Education & Family

Free parenting classes trial to run in England

Parent and child
Image caption Many parents say they would like more support

Free parenting classes are to be trialled for all parents with children aged five and under in three areas of England, children's minister Sarah Teather has said.

They are intended for parents even if they are not struggling with raising children, she said.

About 50,000 parents in Middlesbrough, High Peak, and Camden will be offered vouchers for the classes from mid-2012.

Labour criticised the government cuts to the children's programme it set up.

'Firm and fair'

The classes, provided by parenting experts, are likely to cover areas such as communication and listening skills, managing conflict and "strengthening positive relationships in the family", as well as the importance of parents working as a team.

There will also be a stress on discipline, with "firm, fair and consistent approaches" encouraged and the importance of "boundaries" being set out for children.

And there will be advice on appropriate play for children's age and development.

Ms Teather said she wanted to get rid of the stigma over asking for help.

"Parenting classes aren't just for struggling families," she said.

"All parents should know it's OK to ask for extra support and guidance when they need it - just as they do when they attend ante-natal classes before their child is born."

The trial will run for two years, with its impact tracked, the department said. It is hoped the results will lead a greater number of parents to seek help and advice themselves.

The government says it is still working on the details but it is likely that the vouchers will be distributed through various routes. It was unknown if health visitors, GP staff or nursery workers would be involved.

Ms Teather added that there was overwhelming evidence that a child's development in the first five years' of their life is the single biggest factor influencing their future life chances, health and education attainment.

"Armed with all this evidence, it is the government's moral and social duty to make sure we support all parents at this critical time.

"Parenting has to be one of the toughest jobs and it doesn't come with a rule book."

'Out of touch'

Shadow children's minister Sharon Hodgson criticised the coalition's policy towards Sure Start - a children's centre network established by Labour in the late 1990s to give more deprived children a better chance in life.

Some of the 3,600 Sure Start children's centres are being cut because the grant that funds them was cut by 11% in last year's emergency budget, and again in the comprehensive spending review by almost the same percentage.

The government also removed the protection from the Sure Start budget, leaving them potentially at risk as councils seek to make up losses to their central government grants overall.

Ms Hodgson said: "Labour is in favour of support for families and children, but the Tory-led government is completely out of touch if they think this is going to make up for the Sure Start centres that are being closed or hollowed out up and down the country...

"This government's reckless cuts programme is kicking away the ladders for the next generation and the closure of Sure Start centres is just another example of this."

Ed Owen, editor of fatherhood website, said: "Every teacher, psychologist and educationalist will tell you that the first years of a child's life are important.

"Some suggest that the first two years are decisive. This does not mean that every child must be schooled, drilled and disciplined to make them model citizens at this young age. No, it means that in the first years children must be loved."

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