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Parenting should be taught to children

Schools should teach all children parenting and relationship skills, according to a report for the think tank Demos by Ed Straw, the Home Secretary's brother.

Mr Straw, who chairs the trustees of Relate, (formerly the Marriage Guidance Council), says the fall-out from broken homes costs the taxpayer pound;4 billion a year yet Government spends less than a thousandth of this sum on prevention.

Our collective knowledge of relationships and parenting is as rudimentary as our medical expertise was in the last century, says Mr Straw. For instance, divorce is seen as a solution to a relationship problem rather than an exchange of one set of problems for another. Also, there is a widespread belief that success in marriage or other long-term adult relationships depends on romantic love rather than on careful work, understanding and self-awareness.

He proposes an ambitious programme of education to challenge such cultural norms. Teachers should receive special training and all children should have courses in parenting and relationships before they leave school.

Two hours of relationship and parenting education could be incorporated into television schedules each week, he says, and soap operas could include not only domestic crises but also positive examples of families successfully working through their problems.

Mr Straw also wants to see the sentences for violent or neglectful parents include programmes of counselling or family therapy.

The school curriculum needs a major rebalancing, he argues. "Schools spend virtually all their time with pupils on subject learning and very little on learning how to learn, learning to manage work and finances, and learning to relate to others." Teaching pupils how to learn and to understand relationships would mean they would learn subjects more quickly and effectively and become more effective employees.

Relative Values by Ed Straw is available for pound;4.95 plus 60p pamp;p from Demos on 0171 353 4479.

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