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Better parenting is key to improvement

Thirty years ago, while studying sociology as part of a social science degree, I read The Home and the School in which JWB Douglas demonstrated unequivocally the relationship between these two agencies of socialisation.

Several studies have since demonstrated that "good parenting" (which can come in many shapes or forms) leads to easy adaptation and coping skills in the classroom and beyond.

The relationship between the parental model and the behaviour and attitudes of the child is also well documented. Anecdotally, this research evidence is borne out by the observations of many teachers and ex-teachers (including me), which is one of the reasons why many selective schools place a high premium on an interview with the parents.

Hilary Wilce's comments (Last Word, TES, October 13) need to be taken a great deal more seriously than such observations have been in the past.

There is little evidence that the work of Douglas and his colleagues has ever been taken as seriously as it should.

What this work demonstrates is that a national initiative on parenting in the early years would yield far greater returns, both social and educational, than any amount of expansion of nursery or higher education.

The only regular support that parents of babies and young children receive comes from health visitors.

This support, which is largely, although not entirely, concerned with the physical condition of the child, gradually disappears while the child is still a baby. Helpful groups such as Parent Network and Parentlink, presumably similar to the group attended by Ms Wilce in the United States, are private organisations, and, I suspect, are likely to be attended by those who are already well aware of the effect their parenting style could have.

Clearly, given what adults consider their "rights", any attempt to influence parenting styles would have to be dealt with incredible delicacy, an attribute not often apparent in politicians. Yet if social and educational problems are not properly tackled in the years before the child is five, pronouncements by politicians about improvements in standards of education and social behaviour will remain in their ancestral home - the realm of rhetoric.

JULIET SOLOMON 2 Elms Avenue London N10.

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