Instructing us all to play happy families

Parents of primary school children are being offered lessons to help them create the perfect Oxo family. This week, 11 West Sussex primaries took part in Smile week, during which they were encouraged to eat a meal together as a family and chat about their day.

With help from an in-school reading cafe, parents were taught techniques for reading with their children. Classes advising parents and offspring against drug use and on the benefits of healthy eating were also a feature.

Catherine Walker, head of St Peter's primary, in Shoreham, West Sussex, said: "Most parents are very busy. But we want families to enjoy activities together. We want it to be like the Oxo advert."

The week's title is an acronym of the activities that parents can do with their children: S is for spending quality time together; M for eating meals as a family; L for listening to them; and E for involvement in their education. I, more tenuously, is for inclusion, and meeting the needs of all parents.

Last year, the Government unveiled plans to appoint a network of parenting experts around the country. Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, also proposed a national academy for parenting.

But Sarah Searle-Barnes, head of Shoreham Beach, another Smile week primary, denied she was teaching parents how to do their job. "You have to be careful not to be patronising," she said. "Most parents are doing their best. But I don't think any school is immune from the pressures of modern society. There are one-parent families, and families where both parents are working to meet mortgages. We're just opening a discussion."

Ms Walker said: "I wouldn't dream of telling parents what to do. We're alerting them to the fact that, if they can eat or read together this week, why not every week?"

Carol Antonini, mother of nine-year-old Pia, did not object. "It's not about being told how to parent," she said. "It's about taking time out from our busy lives, and remembering that we're a family."

Pia added: "With friends, I talk about fun stuff. Parents ask how your day's been. But I like having time to do things with them."

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Adi Bloom

I am one of the reporters at the TES, specialising in educational research, eating disorders, sex education, gender issues and, worryingly, teachers who appear on reality TV.