Lessons in being a parent at just 14
By Laura Clark, Daily Mail
Children’s Secretary Ed Balls is likely to face criticism for the new proposals Ed Balls stands accused of encouraging teenage pregnancy with plans to give 14-year-olds compulsory parenting lessons. Pupils will learn how to raise youngsters under the Children’s Secretary’s proposals from 2011 onwards.But experts warned that this could lead to teenage pregnancy being seen as increasingly acceptable, youngsters giving up education to have a baby – and teachers taking on the role of social workers.The row coincided with figures showing how schoolgirls in England’s teen pregnancy blackspots are nine times more likely to find themselves expecting a baby.One in every 62 girls under 16 becomes pregnant in the London borough of Lewisham – compared with the Cotswolds, where the rate is one in every 556.Parent groups said the latest big idea from Labour smacked of ‘nanny state’ encroachment which would distract schools from their core task of educating children.Only half of state pupils finished compulsory schooling in 2009 with a basic set of GCSEs including English and maths. Under Mr Balls’s proposals, lessons in sex and relationships would begin at five, when children would label body parts and learn about simple changes to their bodies.
From 14 – two years before the legal age of consent, they would learn about the responsibilities of parents, the key stages of child development and basic techniques for keeping children out of trouble. Mr Balls says he hopes the lessons will help bolster family life after he recently admitted in a policy U-turn that Labour had done too little to support the traditional family unit and that marriage was ‘better’ for children. He says he believes the classes will put pupils off having children until they are ready.But parents’ groups said there was a fine line between encouraging youngsters to delay parenthood and educating them for it.
Margaret Morrissey, of the lobby group ParentsOutloud and former spokesman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: ‘I am struggling to think why we need parenting education as young as 14. This is in danger of institutionalising teenage pregnancy and could create an interest where none existed.’
Some schools already touch on parenting but coverage is variable across the country.Guidance on how to teach the topic, due to be issued in the coming months, is expected to cover the role and responsibilities of parents, the legal rights of children, the importance of emotional security and the ways in which parents can influence their children’s future success. Critics say the new plan could lead to a rise in teenage pregnancies Lessons are also likely to look at the basics of child development, such the role of play and age-appropriate toys, and the importance of stable relationships. The guidance will be scrutinised to see if it emphasises marriage as the most favourable foundation for raising children. Opponents of the proposals say the curriculum is already crammed to the limit. Ministers have recently announced the addition of lessons in domestic violence, financial literacy and cooking Mr Balls’s Tory counterpart Michael Gove said: ‘The most important thing for young people is securing the qualifications which will guarantee a good job and a bright future. ‘Every statistic shows that underachievement leads to risky behaviour and a greater risk of drug addiction or teenage pregnancy.’
Professor David Paton, an economist at Nottingham University Business School, said: ‘In general, sex education seems to have very little impact one way or the other on teenage pregnancy.’ However the development was welcomed by some in the teaching profession concerned at the impact of a decline in the nation’s parenting skills on schools.Lynn Edwards, who belongs to the national council of the teaching union Voice, warned that extended family networks had become fragmented, leaving young parents ill-supported.
Dismissing the idea that parenting lessons might be forgotten by the time many youngsters become mothers or fathers, she said: ‘ Anything is better than nothing. Do you forget how to ride a bike?’
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