21 Oct 2007

Standing ovations and obfuscation make for poor marriage and family policies

Iain Duncan Smith won a well deserved standing ovation for his speech at the Conservative Party conference, but will the Tory faithful get off their seats to take his ideas forward?

Iain Duncan Smith said later:


“The decline of marriage is a difficult social trend to reverse. It would be too simplistic to argue that a tax break will reverse this trend and we have made 29 recommendations on the subject, including more education on how to sustain relationships.”

Despite this evident common sense, his colleagues and government ministers continue to talk only about tax breaks and not at all about relationship education and support.


Theresa May said, “In the latest Government flip-flop, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has said: ‘It’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise ... marriage’.

She called on the government to “commit to a debate in Government time on how to support families in the tax system?”

If she is serious, surely the Conservatives will allocate some Opposition time to a debate, as there is no chance – and Theresa May must know it – that the government will want to leave their ambivalent policies towards marriage and the family open to scrutiny.

The previous day Gordon Brown said,
“As far as the tax issues are concerned, it is because we recognise marriage in the tax system that we have made the changes that we have on inheritance tax ……….. But as far as children’s tax credits and child benefit are concerned, I believe that the duty of every citizen of this country is to support not just some children in our country, but all children.”

This is very confusing. What Gordon Brown seems to be saying is that it’s Ok for there to be just a little bit of recognition in the tax system for marriage, but when it comes to benefits it’s Ok for the government to squander money on people however tenuous their relationships, even if it means giving 200,000 cohabiting couples benefits to which they are not entitled, there being that number more claimants of single parent benefits than there are registered single parent households.

This makes no sense, especially since in other respects – such as pensions - the benefit system penalises married couples compared with single people. Gordon Brown then starts talking piously about,
“the duty of every citizen of this country is to support not just some children in our country, but all children” as if this lets the government off the hook when it comes to supporting families.

It is worth recalling what Paul Boateng said in 1996 during the passage of the Family Law Bill. He was then the Opposition spokesman on marriage for the Lord Chancellor’s department:


“In 1971, in the aftermath of the last great reform of divorce law, Lord Scarman said:

"The law is groping its way towards a new conception of the duties of married life."

The duties of married life have been cast aside. Married life and the importance and value of marriage are being widely questioned. Marriage is undervalued, marriage is not supported, marriage is now something that one can win on a game show.

If one turns on the television on a Saturday night, one can see someone win a marriage. The young couples who walk down the pink staircase--I do not know why the staircase is not white; no doubt pink looks better on television--get more preparation for marriage, in terms of what they will get at the end, than we give them in relation to civil marriage today…..

At the moment, there is no preparation at all for civil marriage, and there is absolutely nothing on the face of the Bill to give any hope whatsoever that that will occur or is envisaged. Are we going to have any assurances about that tonight? That is something that hon. Members want to hearThe Government also have to come forward with proposals in relation to preparation for marriage and with proposals that recognise the need for concerted and focused action to support the institution of marriage and the family. Only then can hon. Members rest easy in terms of the consequences of their deliberations today.”

Iain Duncan Smith deserved the applause and his standing ovation at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month. Unfortunately the implications of what he is saying are lost on most of his colleagues and on most members of the government. But we must be thankful to Andy Burnham [like Paul Boateng who was also later], Chief Secretary to the Treasury, for keeping the issue in the public consciousness.

29 Sep 2007

Biblical texts to support a political party's family policy

In his speech to the 2007 Labour conference this week Gordon Brown quoted scripture – “suffer little children to come unto me” [Mat 19 13-15, Mk 10 13-16, & Luk 18 15-17] – in support of Labour’s inclusive policy of all family structures. By implication he was criticising the – as yet to be defined - pro-marriage policy of the Conservatives and its supposed exclusivity.

In the immediately preceding verses of both Matthew’s gospel and Mark’s, Jesus quotes from the book of Genesis, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, they twain shall be one flesh” [Gen 2 24].

In John’s gospel [John 4 1-42] Jesus says to the woman of Samaria, “Go call thy husband and come hither.” The woman answered him and said, “I have no husband”. Jesus said unto her, “Thou hast well said, I have no husband, for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband”.

Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’, but I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” [Mat 5 27-28].

At the end of the story of the woman caught in adultery [John 8 1-11] whom he saved from being stoned to death, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more”.

Forgiving the sinner is not to condone the sin. By no stretch of the imagination can the policy of Jesus towards marriage and the family be described as one that is tolerant of promiscuity.

In line with the foolish virgins in the parable [Mat 25 1-18], Gordon Brown and his colleagues are exhorting their followers to make no preparation for marriage.

There will be free condoms, the NHS to conduct abortions – more readily available than maternity services - and the welfare state to bale the promiscuous out of any hole into which they dig themselves, and larger benefits for unmarried than married couples.

While the foolish virgins went off to buy oil for their lamps “the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage; and the door was shut”.

The wise virgins of the parable couldn’t give the foolish virgins some of their oil for the lamps because it was spiritual capital and cannot be transferred, it must be acquired. Labour’s mistake is in imagining that any wrong can be righted by taking value from one party and giving it to another. But the things of greatest value cannot be gifted away.

By distorting scripture Labour is promoting a society which is unprepared for the realities of life.

Will the Conservatives be able to get their theology right?

31 Aug 2007

David Cameron’s call, “men [must] realise that having children is an 18-year commitment - not a one-night stand”.

He went on to say [The Tory leader's speech at Sudellside community centre in Darwen, Lancashire, on youth crime and measures to reduce it - Wednesday August 22, 2007 - Guardian Unlimited]:

“We need to make mothers realise that it's work, not welfare, that offers their family the best future. We need to help couples stay together, not drive them apart with the tax and benefits system. And we need to make society as a whole - that's you and me - realise that we all have duties to our neighbours. These are duties as compelling as the taxes we pay and the laws we obey. They represent a social responsibility. For me the most exciting development that is happening in Britain today is the growth of social enterprises and other voluntary bodies dedicated to social justice.”

And Peter Fahy, chief constable of Cheshire’s comment, “public was right to think that antisocial behaviour was out of control” in The Guardian (Monday August 20, 2007) follows an article the previous week. He argues, “the system [is] failing to tackle the underlying causes of crime ……. [including] family breakdown”.

In an article [16th August 2007] in The Telegraph, ‘Alcohol ban is no answer; proper policing isDavid Green, Director of Civitas, writes: “children are more likely to stay away from crime if both biological parents are committed to their well-being”.

“…. there is no getting away from the fact that children are more likely to stay away from crime and to lead fuller lives if both their biological parents are committed to their well-being during the two decades it takes to grow up. Solving that problem is beyond most of us.”

Now David Cameron has also weighed in with, “More Government support for families and better male role models are the best ways to combat the yobs who are causing “anarchy in the UK” [Telegraph 21st August 2007].

The problem can be solved with determination, the application of the available statutory powers (Fixed Penalty Notices), modern technology (texts to mobile phones, e-mail, Digital TV), and engagement by schools with parents in the social, emotional and behavioural development of the pupils.

One solution available within the UK, brings parents, children and schools together. By using talk2me (www.talk2me.org.uk) schools and families can monitor social, emotional and behavioural development over time by taking the online inventory each year. What is required is the will to bring together the complementary strands of intervention and to treat the issue of family breakdown holistically.

Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Cheshire writes
, “a fundamental rebalancing [is] needed for the criminal justice system - away from simply concentrating on punishment towards more rehabilitation and offers of help, backed up by sanctions for those who [refuse] to change their behaviour.”

There is a strong correlation between truancy and future criminality. Local authorities [especially those under Conservative control!] and local crime reduction partnerships could be tackling this problem now with the same zeal that is being directed against the owners of illegally parked vehicles - with FNPs (Fixed Penalty Notices) and clamping.

However, if the main focus is punitive, it won’t work. Follow-up supportive measures are crucial too:

1. An individual re-integration plan for each child picked up during a truancy sweep combined with FNPs (£50 if paid in 28 days, £100 in 42 days) would change the culture of truanting, in some areas, to one of regular school attendance.

2. A whole school approach to measuring change in social, emotional and behavioural development, together with a programme engaging parents in this process – possibly as part of the extended schools programme - would change the culture prevalent, in some areas, from antisocial to social behaviour for all pupils and parents. Targeting a few parents will alienate them. A universal programme will not.

There are now 50,000 truants each school day in the UK and one million pupils who have been truants during the year. There are 16,000 PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers) and strong teams of EWOs (Education Welfare Officers) and other staff in schools and local authorities tasked with combating truancy and antisocial behaviour.

There are schemes such as Truancy Call and Teachers2Parents for engaging with parents. These allow school staff to make first day contact with parents of absentees via automated phone call, text message and email, parents can then respond in the same way.

Examination of data from 2004 shows a strong correlation between average absence levels in schools and their pupils’ attainment. For example:

88% of pupils gain 5 or more good GCSE grades at schools with average absence of 8 days or fewer per pupil. But only 26% at schools with average absence of more than 20 days per pupil; and

86% of pupils reach Key Stage 2 Level 4 Maths in schools where pupils average fewer than 8 days absence a year but this drops to 57% in schools where average absence is more than 15 days.

The 2004 Youth Crime Survey showed that 45% of young people in mainstream education who have committed an offence say they have played truant from school, compared with just 18% who have not committed an offence. It also showed that 62% of 10-16 year olds who have committed criminal or anti-social behaviour have also truanted.

Section 115 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 ensures that education authorities have a legal power to disclose information – such as the names of persistent truants - to the police officer/police community support officer for the purpose of a truancy sweep. The requirements of the Data Protection legislation need to be taken into account in exercising this power, and certain other requirements. The best way to ensure these requirements are satisfied is by using carefully drawn up protocols between the education authority and the police.

Where appropriate, EWOs, Connexions Personal Advisors, learning mentors and school pastoral staff should aim to work together to create an individual re-integration plan for each child picked up during a truancy sweep. Police officers/police community support officers have the power to return truants to their school or to a local authority designated place.

Schools using schemes like
www.teachers2parents.co.uk can provide much of the intelligence that is needed to make daily or frequent sweeps effective, for example, details of:

- regular non-attenders who are absent;
- pupils who are legitimately out of school; and
- dates of training days and other school closures.

Suresh Patel says, “Schools across the country using
www.teachers2parents.co.uk have seen a huge reduction in truancy.”

Seamus Ryan, principal of
Dunshaughlin Community College, a mixed school with 930 pupils has commented: “By installing Truancy Call we can manage absences more effectively and encourage parents to notify us about the whereabouts of their child. One of the real benefits of Truancy Call is that it alerts parents immediately, should their child be absent for any reason.”

Mr Ryan continued, “It gives parents the opportunity to inform the school directly of the reason for the absence and the likely duration, reducing the workload for teaching in collecting and recording absence notes.”

Using Truancy Call, the school carries out registration as normal each morning. Once finished, the system automatically calls, texts or emails parents until a response is received. Once a response is received and a voice message recorded no further calls are made, until the start of the next absence.

Using talk2me throughout the school as a regular online survey can enable the relevant staff and all parents to measure changes in social, emotional and behavioural development by pupil, class, and year group, under the headings of the ECM (Every Child Matters) agenda. If parents participate – and in future this should be possible with mobile phones or digital TV - facilitators or mentors can engage with individual pupils and families to enable them to discuss issues important to them, and to evaluate their progress during their time at school.

There is no single programme or intervention that will solve the problem of truancy. But several of these together will have a very significant impact on it. The knock on effects in terms of improved behaviour and better exam results can be considerable.

There's certainly been a dramatic improvement in exam results over a very short period (at Ladymead Community School in Taunton). Ladymead's head, Mark Trusson, ……. says: "Use of ICT and our school management systems combined (including Truancy Call) has been a powerful system for improving school performance, linked to teaching and learning. Our results (children gaining five As to Cs at GCSE) have improved from 54% in 2005 to 64% in 2006."

13 Aug 2007

Ofsted report on social, emotional and behavioural education

One finding from the Ofsted report [July 2007] was:

“Most schools reported that they did not have sufficiently detailed information at the beginning of the pilot. Schools expressed a wish to receive materials in electronic form, with hyperlinks to more detailed research about developing social, emotional and behavioural skills.”

Affintities is pleased to suggest teachers visit www.talk2me.org.uk where they will find a useful online programme for assessing individual pupil needs and for measuring progress by pupil, class and year group in social, emotional and behavioural skills.

An earlier report by Ofsted on Sex and Relationships Education [April 2002] recommended that pupils should be taught more about values, not just facts.

The Ofsted report Time for Change? on PSHE [April 2007] contained the following:

"At times, it is the school rather than the home that provides the moral code and, in its absence in the home, some children are put under additional pressures."

"Parents’ greatest challenge is to set clear expectations, and to be aware of and to accept responsibility for their children's behaviour. Some parents do not rise to this challenge."

"the ability to make moral judgements about what to do in actual situations and the potential to put these judgements into practice"

"Most of the schools in this survey ensure that their aims and values are well known to pupils and their parents, and that they are adhered to consistently. They will often refer to personal morality, the effects of actions and choices, and the nature of relationships concepts very relevant to SRE. However, some of the schools visited need to broaden their coverage of SRE and clarify what they mean by achievement in this area, so that it includes developing pupils' values and attitudes....."

"focusing on a pupil's individual needs and avoiding a one size fits all approach......... trying to bring together the work of mentors, counsellors and external support agencies with individual pupils and, if appropriate, with their families"

Now the Ofsted report “Developing social, emotional and behavioural skills in secondary schools” [July 2007] moves the debate on further. This report is based on visits to 11 schools selected from 54 in 5 local authorities that have adopted the Secondary National Strategy pilot programme for SEAL [Social and Emotional Learning]. There are some interesting findings:

The impact on pupils included:

“- more settled behaviour
- less demonstration of egocentric behaviour
- a greater willingness to persist with tasks they found difficult”

In one school, “Exclusions from the group dropped by 90% and relationships among pupils were improved greatly.”


“After five terms, the greatest impact in the schools was on teachers’ attitudes towards the idea of social, emotional and behavioural skills and their understanding of how to develop these skills systematically within subject lessons.”

“Some teachers initially showed resistance to the initiative: they expected an increase in workload or had reservations about the extent to which developing pupils’ social and emotional skills should be part of the teacher’s role.”

“…. schools found it difficult to analyse their pupils’ specific social, emotional and behavioural skills needs and struggled to find an appropriate starting point ……..”

“The programme for developing social, emotional and behavioural skills was introduced most successfully when senior leaders understood its underlying philosophy. Where this was not the case, it remained a ‘bolt-on’ to personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons or form tutor time and was largely ineffective.”

“Developing social, emotional and behavioural skills was most successful in schools with a strong and clearly articulated ethos. More than half the schools in this small social, emotional and behavioural skills survey found that it helped them to revisit their values and articulate them more clearly.”

“The pilot’s greatest impact was on developing teachers’ understanding of pupils’ emotional and social development.”

“Almost all the schools initially emphasised behaviour. Understanding how to develop pupils’ social and emotional skills, and the planning to do so, came later.”

“All the schools found it difficult to evaluate the impact of the work. Even where the work was successful, schools often found it difficult to disengage what had been achieved through the programme from other initiatives. Where the work had not been integrated with broader school improvements, its influence was negligible…….”

“The pilot was most effective when senior leaders made time for staff to discuss and reflect on their own social, emotional and behavioural skills. This was potentially contentious but, nonetheless, important.”

“… where the philosophy was not understood, social, emotional and behavioural skills work remained a ‘bolt-on’ to PSHE lessons or form tutor time, rather than being taught across the curriculum, and was largely ineffective.”

“Towards the end of the survey, schools were asked whether they planned to continue with social, emotional and behavioural skills work when the pilot finished. All but one intended to do so, and almost all had clear plans about the next steps. Even in the schools which implemented the programme most effectively, it was clear that social, emotional and behavioural skills development needed to be continued for a significant period of time before it would have an impact on pupils’ skills.”

“Evaluating success challenged even the most effective schools. Throughout the pilot, schools found it difficult to evaluate the impact of their work in developing social, emotional and behavioural skills and the guidance from the Secondary National Strategy was not clear or detailed enough about monitoring and evaluation.”

www.talk2me.org.uk enables schools to promote and evaluate changes in social, emotional and behavioural development and to engage with parents in improving their understanding of this important subject. Affinities welcomes the latest Ofsted report.

29 Jul 2007

Conservative peer moves to support well-being in the community

In a House of Lords debate on Wednesday, 25 July on the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, Lord Bruce-Lockhart proposed a new clause to allow local authorities to take full responsibility and have full powers for the issues of worklessness and welfare dependency.

“The amendment seeks to allow local authorities and their partners in the private, community, social enterprise and voluntary sectors to work together to tackle these all-important worklessness issues. They need to work together and harness the capacity within communities to support people through carefully supported steps and allow them to get back into employment, to have greater independence and more fulfilling lives. The amendment seeks to allow this to happen through community strategies.”

Baroness Andrews (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government) replied: “I hope the noble Lord will not be too disappointed when I say that, although I understand why he feels passionately and we share his commitment to reducing worklessness and creating opportunity, his chosen method is not easy for us to accept…… and we would not want to open up more opportunities for local authorities to spend randomly…… Along with the well-being power, opportunities have recently arisen for local government to use new powers. I do not think that this Bill is the right place to take forward major legislative changes in the way that the noble Lord suggests, although, as I said, I am sympathetic to his reason for wanting local authorities to be able to address these very stubborn and difficult problems locally.”

Lord Bruce-Lockhart responded: “I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. I am grateful that she shares my objectives and motives, and I hope that we can continue to discuss this matter. I was not sure that I agreed with her when she said that equity means that we have to have a national system. One problem with a national system is that it tends to be a Whitehall, one-size-fits-all, top-down system. We need systems to be locally tailored to local circumstances and to individual circumstances. I do not totally accept that this is just about being more ambitious with the power of well-being. In the United States, where individual states picked up President Clinton's very bold welfare reforms and were able to bring in their own powers, we could see that devolution made a real difference on the ground. As I said, I am grateful for the Minister's response and I hope that we can continue to discuss this issue.”

The Conservatives control the majority of local authorities in England. It is good to see a Conservative peer trying to influence the ways in which they tackle well-being in the community.

Earlier [11/7/07] Affinities welcomed the Conservative plan for an index of family and social cohesion from Iain Duncan Smith’s Social Justice Policy Group:

“A new statistical index of family and social cohesion ……. Such an index would make individual local authorities accountable for addressing family breakdown in their boroughs.”

The SJPG report pointed out: “In 1998, the government consultation paper Supporting Families proposed a range of measures to strengthen marriages and families (such as wider roles for registrars in the provision of marriage preparation and information) but nine years later, very little government policy is directly preventative of family breakdown and lone parent family formation has, over the last quarter century, consistently increased by 40,000 families per year.”

The report backs up the proposal for an index with an excellent idea for extending the role of the commissioner for parenting services:

“Robust local government support of relationship and parenting education - Just as local authorities must have a single commissioner responsible for assessing need and co-ordinating delivery of services to parents, a senior ‘champion’ should also be similarly responsible for relationship education (with the same degree of importance placed on that aspect of their role).”

With the index in place to measure the effectiveness of local authority performance, it would soon be possible to see which local authorities are being successful in improving family and social cohesion and outcomes for children.

It is sad that Baroness Andrews - for the government - could only respond feebly to Lord Bruce-Lockhart’s amendment with,
“we would not want to open up more opportunities for local authorities to spend randomly……. I do not think that this Bill is the right place to take forward major legislative changes in the way that the noble Lord suggests.”

18 Jun 2007

Unmarried parents - "Why can’t they be left alone?"

Labour’s chaotic approach to relationships for unmarried couples by John Elliott and Claire Newell in The Sunday Times 17th June 2007

"Last week Frank Field, the Labour MP and expert on welfare reform, produced a new analysis of how the [Labour] government’s complicated tax credits and benefits system affects different types of family.

Field found that the system “brutally discriminates against two-parent families”. Startlingly, Field showed that while a lone parent with two children has to work 16 hours a week on the minimum wage to earn £487, a couple with two children would have to slog away for 116 hours.

“I can’t believe the [Labour] government, when it set out, thought this would be the effect,” said Field, adding that there is now a “huge disincentive” for single parents to find another partner, because to do so would incur a large drop in income for both of them.

“There is also a disincentive for two-parent households to tell the truth,” said Field, noting that last year it had emerged that the [Labour] government was paying tax credits or welfare benefits to 2.1m lone parents – 200,000 more than its own official figures said exist. "

But what is really new about this? Lord Stoddart of Swindon, Independent Labour Peer, said about the Conservative Government in a debate on the Family Law Bill [11th January 1996]:

"The [Conservative] Government have been saying over a long period of time that they support the family and marriage, yet all their actions belie that claim. For example, the taxation system - on the pretext of achieving equalisation between the sexes - has progressively worked against marriage. Everyone in the House knows that that is true.

The freezing until the last Budget of the married man's allowance and reducing its value from 25 per cent. to 15 per cent., the refusal to allow the transfer of the personal tax allowances between spouses and from one working spouse to a non-working spouse - thus failing to assist those wives who wish to do so to remain at home and look after their children - has actually been destructive of the family.

My noble friend said that that argument is nonsense. Of course, it is not nonsense. A burden has been put on the family that almost forces both spouses to go out to work. It is a system designed to encourage women to go to work rather than remain at home and look after their own children.

Indeed, as we all know, the social security system itself favours the single parent in many ways, even to the extent that it is financially more favourable for fathers and mothers to live apart. No one can deny that that is happening under the present system.

The impression has been given to women that they do not need a stable relationship with the father of their children as the state will provide. That has all been done under this particular [Conservative] Government who say that they want to retain marriage as a strong institution.

Of course the impression has been given to fathers that they need not worry too much because the state will pick up the tabs.

The social consequences of the single parent family - poverty, crime, deprivation, lack of education and unemployment - are all evils which affect the children of single parent families along with the fiscal and social policies of the [Conservative] Government which have all exacerbated the problems."

Politicians across the political spectrum have been undermining the institution of marriage for a generation. What will make them stop doing this?

30 May 2007

"Tough [illegal] rules expose scale of bogus marriages"

by By Duncan Gardham in The Telegraph 16/05/05

"Since the Asylum and Immigration Act came into force in February [2005] the number of marriage applications at some offices has dropped by 60 per cent.

........ Mark Rimmer, the superintendent registrar at Brent, north-west London, who is on a Government working group, said: 'There has been a significant decrease throughout London.

"In Brent we have seen a huge decrease - 60 per cent in February and March. It is nothing short of remarkable. We had suspicions about roughly 20 per cent of marriages but we could only report them where we had concrete evidence. It now seems that figure was an underestimation.

"The decrease in applications has been significantly higher and that suggests, perhaps, that the estimate of bogus marriages was a gross underestimate."

.......... Karen Knapton, the general secretary of the Society of Registration Officers, said: "If people really want to get married they will persevere but the new regulations have highlighted the scale of bogus marriages. Register offices, especially in London, have been very quiet.

"We have been asking what nationality applicants are for two years but we have been aware that crime rings have been making a lot of money out of sham marriages.

"It has been no fun when we know people have been using marriage to get around immigration laws. It has made a mockery of our job."

Now [May 2007] that the Court of Appeal has held that the rules the Home Office brought in to stem the flow of bogus marriages are illegal, and the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill is proposing remedies for forced marriages, surely it is high time to take a holistic view marriage and of the plight of Registrars rather than just a piecemeal view relating to some minority groups?

Let us return to what Ruth Kelly said in 2002:

"In our White Paper, [Delivering Vital Change] the Government explained that the registration service is ideally placed to act as a focal point for information about services associated with births, deaths and marriages, such as ........ marriage preparation ...... I believe that there is a genuine opportunity for local authorities to develop those services innovatively to meet the needs of their communities, now and in future. A wider role for the registration service will improve on the current piecemeal approach by local authorities and will be underpinned by the proposed national standards."

Nobody needs to eat their words, just get on with Delivering Vital Change!

28 May 2007

"........ demand that the Conservatives introduce strong pro-family policies"

by Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail

"The problem for Cameron is this: there are much more important decisions coming up over the course of the next 12 months, and this week’s grammar school row simply opens the question whether he has the strength to push them through.

In December, Iain Duncan Smith’s Social Justice Commission is due to bring to a culmination two years’ dedicated work into the causes of crime in Britain.

It is likely that Duncan Smith (whose former lieutenant Tim Montgomerie has been a leading protagonist of the grammar school revolt) will identify family breakdown as the main cause of social collapse, and demand that the Conservatives introduce strong pro-family policies.

If so, David Cameron will be forced to choose between offending Conservative activists, and offending conventional opinion. If he fails to rally behind the traditional values of support for the family, he will face an internal row many times bigger than the one over grammar schools."

David Cameron has said the Conservatives must support marriage and the family, but - so far - there has been no sign through Conservative controlled local authorities that they are actually doing anything now specifically towards this.

The LGA [Local Government Association] has not been demanding that the ONS or its successor publish a Social Capital Index like the Retail Price Index, so that changes in social and domestic cohesion by neighbourhood can be measured by local community leaders and in order that local authorities can be ranked in terms of the improvements that are being made.

Shadow Conservative Ministers are not proposing amendments to the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill to promote healthy marriages and to prevent bogus marriages from taking place.

Thus far, action - or, rather, inaction - belies the words.

It is true that the Conservatives are hinting at tax breaks for married couples with families. But they have made such proposals before in the election manifesto only to drop them again before subsequent elections, so why should anyone believe them? When pro-family policies are being implemented by Conservative local authorities, the necessary credentials will start to emerge.

David Cameron is right to be talking about social responsibility, but he will only be believed when the Conservatives demonstrate that they want social and domestic cohesion to be measured, otherwise it is an empty phrase. People want to see where social capital is being built up and what programmes are helping to achieve it.

If the Conservatives don't want to measure social capital and aren't prepared to promote any programmes when the opportunities arise - such as by proposing amendments to the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill and the Statistics and Registration Service Bill - for improving marriage and family life, electors are going to remain sceptical about whether Conservative hearts are really in the issue and their stomachs ready for the fight.

Peter Oborne is correct in saying:

"If he [David Cameron] fails to rally behind the traditional values of support for the family, he will face an internal row many times bigger than the one over grammar schools."

26 May 2007

Rules to stop 'sham' marriages unlawful

By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor - Daily Telegraph

"Tough rules to stop illegal immigrants using sham marriages to get in to the country were declared unlawful by the Appeal Court yesterday. Judges said regulations brought in two years ago to block thousands of alleged ''marriages of convenience'' breached human rights laws............
The Appeal Court - upholding an earlier High Court ruling - said this was a "disproportionate interference'' in the human right to marry. Lord Justice Buxton said the scheme could only be lawful if it prevented sham marriages intended to improve the immigration status of one of the parties. "To be proportionate, a scheme must either properly investigate individual cases or at least show that it has come close to isolating cases that very likely fall into the target category,'' said Lord Buxton. "It must also show that the marriages targeted do indeed make substantial inroads into the enforcement of immigration control."

Much of the problem is caused the the Government's failure to adopt a holistic approach towards couple relationships. It presents a hostile attitude towards every aspect of marriage. Instead of trying to promote 'healthy marriages', like the Americans, the UK Government is trying merely to prevent bogus marriages, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy etc..

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill needs an amendment [see earlier posts]. Engaged couples should be invited by Registrars to complete an internationally approved programme of marriage preparation such as one of those that meet the criteria of the US government's Healthy Marriage Initiative. At least 2 are available in the UK.

The judges said the Home Office was within its rights to stop sham marriages but it would need to legislate in "a proportionate manner". They said that could mean properly investigating individual cases.

If a couple decline to participate in one of the approved marriage preparation programmes suggested by a Registrar or member of the clergy and the celebrant is suspicious the proposed marriage is bogus, he/she would be behaving in "a proportionate manner" in declining to marry the couple and in referring the matter to the Home Secretary.

21 May 2007

"The love of a good woman" - by Revd Dr Alan Billings

Thought for the Day, 21 May 2007 by Rev Dr Alan Billings

I recently visited a Young Offender Institution. I talked to older teenage lads about their life before custody, to which they would soon return. Even allowing for exaggeration, their stories were disturbing - families without fathers, abuse and violence, absences from school, gangs and drugs. I asked one of the prison officers - whose whole life had been in the Prison Service - what he thought was powerful enough to change the patterns of behaviour they described. His answer took me by surprise. I thought he might say, 'They need to learn basic educational and social skills', or, 'They need a job' - both of which are important. But, after pausing, he said, 'I only know two things that are that powerful: the love of a good woman and religion'. He had seen young men change because they wanted to keep the love of a girl who didn't want a boyfriend whose behaviour got him into trouble with the law. He had seen others change under the influence of a religious faith. I should add that he had no idea that I was a priest. Now, although I don't doubt the truth of what he said, it does present those who are concerned in any way with policy-making with a difficulty. There is no way that the Youth Justice Board or the Prison Service can supply either girlfriends or religion.

But the Youth Justice Board and the Prison Service - and schools and youth groups - can provide access to tools - like talk2me - together with mentors who can help young people make sensible choices. Those who do are more likely to attract "the love of a good woman " and in doing so they are also more likely to find "religion".

16 May 2007

Education: Community Cohesion - Schools told to bring parents together

Education: Community Cohesion - Schools told to bring parents together by Nancy Rowntree, 16 May 2007 in Children Now.

"Schools will need to work with parents to improve community cohesion under Government guidelines published last week.

Draft guidance on the new duty to promote community cohesion, which comes into force in September, outlines how schools must bring parents from different backgrounds together, as well as pupils.

The guidance says schools need to consider good partnership activities including "bringing parents from different backgrounds together through parenting and family support and community use of facilities for activities that take place out of school hours".......

Meanwhile parenting groups welcomed the proposals to get parents more involved. Jan Fry, deputy chief executive of Parentline Plus, welcomed the proposals to bring different communities together but said it must be done in a sensitive way. "I would hope that schools would partner with community groups in order to make it work," she said. "And schools taking this on by themselves is a huge responsibility, particularly if there is no extra funding for outreach work."

This is an opportunity for Community Family Trusts which are trying to build up local social capital to introduce schools to services that will help to develop social and domestic cohesion through parenting courses and assessment tools such as talk2me.

talk2me is a tool for measuring progress in social and emotional education in line with the Every Child Matters agenda which can also be used with parents.

27 Apr 2007

Why the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill should include a clause about marriage preparation

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill should include specific guidance towards marriage preparation and not rely upon the Secretary of State to publish it.

I am suggesting additional clauses should be added to section 2 of the draft Bill concerning 'guidance', which starts with 2 (a) the difference between arranged and forced marriage:

(e) the opportunities and advantages for the parties to participate together in a research-based educational programme of marriage preparation - including an assessment tool or pre-marital inventory that meets international standards.

(f) this programme is to assist them in preparing for a healthy marriage and to:
  1. confirm to the Registrar or deputy Registrar the voluntary nature of their commitment to the marriage, and
  2. protect themselves and each other against any possible accusations about the marriage being one that is forced or bogus.

(g) the advantage of obtaining a certificate from the facilitator of the programme of marriage preparation that they have satisfactorily completed both the educational programme and the inventory.

the purpose of the Bill is described as:

“Make provision for protecting individuals against being forced to enter into marriage without their free and full consent; and for connected purposes.”

In the SUMMARY OF CONSULTATION RESPONSES provided by the Odysseus Trust they refer to:

3.4 Any other changes

The consultation asked for suggestions about any other changes to the Bill. Respondents made various suggestions of other issues relevant to forced marriage, including:

• The need for increased resources to tackle the problem of forced marriage, including for community groups and the voluntary sector;
• The importance of tackling domestic violence, including forced marriage, in a comprehensive, holistic way;
• The need for greater understanding of the obligations of marriage and the voluntary nature of marriage;

Among the proposed amendments is:

63Q Guidance
(1) The Secretary of State may from time to time prepare and publish guidance to such descriptions of persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate about—
(a) the effect of this Part or any provision of this Part; or
(b) other matters relating to forced marriages.
(2) A person exercising public functions to whom guidance is given under this section must have regard to it in the exercise of those functions.

Based on what happened to the attempts to have provision for marriage preparation included in the Family Law Act of 1996, I doubt if anyone except a horse marine will believe people can rely upon the Secretary of State in any government getting around to giving guidance to persons exercising public functions concerning marriage.

As evidence for this view, in an earlier debate [4th November 2002] Ruth Kelly said:

"In our White Paper, [Delivering Vital Change] the Government explained that the registration service is ideally placed to act as a focal point for information about services associated with births, deaths and marriages, such as ........ marriage preparation ...... I believe that there is a genuine opportunity for local authorities to develop those services innovatively to meet the needs of their communities, now and in future. A wider role for the registration service will improve on the current piecemeal approach by local authorities and will be underpinned by the proposed national standards."

The Family Law Act was over ten years ago. ‘Delivering Vital Change’ was five years ago. The proposals “to develop …. services innovatively to meet the needs of their communities” - which were contained in a Regulatory Reform Order, not a Bill - eventually failed to come into effect. Have they now been dropped completely? It seems likely. Governments have no stomach for ‘delivering vital change’ in this field, even though they use words to indicate that is their intention.

My conclusion is the principle of guidance for marriage preparation needs to be in the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill and not left to future Secretaries of State to determine. There is another reason for this: how can a Registrar distinguish between a couple entering an arranged marriage from a forced one, unless the couple have undertaken a valid assessment with a suitable facilitator who is willing to sign a certificate that he/she believes the couple have completed the programme in good faith? If the authors of the Bill are really intent upon trying to prevent forced marriages – and not just provide remedies - they should be willing to accept my proposed amendments and Peers and MPs should support it. The Government is perfectly willing to adopt evaluation methods proved to work in other countries. They should follow the example of the Healthy Marriage Initiative in the US.

Social Capital Index - the case for a clause in the Statistics and Registration Service Bill

Social Capital is an unstoppable concept. David Cameron is instinctively in tune with electors in understanding that the highest aspirations of most people are for good relationships with family, friends, and neighbours; and if those aspirations are fulfilled - not merely they, but – the wider society benefits. Such people contribute – in many cases voluntarily and enjoyably – to a wide spectrum of good causes. It is in the interest of the State to foster the development of such social capital, and to do so without constantly trying to engineer outcomes.

Social capital is about networks. It is about connections between family members, friends, neighbours and community groups and institutions.

'Investing in each other and the community: the role of social capital', by Paul Haezewindt [Published in web format: 5 September 2006] from Social Trends, vol 33, pp 19-27. ISSN: 0306-7742 includes:

"Marital status and household type shows a significant relationship with a number of indicators of social capital. Married couples exhibited the highest levels of social capital. They were more likely to be trusting of their neighbours and enjoy high levels of reciprocity with them and were also most likely to have higher levels of social support. Eighty four per cent of married people had three or more people to turn to in a crisis. Divorced or separated people had the lowest level of social support, 72 per cent had three or more people to turn to. This group were also least likely to enjoy living in their local area. Single people were less likely to be civically engaged and be less neighbourly than other groups, but they were more likely to have satisfactory friendship networks. It should be noted, however, that marital status is strongly related to age. For example, 75 per cent of single men and women are aged between 16 and 34, while 84 per cent of married people are aged 35 or above 14. High proportions of lone parent households were likely to have both satisfactory friendship and relatives networks. Non-related households, such as people in flatshares, were least likely to know, trust and speak to neighbours, and low proportions also reported having a satisfactory relatives network...............

Few social capital indicators are found to have statistically significant relationships with factors such as income or employment status..............."

David Cameron is quite right to be upholding the institution of marriage. Given the facts about marital status and social capital, it is only sensible to measure changes in social capital by neighbourhood using the indicators available - such as neighbourhood statistics and indices, local authority best value performance indicators, and NHS Healthcare Commission performance ratings – and to provide an index of social and domestic cohesion by neighbourhood.

26 Apr 2007

Social Capital Index (SCI) compared with the Retail Prices Index (RPI)

"The Retail Prices Index (RPI) is the most familiar general purpose domestic measure of inflation in the United Kingdom. It is available continuously from June 1947. The Government uses it for uprating of pensions, benefits and index-linked gilts. It is commonly used in private contracts for uprating of maintenance payments and housing rents. It is also used for wage bargaining."

"The [Consumer Price Index] CPI is the main UK measure of inflation for macroeconomic purposes and forms the basis for the Government's inflation target. It is also used for international comparisons. The RPI is the most familiar domestic measure of inflation in the UK; its uses include indexation of pensions, state benefits and index-linked gilts. CPI and RPI both measure the average changes month-to-month in prices of consumer goods and services purchased in the UK, although there are differences in coverage and methodology.

The CPI contains price indices, percentage changes and weights for the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), Retail Prices Index (RPI) and the components that make up these indices. Internationally, the CPI is known as the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP), although the two indices remain one and the same."

There is no index of 'social capital' in the UK, but worldwide the literature on the subject is growing fast as people are becoming more aware of its significance.

The ONS provides 'Measurement of social capital in the UK 2005'. This paper presents the context for social capital measurement in the UK, the approach taken and international measurement issues. Author: Penny Babb.

"The rise in popularity of ‘social capital’ as a social concept in the late 1990s coincided with a new interest in evidence-based policy in the UK – drawing on social research to inform the nature, implementation and evaluation of policies. There was also a desire in Government to address social inequalities and social exclusion – looking for ways to reduce the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged, and meet the needs of the excluded members of UK society. This focus resulted in the development of community policies, to regenerate neighbourhoods and promote cohesive communities. The principal aim of the community policy is to:

'develop strong and active communities in which people of all races and backgrounds are valued and participate on equal terms…'

The OECD definition of social capital presented in The Well-Being of Nations describes it as:

'networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate cooperation within or among groups'

This embodies both networks and norms and so was adopted in the UK to form the basis of our data collection and analysis.

To measure social capital, we first needed to identify the key dimensions that underpin it. Five main aspects form the basis of the UK work:

  • civic participation – the propensity to vote, to take action on local or national issues
  • social networks and support – such as contact with friends and relatives
  • social participation – involvement in groups and voluntary activities
  • reciprocity and trust – which include giving and receiving favours, as well as trusting other people and institutions such as the government and the police
  • views about the area – although not strictly a measure of social capital, it is required for the analysis and interpretation of the social capital measures, and includes satisfaction with living in the area, problems in the area."

The ONS seems to be going down a route that requires the completion of questionnaires even though 'proxy' measures could be used. For example from the list above:

  1. 'problems in the area' could be represented by social statistics that are already available, such as truancy, ASBOs, etc..
  2. 'Social networks and support' and 'reciprocity and trust' could be represented by marital status, domestic violence figures, household size etc., data that is already available.

The RPI and SCI have in common a basket of components that are weighted. The added dimension of the SCI is that it applies to each neighbourhood, like the ONS Neighbourhood Statistics and indices. As a tool for decision makers the SCI could prove very useful to local people - community and faith leaders, parish councillors, school governors, GPs, health visitors etc.. The question is, "When will politicians recognise that these local leaders are much more likely to be able to address the problems in their area than occupants of the Westminster village?"

25 Apr 2007

Social Capital Index - Statistics and Registration Service Bill

In the debate on the Statistics and Registration Service Bill in the House of Lords yesterday the issue of social and domestic cohesion was raised:

Baroness Noakes: There is also the question of developing new statistics. For example, the social capital project has been drawn to our attention. Statistics which monitor social and domestic cohesion are much sought after by those active in this field — by which I mean active in helping to cure society’s ills with practical projects on the ground rather than developing policies. A lot of statistics and data are available, but they omit some important information on marriage breakdown and family status at a local level. Many groups think that this is particularly important, and the information has not yet been pulled together in the form of a social capital index, as has been suggested to us. I do not know why that has not been done, and I hope that the Minister can tell us why we have no social capital index or equivalent measure available at local level.

The board should have the needs of users at the heart of its work, and there should be full engagement with them.

This is splendid news!

Needless to say, however, the Minister declined to oblige Baroness Noakes with an answer to her question, "I hope that the Minister can tell us why we have no social capital index or equivalent measure available at local level."

So she tried again!

Baroness Noakes: Perhaps the Minister could answer my specific questions about a social capital index. I asked what was happening with the project on that and why we do not have a social capital index.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I hope that I can. That was one of the things that I said that we would take away and think about. The information that I have is that the ONS carries out work on social capital, and has done since 2001. The board’s powers, including, at Clause 18, that to produce statistics, would enable it to produce additional work on social capital if necessary. I am told by officials that we will write to the noble Baroness to explain more and to answer any specific points that she has.

Baroness Noakes: I am grateful that the Minister will write because people who we have been in touch with me are particularly concerned about that. I see that those in the Box are smiling. They will do the letter for the Minister; it is not a problem.

The Minister’s response was entirely predictable. Anything that these Benches suggest to improve the Bill and to keep the needs of persons such as users properly in view are regarded not as an improvement but as an unnecessary elaboration, or possibly even unhelpful. I will consider carefully what the Minister said. I look forward to the letter that his officials will draft for him on social capital and I will decide at that stage whether or not I shall return to this issue on Report.

Feisty lady!

24 Apr 2007

Social capital - more children in care, despite 'early intervention'

Children in care: Telford numbers rise despite use of early intervention by Sarah Cooper, 25 April 2007 [Children Now]

"Telford & Wrekin Council has seen a rise in the number of looked-after children on its books despite using early intervention.

The figures go against Government thinking spelled out in Every Child Matters that early intervention schemes would reduce the numbers of children in care. But professionals believe this does not mean the system is not working and instead say it is proving more efficient at helping families in need......."

"But Ian Johnston, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said he is not surprised the numbers of children in care have increased. "Government policy is too simplistic and one of the problems with political parties is they look for the quick fixes." [my italics]

"The rise in numbers was revealed at last week's Looked-After Children: Early intervention and specialist services conference run by Priory Education Services. Barbara Evans, head of safeguarding and corporate parenting at the council, said there were 198 looked-after children at the year ending 31 March 2006, while at 31 March 2007 there were 231."

The problem with evidence like this is that to be properly understood it needs to be put into context and studied over a suitable period of time, probably several years.

All the more reason, it seems to me, to keep pressing for a Social Capital Index of which the increase or decrease in children taken into care should be one component.

Social capital - 'social responsibility'

Today the House of Lords considers amendments in Committee to the Statistics and Registration Service Bill [see earlier posts]. It provides an opportunity to insert an amendment for a Social Capital Index, as there is a clause [19] already in the Bill for the RPI [Retail Price Index].

Writing in the Guardian [23rd April 2007] David Cameron says:

“Government can encourage social responsibility by building and strengthening the institutions of a responsible society. Supporting families - because a stable home life is the best way to ensure children grow up as responsible citizens. Transferring power to local and neighbourhood institutions (and finding ways to promote people's engagement in them) - because that will make people behave more responsibly. And we have to trust people more: whether that's professionals in public services or people who want to volunteer in their community.”

He must be right about this. David Cameron is talking about how we build social capital. Unfortunately he is not yet addressing the issue of how we measure social capital and changes in it by neighbourhood. One day he will have to do this if he wants to establish his credentials as a politician who is really concerned about marriage and family life. Fine words butter no parsnips. They prompt the question, "Why are the Conservatives so coy about tabling an amendment for a Social Capital Index?" Ultimately, people measure what they value.

Fortunately there is a groundswell of recognition of the need for measuring changes in social capital. An excellent web site for information about social capital measurement is published by Paul Bullen, an Australian.

He provides a link to Indicators of Social and Family Functioning by R Zubrick, AA Williams, SR Silburn, (TVW Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth,Western Australia) and G Vimpani (Child and Youth Health Network, University of Newcastle) May 2000.

The Executive Summary begins:

According to a ..... OECD Forum report (January, 1997):

‘pressures on social cohesion are likely to evolve over the next two decades as unemployment, earnings inequality, demographic shifts, technological progress, open trade, and greater competition in less constrained market places, continue to contribute to economic and social turbulence.’

"Australia is no less immune to these pressures, with a perceived decline in social cohesion which has placed stress on family and social functioning. Rapid economic and social change can manifest as serious problems in the developmental health and well-being of children, young people and their families. These problems include child abuse, early school failure, truancy, depression and suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, juvenile offending, violence, relationship and family breakdown."

It supports my contention that we need a Social Capital Index as much as the RPI in the Statistics and Registration Service Bill and that a major element of this SCI should be the factors relating to social and domestic cohesion.

The components [problems] listed above are very similar to those which I have proposed for the index, which is reassuring.

15 Apr 2007

PSHE and Social Capital - absence of a moral code in the home puts some children under additional pressures

The following are extracts from the Ofsted report 'Time for change? Personal, social and health education' [Published: April 2007 Reference no: 070049]:

"At times, it is the school rather than the home that provides the moral code and, in its absence in the home, some children are put under additional pressures."

"Parents greatest challenge is to set clear expectations, and to be aware of and to accept responsibility for their children's behaviour. Some parents do not rise to this challenge."

"the ability to make moral judgements about what to do in actual situations and the potential to put these judgements into practice"

"Most of the schools in this survey ensure that their aims and values are well known to pupils and their parents, and that they are adhered to consistently. They will often refer to personal morality, the effects of actions and choices, and the nature of relationships concepts very relevant to SRE. However, some of the schools visited need to broaden their coverage of SRE and clarify what they mean by achievement in this area, so that it includes developing pupils' values and attitudes....."

"focusing on a pupil's individual needs and avoiding a one size fits all approach......... trying to bring together the work of mentors, counsellors and external support agencies with individual pupils and, if appropriate, with their families"

Consistent adherence to the aims and values of the school, including a moral code, is a worthy outcome arising from good teaching of PSHE. But pupils must find the mixed messages they are hearing very confusing:

(1) On the one hand government ministers repeat the New Labour mantra "we shall not promote one type of family structure as opposed to another".

(2) On the other, schools are trying to promote "personal morality, the effects of actions and choices, and the nature of relationships concepts very relevant to SRE......." and are concerned with "developing pupils' values and attitudes....."

In fact 'family structure' is a garbled concept in 'government speak' as teenage motherhood is deprecated and the government even produces league tables showing which local authorities are best at reducing teenage pregnancy. To pretend its attitude to family structure is a neutral one is belied by its own policies.

What is baffling is why - if this sort of league table is a valid concept in improving this aspect in particular of social and domestic cohesion - there are not comprehensive neighbourhood statistics and a league table comprising an index of other aspects of social and domestic cohesion together with a social capital index?

One minister [Maria Neagle] who said "we shall not promote one type of family structure as opposed to another" went on to say, "We must deal with people and families as we find them, and we must try to ensure that whatever structure children are brought up in, they have the best possible chance in life. In 97 per cent. of cohabiting couples, the father registers the birth of the child with the mother. We should not be prescriptive about precisely what the best structure is."

This is disingenuous, as the break-up rate of couples who are unmarried at the time of the birth of their child is far greater and faster than that of couples who are married at the time of the birth.

"We should not be prescriptive about precisely what the best structure is" looks and sounds like an argument that the government is not concerned with the facts, is unwilling to study the research on family structure, and will suppress - whenever it can - the publication of statistics that are relevant.

Faced with such humbug, what chance have schools got in promoting a moral code when the government is effectively opposed to the very idea and is actively promoting 'diversity' at every opportunity ?

14 Apr 2007

PSHE and Social Capital - Ofsted says "schools are beginning to realise the inadequacy of much of their assessment"

Time for change? Personal, social and health education

Age group: 11-16
Published: April 2007
Reference no: 070049

This document may be reproduced in whole or in part for non-commercial educational purposes, provided that the information quoted is reproduced without adaptation and the source and date of publication are stated.

Alexandra House
33 Kingsway
London WC2B 6SE
No. 070049
T 08456 404040 Published
April 2007 © Crown Copyright 2007

Extracts from the report [my italics]:

It is important that sufficient time is allocated to PSHE and that good use is made of it. Too many schools do not base their PSHE curriculum sufficiently on the pupils' assessed needs. The area recruits few teachers with directly relevant qualifications to teach PSHE. Three quarters of secondary schools have developed specialist teams of teachers to teach it successfully. However, PSHE is taught by non-specialists in some schools and too much of this teaching is unsatisfactory. Assessment continues to be the weakest aspect of teaching.

Many schools focus narrowly on assessing pupils knowledge rather than determining the impact of their PSHE provision on improving pupils attitudes and skills...........

Schools have, therefore, become aware of the need to improve assessment and have drawn on advice from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). Even so, many schools do not know about this advice and have not yet taken steps to improve assessment..........

The revised standards for the National Healthy Schools Programme (NHSP) have raised senior leadership teams awareness of the importance of strong PSHE provision. The standards require participating schools, through a whole-school approach, to tackle the four themes of the programme:

healthy eating,
physical activity,
emotional health and

that lead to 'healthy school' status.......

Leadership and management of PSHE are good in nine in ten schools, although monitoring and evaluation remain the weakest aspects.........

Schools should:

• involve pupils in:

− considering how the PSHE curriculum might meet their needs best
− determining what the outcomes should be and how these should be achieved
− improve the assessment of pupils' progress in PSHE by evaluating changes in attitudes and the extent to which pupils are developing relevant skills

• report annually to the governing body on the monitoring and evaluation of PSHE

• improve the monitoring and evaluation of the quality of PSHE provision

• ensure that work at Key Stage 3 takes sufficient account of pupils' learning at Key Stage 2

• develop constructive links with a range of support services through drop-in centres or extended school provision, in order to respond appropriately to the personal needs of pupils and their families..........

At times, it is the school rather than the home that provides the moral code and, in its absence in the home, some children are put under additional pressures. In nearly all schools, the PSHE programme is the vehicle for tackling many of these pressures.............

23. Parents greatest challenge is to set clear expectations, and to be aware of and to accept responsibility for their children's behaviour. Some parents do not rise to this challenge. Pupils look to schools for help hence the importance of high quality PSHE.

27. If pupils are to be able to analyse, reflect on, discuss and argue constructively about issues in PSHE, they need to develop appropriate skills. In good provision, pupils showed:

• communication skills, such as putting forward a point of view and listening to others

• decision-making, so that they could make sensible choices based on relevant information

• the ability to make moral judgements about what to do in actual situations and the potential to put these judgements into practice

• interpersonal skills, so that they could manage relationships confidently and effectively

• assertiveness skills

• the ability to act responsibly as an individual and as a member of various groups.

40. Assessment continues to be the weakest aspect of PSHE teaching. It is sufficiently rigorous in only a minority of schools and unsatisfactory in half. One of the reasons for the lack of even simple assessment strategies is schools belief that pupils enjoyment of the subject is due, in part, to the absence of any assessment framework. This is misguided: teachers need to know if pupils have acquired the knowledge, understanding and skills they intended them to learn. In turn, this should influence planning to ensure that pupils continue to make progress.

41. Most schools focus narrowly only on pupils' progress in developing their subject knowledge and understanding. Relatively few schools attempt to assess changes in pupils' attitudes or their developing skills. Few schools have valid data which might be used to inform planning and, where the data are available, they are not used.

42. Good practice in assessing pupils. current knowledge includes using evidence from evaluations of teaching, assessment data, the outcomes of discussions with pupils, and behavioural surveys.

To improve assessment, schools should:

• make good use of the QCA's new assessment guidance and end of Key Stage statements for PSHE

• determine pupils' current knowledge and understanding before a new topic is taught

• plan assessment as a key element of teaching and learning

• involve pupils in assessing their own progress

• gather evidence on pupils' knowledge, understanding and skills

• challenge pupils' attitudes and raise their awareness of how their actions have an impact on themselves and others.

43. With its focus on pupils' outcomes, the new school inspection framework strengthens the role of PSHE. However, in trying to identify and evaluate outcomes, schools are beginning to realise the inadequacy of much of their assessment. New advice from the QCA is starting to have an impact, although not all schools are aware of it........

48. Planning for SRE also requires an understanding of young peoples' needs. Knowing about aspects of SRE does not, on its own, ensure a young persons personal safety and sexual health. Effective SRE should help pupils to develop the personal skills they will need if they are to establish and maintain relationships and make informed choices and decisions about their health and well-being.

49. An SRE programme is likely to be particularly effective if it enables pupils to:

• communicate a point of view clearly and appropriately, and listen to the views of others

• make sensible choices about what to do in particular situations

• manage relationships with friends confidently and effectively

• act responsibly as an individual and as a member of a group...........

51. Most of the schools in this survey ensure that their aims and values are well known to pupils and their parents, and that they are adhered to consistently. They will often refer to personal morality, the effects of actions and choices, and the nature of relationships concepts very relevant to SRE. However, some of the schools visited need to broaden their coverage of SRE and clarify what they mean by ahievement in this area, so that it includes developing pupils' values and attitudes............

55. Smooth transition is also hindered by inadequate assessment. In particular, work at Key Stage 3 takes insufficient account of pupils' prior learning and experiences at Key Stage 2. This mismatch is all the more stark because of recent changes to PSHE programmes in Key Stage 2.

56. Most PSHE lessons, through the inclusion of discussion and group work, give pupils opportunities to ask questions to clarify their understanding. However, such lessons cannot easily enable pupils to ask for more personal advice that they would not wish to discuss in front of their peers. Although most schools regard the class teacher/form tutor as the key adult to support individual pupils, some pupils find that they have better relationships with a subject teacher. Discussions with pupils during the inspections indicated that they would be reluctant to discuss some personal issues with any member of the teaching staff. This reluctance arises from their concerns about confidentiality and whether the teacher is able to advise them on more sensitive issues, such as sex and relationships.

57. To go some way towards resolving these concerns, successful schools have adopted approaches to support individual pupils which include:

• building pupils' confidence

• always taking seriously all issues raised by pupils

• handling information professionally and confidentially

• ensuring effective liaison with integrated support services

• focusing on a pupil's individual needs and avoiding a one size fits all approach

• trying to bring together the work of mentors, counsellors and external support agencies with individual pupils and, if appropriate, with their families

• not being afraid to admit failure with some pupils; there will be some whose complex needs cannot be met within a school.

63. Schools are required, through a whole-school approach, to deal with the four obligatory themes that make up the 'healthy school' status, to provide evidence against all criteria for each theme and to demonstrate outcomes that have made an impact on pupils' learning experiences and/or behaviour. The four themes are:

• PSHE (including sex and relationship education and drug education)

• healthy eating

• physical activity

• emotional health and well-being (including bullying).

64. With these developments in mind and the concerns about the time currently allocated to this aspect of the curriculum, the on-going QCA review of the curriculum is timely and will address the curricular content and how PSHE outcomes might be achieved. Many schools are already considering how PSHE might support the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda. Schools already recognise the importance of their PSHE programmes in either coordinating the contributions of different subjects or taking sole responsibility for dealing with the Every Child Matters agenda.

65. Care should be taken to ensure that the PSHE curriculum meets the needs of young people. Not all schools or national bodies establish effective ways to gather the views of pupils. Focus groups or school councils might help to shape wider discussions, although they should not be seen, necessarily, as representing the wider school population. The involvement of PSHE advisers and their local authorities would help to broaden consultation and secure access to the views of more young people, in that way helping to ensure that a future PSHE curriculum meets their needs successfully.

End of extracts.

This is a very useful report for all those interested in PSHE. I am pleased that talk2me addresses the issues raised by the report about weaknesses in the current practises of many schools, particularly "in trying to identify and evaluate outcomes, schools are beginning to realise the inadequacy of much of their assessment."

Future posts will explore specific aspects of the report.

31 Mar 2007

Child Poverty - "Aiming high", but mixed messages from HMG

Aiming high for children: supporting families [March 2007] is in many ways an admirable document, but it fails to address the issue of competing messages from popular culture, probably because HMG itself is guilty of promoting the most crucially damaging messages that now form part of the UK's popular culture.

2.61 Parents who want to teach their children right from wrong and standards of behaviour and how to exercise discipline and self control, can find themselves competing with popular culture which often seems to be sending out competing messages and which then reinforces all the peer pressure on their own children.

"Nothing wrong with that", is how most people will react.

And few will complain about:

2.54 Children’s outcomes are best when they grow up in a stable family structures with a positive relationship between parents. The quality of each parent’s relationship with the other is vital. Government wants to support stable relationships between parents. However, where relationships break down, the Government also wants to provide the necessary support to ensure children get the best start.

2.55 There is a high correlation between family breakdown and poor child outcomes. However, parental separation is not an isolated event, but a process that starts long before the actual separation and can continue to impact after the parents have parted. The evidence shows that parental conflict can also be very damaging to children’s outcomes, and that support offered to parents can be effective to help minimise such conflict.

But if HMG really wants to "provide the necessary support to ensure children get the best start" why is its new mantra 'prevention and early intervention' limited to children and not applied to the relationships of couples before they become parents, by promoting marriage preparation? It's Ok to teach children moral values, but perish the thought parents should be asked to consider them! This is typical of the mixed messages that HMG is sending out. No wonder children and young people are confused!

1.8 .......... • prevention: Preventing poor outcomes from arising in the first place benefits children, young people and families directly. In addition, failure to prevent problems impacts not only on the family but also society more widely, for example in lost economic contributions, poor health, and the effects of antisocial behaviour.

"Government wants to support stable relationships between parents". Really? So what has it done about it? It's just cut the MARS [Marriage and Relationship Support] grants - which in any case were miniscule - so the 'message' it is sending out is that it does not value marriage and stable couple relationships. The Weekly Update of UK Marriage News - No 7.11 18/3/07 from 2-in-2-1 puts it like this:

CYPF Grant analysis: We have now had a closer look at the list of funded organisations for this year’s CYPF grant and can confirm that none of the grants made this year is for work that can be categorised as “MARS”. This means that the funding is simply that announced last year – ie some £369K LESS than in 2005/6. The main loser is once again Relate which has seen its core funding cut from £2.1M two years ago to £1.2M this year with a further reduction of £200K already announced for next year. The total MARS funding is now down to £3.63M from the £5M three years ago – a 33% reduction in real terms, with a further 9% cut forecast for next year. We leave you to draw your own conclusions on where the whole area of Family Breakdown really sits on this current government’s agenda.

And HMG complains about "competing messages from popular culture"!

So much for its assertion that "the quality of each parent’s relationship with the other is vital."

Aiming high for children: supporting families claims it is 'building resilience':

1.13 The Government has sought to work with parents and communities to reduce key risks or negative influences on children’s lives, through the priority attached to eradicating child poverty.....

Who will be inclined to believe HMG is 'building resilience' - or seriously concerned with 'child poverty' - when it can't even mention 'marriage' in a document about supporting families, and is consistently reducing such small grants as it makes for marriage support?

30 Mar 2007

Child poverty - socialists on the back foot

The Guardian has reacted quickly to the news that 'child poverty' is actually getting worse now under New Labour.

"You can't talk about children's well-being unless you dare talk about the inequality of their life experience" [whatever that means], wails Polly Toynbee.

"Here is even worse news: inequality grew again and is now back up to the level when figures were first collated (the Gini coefficient) back in 1961. This looks grim; here was one solid rock on which Labour could stake its moral claims. That astonishing promise to abolish all child poverty by 2020 was Labour's trump card when it faces the sullen looks of its shrunken remaining troops. Whatever Cameron may pretend is his "aspiration" to keep lifting children out of poverty, if his plans don't add up he has been let off the hook for now....."

"Sure Start children's centres are the best hope of reaching every family to give every child a chance - but the 3,500 new centres are being rolled out without anything like the funds needed for intensive professional help. Everywhere, brilliant pilots and small schemes show what can be done: an opportunity tax should supply the funds to make them universal. None of that will happen unless voters will it. The child poverty target can't be hit by stealth."

All the more reason for the ONS to publish a Social Capital Index by neighbourhood so we can see what effect Sure Start's "brilliant pilots and small schemes" - and the programmes provided by other organisations - are having on social and domestic cohesion, as well as the effect they are having on the other indicators of deprivation.

But there is not a squeak so far from the Guardian about the need for a Social Capital Index so that the evaluations can be undertaken.

"Until now, the very word "inequality" has been banned from the political lexicon. But now the wealth gap is widening, Labour has to confront it. In the last decade every £100 increase in GDP growth has seen £40 go to the richest 10% of the people: the other 90% have had to share out the rest - and this pattern is accelerating. This argument hasn't yet been put, these facts are not out there in the political battleground, but here is prime territory for Labour to lay down a challenge" Polly Toynbee declares roundly.

Actually, the taboo is not "inequality" but "marriage", as most socialists can't seem to utter the word without choking on it.

"Sure Start children's centres are the best hope of reaching every family to give every child a chance" claims Polly Toynbee, as if it is an assertion that should go unchallenged. But surely "the best hope of reaching every family to give every child a chance" would occur if the fathers marry the childrens' mothers, love them, and remain married to them? Is that not something to be promoted?

"Gordon Brown yesterday admitted the government faced a big challenge to reach its key child poverty target but refused to pledge more money to address the problem" says Ashley Seager also in the Guardian.

"Giving testimony to parliament's Treasury select committee, the chancellor also faced accusations that last week's budget had left many poorer people worse off. The government was stung this week when its own figures showed that child poverty had increased for the first time in six years while overall poverty had risen for the first time under this government........... Figures out yesterday also showed take up of the pension credit had fallen last year."

"This is further proof that Gordon Brown's obsession with mass means-tested benefits is failing to help the most vulnerable people in our society," said Lib Dem work and pensions spokesman David Laws.

Meanwhile, in "The Politicizing of Poverty" Janice Shaw Crouse [27/3/07] is writing in the US:

"A headline about changing family structure wouldn't be effective, however, for two reasons. One, it would make reporters' eyes glaze over, and two, it does not lay the blame for increased poverty at the door of the current administration and its so-called "tax cuts for the rich." A third reason is that the problem relates to irresponsible sexual behavior. Much of the poverty problem is related to the growth of single-parent families, a fact that is recognized further down in the Brookings report in the following statement:

'Three of the most effective ways to reduce poverty are to increase work levels, reverse the growth of single-parent families, and improve educational outcomes.'

Note that even liberal social analysts must come to terms with the negative outcomes of dysfunctional sexual behavior. They try to formulate policy proposals to deal with the consequences of non-marital sex in terms compatible with their world view that sees social structures as the sources of problems and government programs as their solutions. So, they seek funding for yet another iteration of government programs rather than acknowledge the root moral-values issues, [my italics] which, to be fair, are the purview of today's religious leaders, many of whom have forsaken the true message of their calling.

We know, too, that ever-larger funding for education is not going to change the reality that children who grow up without a father present often turn a classroom into barely controlled chaos where learning is a very difficult proposition. But these realities have not yet penetrated the culture. The downward trend in the marriage rate among unmarried women age 15-44 continues. The marriage rate today is a little less than half of what it was in the mid-1960s. Also the unmarried birthrate of women 20 and older continues to rise year after year.

The charge has long been wielded that the rise in unwed birth rates was the consequence of poverty. Yet, with the advent of the abstinence movement, the rise of the unwed birthrate among American teens miraculously stopped climbing in the early 1990s after rising almost every year since WWII. The unwed teen birthrate has since declined by 25 percent. Funny, after listening to the left incessantly sing the song that youths could not control their raging hormones, yet another myth has been swept into the trash can..................

Sadly, it's not politically correct to focus on moral values and responsible sexual behavior but as the public relations folks at Brookings recognize, there is always a good market for yet another press release full of hopeful promises about governmental programs [my italics]."