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Beware the "nursery rhyme" police!!


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The nursery rhyme police - parents to take lessons in reading and singing


By STEVE DOUGHTY and JAMES MILLS Last updated at 23:17pm on 13th November 2006


Parents could be forced to go to special classes to learn to sing their children nursery rhymes, a minister said.

Those who fail to read stories or sing to their youngsters threaten their children's future and the state must put them right, Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said.

Their children's well-being is at risk 'unless we act', she declared.

And Mrs Hughes said the state would train a new 'parenting workforce' to ensure parents who fail to do their duty with nursery rhymes are found and 'supported'.

The call for state intervention in the minute details of family life followed a series of Labour efforts to reduce anti-social behaviour and improve educational standards by imposing rigorous controls on the lives of the youngest children.

Mrs Hughes has established a national curriculum to set down how babies are taught to speak in childcare from the age of three months.

Her efforts have gone alongside a push by other ministers to determine exactly how parents treat their children down to how they should brush their teeth.

Tony Blair has backed the idea of 'fasbos' - efforts to identify and correct the lives of children who are likely to fail even before they are born - and new laws to compel parents to attend parenting classes are on the way.

This autumn is likely to see an extension of parenting orders that can force parents to attend parenting classes so that they can be used on the say so of local councils against parents.

For the first time, parenting orders are likely to be directed against parents whose children have committed no criminal offence.

The threat of action against parents who fail to sing nursery rhymes was unveiled by Mrs Hughes as she gave the first details of Mr Blair's 'national parenting academy', a body that will train teachers, psychologists and social workers to intervene in the lives of families and become the 'parenting workforce'.

Mrs Hughes said that it was necessary for children to develop 'emotional intelligence and flexibility, and to have good problem-solving and interpersonal skills too.'

She added: 'These attitudes start with good family experiences, in the home, with strong, loving, aspirational parents. So supporting parents and providing good early years education can pay dividends here.'

Mrs Hughes said: 'It is now clear that what parents actually do has a huge impact on children's well-being and capacity to succeed, both at the time and in future.

'Some parents already know that reading and singing nursery rhymes with their young children will get them off to a flying start - often because this is how they themselves were brought up.

'For other parents without this inheritance these simple techniques are a mystery and are likely to remain so - unless we act and draw them to their attention.'

She added: 'If friendly and skilful early years practitioners work in partnership with disadvantaged parents, as co-educators of their children, these gaps in children's development and achievement can be narrowed.'

The National Academy for Parenting Practitioner, Mrs Hughes said, would operate from next autumn to train a parenting workforce and 'support the Government's parenting agenda as it develops'.

She did not mention any figures for the cost of the scheme.

Mrs Hughes condemned the way governments before 1997 thought they had no role in the upbringing of children, which it 'regarded as the entirely private arrangements families make.'

She praised the Government's record of pouring billions into state benefits for single parents, into providing subsidies for childcare, into pushing mothers into work, and into the 'Sure Start' children's centres.

'Over the past 10 years what I have described is, I believe, an example of the enabling 21st century state in action,' Mrs Hughes said. Without Labour's policies, she said, 'we would be on the road to ruin, that is back to where we were 10 years ago.'

Mrs Hughes did not refer to independent reports on the success of Sure Start commissioned by Whitehall which say that despite £20 billion of planned spending it has been a failure in helping the most deprived children who are its target.

Critics of Government family policies condemned the 'nursery rhyme' intervention plan as intrusive and arrogant yesterday.

Jill Kirby of the centre right think tank Centre for Policy Studies said: 'This is the micro-management of family life.

'They have told us the books that our children should read and how to brush their teeth. Now they tell us what we should sing to them.

'This is what happens when a government has failed to do anything at all about the real problems of family breakdown, fatherless families and neglect of children. It is setting about wasting its time and our money.'

Anastasia de Waal of the Civitas civic values study group said: 'The problem in the real world is not that people are bad parents but that they are not parenting at all. We know that some children hardly see their parents and many don't have two parents at all.

'This is just one more worthless scheme that will have no impact at all on children's lives.'

New powers for councils to impose parenting orders are expected to be announced in the Queen's Speech tomorrow.

Part of Mr Blair's 'Respect Agenda', they extend current powers for courts to instruct parents of children who commit crimes to attend parenting classes.

Mrs Hughes' parenting workforce will include local council social workers who are likely to have the new powers.

Her speech to the National Family and Parenting Institute - an organisation set up by Labour eight years ago to further its family agenda - ignored the question of two-parent families which has begun feature in left-wing debate.

Mr Blair's Government has long declared that all families are equal. However, in recent weeks Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton has acknowledged that children with two natural

Last week the Blairite think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, also acknowledged that children brought up by single parents are more likely to end up without jobs and on state benefits.

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