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Top marks for parent classes

Stigma stops more people learning behaviour management skills, report Michael Shaw and Joseph Lee

Parenting classes are having such positive effects on children's behaviour that every school should have a staff member who organises them, a new government study suggests.

A report by the London university's institute of education found that nearly all parents who attended programmes said they were useful. Eight out of 10 felt they had improved their child's behaviour.

The research, commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills, found that there were too few classes to meet the demand. It concluded that more of the classes should be held in schools and that a staff member should be assigned to take responsibility for "parenting issues".

Classes often focus on techniques parents can use to communicate with their children and deal calmly with them when they misbehave. The courses tended to attract mothers, many of whom commented that they wished their husbands would try the classes.

One mother quoted in the report said, after the first class: "I've had a very good week. I haven't shouted at all. I went into the garden on Friday and my neighbour thought I had been on holiday because it was so quiet."

The report said that while the classes seemed to lead to improved behaviour and attendance, they may not necessarily "alleviate problems located specifically in the school environment", such as a pupil's dislike of a subject or a breakdown in relationships with their teacher.

A separate report for the DfES by the Policy Research Bureau recommended that the Government should try to "normalise" programmes so that parents did not feel embarassed using them.

The report advised against fining parents who refused to attend the classes, an idea being considered by the Labour party.

"It is questionable whether punishing those who fail to benefit from parenting support with draconian sanctions is consistent with promoting better outcomes for their children," the report said.

The researchers found that parents with the most problematic children could not always be helped by the classes.

No l Jarvis, director of the New Learning Centre in north London, said she expected that all schools would have a staff member in charge of parenting skills within the next 10 years.

Debbie MacLeod, area manager of Parentline Plus in Gloucestershire, said that the classes' image would be significantly improved if a character on TV's EastEnders went on one as the perception that "if you go to parenting classes, your child is in trouble" needed to change.

Improving children's behaviour and attendance through the use of parenting programmes and "What works in parenting support?" are at www.dfes.gov.uk

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