yet I feel that with only 8 per cent. of the population attending church on a regular basis, the time has come to look at other ways in which to promote parenting. The debate this afternoon suggests—and it is true—that schools have their part to play.

Development in helping families with parenting should not be undertaken in isolation. Many voluntary organizations—and noble Lords have mentioned some—traditionally give support to families. I should like to speak of the work undertaken by two such organisations in Leicestershire; namely, Homestart and Connections.

Homestart began some time ago with the aim of befriending and helping families under stress. I know that it is well known to your Lordships' House. Its work has been extended to other centres throughout the country.

The other organisation is Connections. That started only some 10 years ago. It offers support to families in a different way. Instead of the volunteer giving home support to people in their own homes, children from the ages of five to 10 are given the opportunity to meet once a week in a hall after school for two hours in the early evening. The helpers, all volunteers, are given training and practical support.

The children learn right from wrong; learn to play organised games; learn to sit down and have a meal. The importance of that was mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lord Brentford. They receive encouragement. They gain in confidence. They are taught about food and nutrition. They learn to swim and also take walks in the countryside.

It is a wide range of learning but it is always with the aim to encourage individual children. Respect for themselves and for others is key to the work. Mrs. Murray is the organiser whose idea and inspiration Connections is. She said that if she does not have the children by the time they are aged five, her task is that much greater when she is helping children who come from families under stress. All the children that she receives are recommended from social services. Her team of volunteers, which numbers about 40, works with a ratio of 3:1. The children are helped and encouraged.

In her contribution today, the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, highlighted also the contribution which men make to giving a balance to family life. Elizabeth Murray, of Connections, is very keen that men, and in particular young men, should play an important part in the work in which she is involved.

Therefore, I welcome the contributions made to this debate today. Perhaps I may return to the importance of marriage. I was not aware that as a Front Bench spokesperson, I should not give a preferred choice. However, I should like so to do and if I am wrong, I apologise. I am lucky enough to have been married for many years. I have two children and now three grandchildren who bring enormous joy. And yes, marriage brings its problems with it. It brings challenges for each and every one of us. But there is no other way in which to make sure that our future generations get off to a good start without the importance that parents make to the debate.

After all, it is parents who have the children in the first place. Some noble Lords have spoken about responsibilities and rights. It is extremely important that we bring up the next generation to appreciate the importance of marriage.

Perhaps I may now pose one or two questions to the Minister who is to respond to the debate. First, is the noble Baroness able to accept that schools have a responsibility to include parenthood in the curriculum? I am sure that she will have no difficulty with that. Moreover, perhaps that could be considered as regards the younger age group rather than just concentrating on secondary school level, bearing in mind that the biggest influence one has on children is at the younger age. Secondly, can the Minister tell us the Government's view on the traditional family and family values? Thirdly, how does the Minister see the promotion of parenthood when, within our communities, as has been mentioned in today's debate, there is such wide diversity? I believe we all face that challenge.

In welcoming all the contributions made in the debate this afternoon, it is clear to me that we recognise that there are no easy solutions. I have approached the problem pragmatically. I feel that the interaction among families, schools and the community, as I highlighted with my examples from Leicestershire, is essential. We have great expertise whether it is within schools, within parents, or within voluntary organisations. We must not expect our teachers to take on the sole role of solving our moral problems. It is parents who are responsible for their children and it is indeed they who should set the standard.

5.31 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, like other speakers, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for calling attention to the important role of schools in preparing young people for adult life. The noble Lord spoke eloquently, knowledgeably, and from a position of experience as chairman of the Parenting Forum. I should also like to thank all those who contributed to today's interesting debate. The terms of the debate relate to preparing young people for the responsibilities of adult life, including parenthood. I want to try to address the issue raised in the terms of the debate as broadly as possible. I do not believe it would be appropriate for me to debate the merits or otherwise of the independent Gulbenkian report; instead, I should like to focus on government policies.

As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said in his opening speech, and as other speakers have endorsed, parents are, and should be, the main formative influence on their children's development. The foundations for adult life are laid early in childhood. So we aim to provide good quality early years education, alongside childcare and family learning where that is appropriate. But when a child moves on to school, schools also have a key role to play. A crucial aspect of a school's role in preparing its pupils for adult life is to give them a good general education and to ensure that they achieve the best they are capable of achieving.

I was immensely grateful for what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lords, Lord Ashbourne and Lord Tope, about the White Paper. The measures in the White Paper, Excellence in Schools, which I announced in this House last Monday, will equip young people with the knowledge and skills which are required for today's complex world of work, skills and knowledge which are very necessary to our future if we are to compete successfully in the next century. They will be complemented by the opportunities for education and training that we will provide through our welfare to work programme.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we recognise that literacy and numeracy are the basics for successful learning at school and in adult life, and that is why we are placing great emphasis on getting them right in schools as early as possible and setting ambitious and achievable targets for 11 year-olds. But learning does not stop with the final bell of the school day. Many schools are already doing a great deal through homework clubs, study support, outdoor and other extra-curricular activities. We will make available funding from the new midweek good causes lottery to extend or establish regular programmes of out-of-school-hours activities in at least half of all secondary and a quarter of all primary schools.

Raising standards in the basics is right. Talk of equality of opportunity and engaging with society is hollow if young people leave school not able to read and write properly, or handle numbers well. We need to have other goals in order to prepare young people for adulthood. Schools play a vital role in helping young people to develop into well balanced individuals with confidence and respect for themselves and for others, and in developing skills in the fourth R to which my colleague in another place, Estelle Morris, referred recently—relationships. Schools can give young people an appreciation of the different backgrounds and cultures in out multi-race, multi-faith society. They can help them to develop the attitudes to life and work needed to be full and active citizens and lead purposeful and fulfilled lives. Those wider goals are central to personal, social and health education. I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said about the nomenclature here. I accept that it is a bit of a mouthful; indeed, it is something which I shall certainly take away with a view to considering his alternative of "life skills".

The noble Lord asked three questions about the area which I believe it would be helpful for me to address at this point. The noble Lord asked, first, whether the Government would make personal, social and health education compulsory from the year 2000 in all schools. In answer, I can say that we will take decisions about the need for, and the nature of, any changes in the National Curriculum when we have considered advice from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority next year. We shall also take into account reactions to our White Paper, Excellence in Schools. In that respect, I should tell the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that the White Paper contains proposals for all secondary schools to provide parenting education. However, whether or not that is appropriate for primary schools is a matter which needs a little more consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, also asked whether it would be right to produce a national syllabus in the area. I believe that the answer is no. It will still be the responsibility of each school's governing body to decide what best fits the needs of its own pupils. I believe that to be consistent with the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, in her contribution. Finally, the noble Lord asked about teacher training. The recently announced new curriculum for teacher training states that newly qualified teachers must be able to address pupils' personal, moral and social development. Indeed, that is something we shall want to implement.

Most speakers who contributed to today's debate have made it clear that they are aware of the fact that schools have a legal duty to provide a curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, social, cultural, physical and mental development of pupils and society and to prepare pupils for the opportunities and responsibilities of adult life. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about religious education. I can tell her that the Government are committed to the continuing provision of RE and have no plans to change existing provisions.

Secondary schools must also provide sex education and careers education. Elements of sex and drugs education are part of the science national curriculum. In answer to a question of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, Ofsted reports on how the Act is being implemented and it has reported favourably recently on how these legal duties are being catered for in schools. Schools take their legal responsibilities concerning the curriculum seriously. Many schools choose to meet their responsibilities through programmes of personal, social and health education which can encompass a broad range of topics including sex and relationships, drugs education, nutrition, physical activity and broader health education, safety education, and careers, work-related and community based education. I want to say a little more about some of those now to give your Lordships' House a flavour of the current range of provision in schools which contributes to preparing young people for adult life, and some of the work which my department is supporting.

Young people face considerable pressure from their peers and in the media in the area of sexual relationships. In answer to my noble friend Lord Paul, schools work with parents, health and other services to give young people access, through sex education, to good information and help in developing the communication and negotiation skills needed to make responsible decisions about their personal and sexual behaviour as they enter adulthood. Schools have a key role in developing similar skills in young people to reject drugs, and that includes tobacco. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, does not really think that discouraging young people from smoking is to be condemned as an example of the nanny state. My Government's proposals for reducing smoking, particularly among the young, and the proposed appointment of a "drugs czar", signal a vigorous new strategy bringing agencies together in a coherent programme to deal with the problems of drug misuse. Schools, of course, cover broader health topics within health education.

There is much good work going on in schools to prepare young people for the world of work. The noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, asked about careers education and said that it was a joke in his school. I hope that that is no longer the case in schools today. Through careers education and guidance schools equip young people with the skills they need to make the important decisions they have to make about the transition between school and work and help them to put these decisions into practice. Of course standards of provision in schools and colleges are not perfect and they must continue to improve. Most now have a written policy statement, careers co-ordinators and partnership agreements with careers services. Those are the cornerstone of good overall provision. We are committed to improving careers education in schools and colleges. The Education Act 1997 will raise its status, making it compulsory for pupils in years 9 to 11.

Much of the debate about the role of schools in preparing young people for adult life tends to centre on the curriculum. There are always calls for changes to the national curriculum to include particular topics. We have considered whether in the short term we should aim to change the present statutory framework. We know that the national curriculum is not perfect but we have consistently made it clear that we do not want to make any statutory changes to key stages 1, 2 and 3 until the year 2000. In the short term it is essential for teachers to have some stability to allow them to concentrate their efforts on improving their teaching rather than relearning what they have to teach. But we do want to see our priorities of literacy and numeracy better reflected in the way the current curriculum is being delivered. We also expect advice next year on the need for and nature of changes to the national curriculum after the year 2000. However, I do not want to suggest that this is shutting down development. Preparing young people for adult life is about much more than legal obligations concerning the curriculum, extremely important though these may be. It is about how young people relate to one another and interact with others at school and in their communities, and how they develop into adults. These are areas within personal, social and health education where we can start to consider changes now. Our White Paper highlights a number of life skills.

I want in particular to focus now on parenting and then to say something about citizenship. The noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, asked about the training of parents. However, that is outside the scope of this debate, which is about pupils at school. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has argued, it is difficult to overstate the importance of good parenting to the well-being of individuals and society. I know myself that being a parent has never been easy as I am one. It is no easier today. Some of the problems are the same, but many are different. Of course our society has undergone many sweeping changes, for example, changes in the role of women and the extent to which they are at work.

If we can help the parents of tomorrow to gain a better understanding of the responsibilities and skills required to become good parents we can make a real difference to the health and success of our communities and help tackle some of the more pressing problems they face, including pregnancies among young teenage girls. Many young people leave school without ever having thought through whether or when they will have children. A number of speakers in this debate have already indicated their concern about this. Certainly many embark upon this major change without properly considering the potential impact on their lives. Schools cannot and should not take the place of parents, but with parents they can play an important role in teaching young people what it means to be a parent; namely, the emotional, financial and practical responsibilities and the lifelong nature of the commitment it brings. Some very good work is already taking place in schools, particularly those with well developed personal, social and health education programmes. The Tomorrow's Parents report, which has been mentioned earlier, illustrates what can be achieved. I have already said that our White Paper makes clear that we want all secondary schools to have a role in teaching young people about good parenting.

We shall also encourage schools to develop links with other agencies, particularly voluntary and community groups, adult education centres and family nurturing schemes which are supporting parents in bringing up their children. This will provide support for schools and practical help to today's parents. The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, asked whether there could be more men teachers to provide role models, especially in middle schools. I think I am right in saying that more than half of teachers in secondary schools are men. However, I accept that in primary schools the proportion is much lower and is only about 20 per cent. There is a case for trying to encourage more young men to enter primary school teaching.

The subject of citizenship was referred to by my noble friend Lord Plant, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope. The Government recognise that young people can feel disconnected from society. It is vital for them and indeed for all of us that young people believe they have a stake in the communities in which they live, that their voices are heard and that their views and actions can make a difference to society. I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said about trying to bring more younger people into quangos. I entirely endorse that. Citizenship education is already a feature in some primary and secondary schools. We intend to give greater prominence to this work in schools. Again, we are consulting widely and will work with all those who have an expertise in this area.

I noted with particular interest what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said about development education. The Government agree with what he said about its importance and about the importance of education for world citizenship. We will also be working with voluntary organisations, the business community and others, to develop a nationwide programme of Citizens Service—Millennium Volunteers—to provide young people with opportunities to do useful voluntary work in the community. For some it will increase their prospects of employment, but the aim is much wider: to restore a sense of belonging and identity to communities and to promote social responsibility.

I turn now to values in adult life. As the noble Baroness. Lady Young, said, values are important in preparing young people for adult life. It is not sufficient simply for young people to acquire knowledge and skills. They must also develop and apply values such as respect for others and for the law.

As many noble Lords will know, we have given approval to the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority—shortly to become the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority—to produce guidance to schools based on the statement of core values drawn up by its National Forum on Values in Education and the Community. It will extend across the curriculum and beyond it, to embrace the wider work of schools. It will be supported by case studies, a directory of resources and guidelines for community service. There will be a SCAA pilot later this year.

In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the SCAA statement from the forum on values did not omit any reference to marriage. Moreover, the statement reflected very wide consultation about common values in this area. I think that the SCAA advice was accepted by the last Government.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about the importance of stable, long term and loving relationships as a context for all children.

In conclusion, I hope that I have convinced your Lordships of this Government's commitment to strengthening the role of schools in preparing young people for adult life. I have sought to answer as many questions as possible posed by speakers in the debate. Where I have failed to do so, I shall of course write to noble lords.

There is already a great deal of good practice. As I have indicated, we shall seek to build on that by raising general standards in schools to ensure that young people have the skills for work. We will also assist schools to help young people develop into confident and responsible adults and caring and active members of society—in short, to have the broader skills for life. I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said about the need for a pragmatic approach.

It is important that we do not see these two elements as separate and unconnected. They are geared toward common central purposes: well balanced individuals and a well balanced society. In the work we have set out to do, we must secure a firm place and proper status for personal, social and health education in schools to help ensure coherence in the provision for preparing young people for adult life. We must also be careful to ensure that this coherence is reflected in any decisions about the shape of the curriculum and the role of schools in the new millennium.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for being so grateful to me for tabling the subject. I thank your Lordships for the many thoughtful and valuable contributions. I was particularly glad that a number of noble Lords raised the question of citizenship. Even more noble Lords gave a great welcome to the Government's White Paper. The Government should be delighted by that support.

Many noble Lords mentioned the Gulbenkian Foundation's report, Tomorrow's Parents. Everyone broadly welcomed it. However, anxiety was expressed about the treatment of marriage. The policy of the Children's Society and the Gulbenkian Foundation on this issue is set out on page 12 of the report. Whether or not that policy implies that all family structures are equally good, I am not entirely sure. It is a question that needs to be addressed. My own prejudice is that all family structures are not equally good although we have to accept that they exist.

I believe that there should be more research on the subject; more consideration should be given to it. Any such research or consideration of whether family structures are equally good should be measured against these three criteria: the welfare and outcomes for children; the shared values of our society; and the religious values which many of us hold.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, drew attention to the dichotomy of responsibility between parents and teachers, and implied that teachers already had enough on their plate and that parents should accept responsibility on this matter. I merely refer to what happens when parents fail to accept their responsibility.

Finally, I thank the Minister for the extraordinarily constructive and helpful things she said, in particular the good news about teacher training. Like all education, the success of life skills education ultimately depends on the skill and enthusiasm of teachers. Structures help. In the end good teachers are the key. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.