Lord Northbourne (Crossbench)
“My Lords, I will speak briefly this afternoon about one very important aspect of employment: employability. Today too many of the nation’s young people are failing to develop, as they grow up, the social skills they will need. Those are the soft skills—self-confidence, social and interpersonal communication skills and character capabilities—which in today’s labour market are very important indeed. That the Government are proposing a new law to make emotional abuse of children a punishable offence is symptomatic of the problem which our society is experiencing as regards children growing up in the family.
I have a letter from Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, in which he says that it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of a child’s early years in setting the pattern of their education, achievement and success in later life. Of course, who looks after those children in their early years? In most cases it is their parents. So many of those parents who are emotionally damaging their child today are, unfortunately, themselves emotionally damaged; often they have been overwhelmed by drug or alcohol addiction, domestic violence or other emotional challenges, or by poverty or lack of hope. Many have themselves been abused as children, which is a major problem.
I suggest to the Government that another, perhaps more effective way of protecting children from emotional abuse might be to prepare their parents better, while they are still teenagers in school, for the parental responsibilities which may lie ahead of them. There is much evidence that, as they grow up, young people and teenagers are very keen to learn about what adult life means. That is the moment when we have to take advantage, to help them. Should we not be doing more to help those future parents during their teenage years in school to develop the self-confidence, the social and emotional skills and the character they will need as they grow up into adulthood, both in the workplace and as they become parents? Incidentally, those skills are essential for social mobility.
In many of the best secondary schools today these soft skills are being learnt through a wide variety of extracurricular activities such as team games, music and drama, adventure journeys, challenges such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, appropriate involvement in school discipline, debates, visits and guided reading. The best schools are doing these things already but too many schools are not, and the role of schools in preparing their pupils for the challenges of adult life is not clearly set down in law. Today secondary schools are required by law only to teach the national curriculum, which involves a small core of academic subjects, and to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils. Noble Lords will notice there is no mention of building pupils’ self-confidence, developing personal and social skills, or character development, yet these soft skills are the qualities and capabilities which are so important today, in the workplace and in raising a family.”
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