Five-a-day parenting solution urged

By Phil Scullion

The government should take a more active role in children's development via the launch of a "five-a-day" parenting campaign, a CentreForum report has urged.

Liberal thinktank CentreForum called on the government to use the already successful "five-a-day" concept for fruit and vegetables and apply it to parenting.

The five daily activities for parents would include praise, providing a nutritious diet, reading to their child for 15 minutes, ten minutes of play and 20 minutes of talking with the television off.

Chris Paterson, report author, pointed to "overwhelming evidence" that the best time to intervene is during the 'Foundation Years' of nought to five.

He said: "The single most important factor influencing a child's intellectual and social development is the quality of parenting and care they receive."

The report suggests that these are skills which can be learnt by parents, but warns against the stigma often attached to parenting classes.

It says that in the past governments have wanted to avoid acting like a nanny state, but that targeting support on parents from lower income backgrounds would help avoid issues of social mobility.

CentreForum's report comes in the wake of the explosive claim, made by former Labour welfare minister Frank Field last week, that many children do not even know their name by the age of five.

Baroness Joan Walmsley, Liberal Democrat education co-chair, said: "Parents are the most important influence in a child's early life. The experiences of children in their earliest years, good or bad, can shape the rest of their life.

"An overwhelming amount of research has stressed the importance of the first few years in a child's development and the effect these foundation years have on their chances later in life.

"Ensuring that parenting has the status and support it deserves is a key part in supporting a child's development and the Liberal Democrats will be working with the Liberal Democrat children's minister, Sarah Teather, to put this into practice."

However Philip Davies, Conservative MP, labelled the proposals "ridiculous".

He told the Daily Mail: "Anyone would think we have money to burn in this country. It's another well-meaning, but ill-thought-out, hare-brained scheme."

Chris McGovern, a former headteacher and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said to politics.co.uk that whilst he welcomed the "general thrust" of the report it was a "starvation diet".

"It is a step in the right direction but they've got a mountain to climb and they're only in the foothills," he said.

"If you look at their five suggestions they add up to 45 minutes. They say parents should talk with their child for 20 minutes a day with the television off – that's a starvation diet I have to say."

Mr McGovern said just 20 minutes a day was "ludicrous" and he warned that many parents would view this as the maximum, rather than the minimum.

An attitude of "we've done the 20 minutes now let's put the telly back on" will not help solve what is a "fundamental problem", he added.