I apologise for not being around for the beginning of the hon. Lady’s speech. When it comes to building consensus, if she were willing to cross the Rubicon in terms of more selective education, would it not be a good idea to focus it on the opportunity areas and coldspots that the Social Mobility Commission has highlighted?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that he thinks that selection would work in such areas. There is no evidence for that at all, especially when I look at the fantastic schools in my constituency. My constituency has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country—I think it is the second ranking constituency for child poverty in the whole country—but I have some outstanding schools that get amazing results in a comprehensive setting. I do not understand how selection will help them; it will simply make their job all the more difficult.
We may well disagree on some of the principles and practice, but if there is to be increased opportunity for selective education, would not the best place to focus it be in the areas of most need—those opportunity areas coldspots highlighted by the Social Mobility Commission?
No, I disagree fundamentally.
I thank my right hon. Friend for highlighting the issue of parental contact, but may I focus on contact with fathers? The Government have made great strides in trying to ensure greater opportunities in work, but we must also look at how to create greater opportunities to ensure that fathers are not only in contact but are involved in their children’s upbringing. I saw from clients in the criminal justice system that one of the prevailing factors for them was either an absent father or a father who was not involved in their lives.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The importance of families and of having two parents or two important role models in life—and of both boys and girls having a strong male role model—should not be underestimated. It is no secret that I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) on some policy issues, but the work that he did at the Centre for Social Justice and the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) is doing now on the importance of family relationships and public policy should not be underestimated.
I very much support what my right hon. Friend says, particularly about social capital and building character through education. The Government have committed to a statutory requirement for relationships education. Many children, sadly, come from a background of conflict, trauma and survival. There is now the opportunity to provide them with the building blocks that others receive outside school to build resilience, self-esteem and respect for others, and help to build that character which is so vital for their future in the long term.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I was very pleased to support his amendment on sex and relationships education, and I am very pleased that the Government have taken that on board and accepted an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill. He is right to say that. One of the most important characteristics is resilience, or to use the awful phrase, stickability and bouncebackability: the ability to deal with what life throws at them and not be blown off course. Anything that schools, adult role models and other organisations can do, in addition to families, to help young people to develop that characteristic will go at least part of the way to building the more resilient and confident young people we need for the 21st century.
In a spirit of consensus, I would point out that one of the successes of the coalition Government was the focus on early years and the early years foundation stage, which came not least out of the work of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). There is growing evidence, not least through the Department for Work and Pensions programme on parenting, of the quality of the relationship between parents having a huge impact on children’s long-term wellbeing, mental health and life chances. There should be a focus on that. There is a lot of well-evaluated evidence from the parents as partners programmes showing that we need to focus on these quality relationships all the way through as providing the foundation for long-term prospects.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. I have gone on a bit of a journey on this: I have always had a somewhat kneejerk liberal reaction of slight squeamishness and reticence about the idea of politicians, the Government, Whitehall and public policy experts seeking to tweak or improve how parents choose to raise their children, which I intuitively think is no business of politicians, but I agree with the evidence. Much like the right hon. Member for Loughborough, I agree on almost nothing with the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) on many issues, but on this issue I think that he led the pack in saying that this is something that politicians need to grapple with, although we need to do so with care.
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