How can we help children get the best start?

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Lord Northbourne, a crossbench peer, has tabled a debate in the House of Lords on good early parenting and its role in preparing a child for success at school.

The debate, on Thursday, is the first time the House of Lords and the BBC have run a pilot online initiative, asking for your views ahead of a debate in the Lords' chamber.

For the last 17 years, Lord Northbourne has spoken on children's and family issues in the Lords; and has chaired the Youth Department at Toynbee Hall, helping to run a summer programme for disadvantaged children from London's East End.

Here, Lord Northbourne explains why he considers the subject so important:

Lord Northbourne

"In our country today, most parents are doing a good job raising their children; but some need help.

"A small but significant minority of children are not getting the sort of early-childhood parenting they need.

"And so they go on to fail in school, disrupt the learning of others and pull down the standard of our school system.

"I was disappointed that the previous government's efforts to address these children's problems did not produce many of the results we had all hoped for. I became convinced that we must do more to address these children's needs earlier, from conception to five years old.

"There are two objectives which the current government shares with its predecessor: an improvement in educational outcomes in our schools and a reduction in inequality in our society.

"We can address both by paying closer attention to the first three years of our children's lives - and in particular, the lives of the most disadvantaged.

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I also hope the debate will lead the government to encourage the teaching of life-skills and parenting skills at all stages in school”

End Quote Lord Northbourne

"Recent reports by Frank Field MP and Graham Allen MP both confirmed what I had long suspected - that problems created in the first three years of a child's life cast a long and dark shadow over their future.

"That is why I think this debate is important.

"And I hope the debate convinces policy-makers of two things.

"First, to adopt Mr Field's proposal to add a third stage - the Foundation Years Stage - to the existing two stages of the education system.

"The second is that the government develops ways of measuring the factors which contribute to poverty and disadvantage, and those which impact positively on child development before the age of five.

"I also hope the debate will lead the government to encourage the teaching of life-skills and parenting skills at all stages in school, and that we place much greater emphasis on ante- and post-natal care and associated family support.

"Our objective must be to provide, in a non-intrusive way, better education, guidance and support for struggling and disadvantaged parents who are raising nought to three-year-olds.

"Only a serious focus on the foundation years will improve the education of our children and, therefore, reduce inequality."

The debate will be held in the House of Lords on Thursday 3 February. It can be watched on BBC Democracy Live.

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