The debate formed part of an online initiative between the House of Lords and the BBC that aimed to provide new ways for people to voice their views, speak directly to Members of the Lords and contribute to debate in the House of Lords debate.
The Bishop of Oxford
A good quality adult relationship surrounding a child is of vital importance and the family structure needed supporting as well as the child, the Lord Bishop of Oxford said. The Church of England had always emphasised that children flourish best in the context of stable, loving, couple-relationships: ‘One of society's tasks is to support those relationships as strongly as possible-in particular, that fantastic responsibility and privilege of guiding a small life into the wider world. There is just as great a responsibility, of course, to support single parents who may have an even harder struggle, but evidence suggests time and again, that stable, loving, couple-relationships help children to thrive best of all. Relationship support pays off a hundredfold.’
Commending the ‘huge pool of volunteers who, with a little funding, can make all the difference to a child's life chances,’ the Bishop of Oxford called for volunteers to be supported and a commitment to the continuity of their work: ‘There are volunteers to train, alliances to form, partnerships to develop, all of which are doubtless grist to the mill of the big society, but they all need continuity, not the start-stop of constant new initiatives when start-up funding quickly peters out. The work of Sure Start projects, for instance, is beginning to bear real fruit and needs continuity.’
Baroness Stowell of Beeston
Baroness Stowell of Beeston called for ambition to be encouraged and opportunities to be created for people from backgrounds similar to hers. She had been ‘fortunate enough’ to have benefited from ‘what is termed’ social mobility, despite not having attended university. ‘The reason that I have none the less achieved considerable success professionally is, I believe, the parenting that I received from my mother and father, a factory worker and a painter and decorator, who encouraged us to be independent, confident and, above else, to seize opportunities that would allow us to succeed,’ she said.
Because of her experiences it did not surprise Baroness Stowell that MP Frank Field’s report, ‘The Foundation Years: preventing poor adults becoming poor children’ found that the wealth and academic ability of parents were not more important than their aspirations for their children, if those aspirations are maintained, she said. ‘That is the rub. The report shows that parents, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, start with high aspirations but end up with low expectations of what their children will achieve. Parents from backgrounds similar to mine are not aspiring for their children as they get older because they cannot see enough opportunities and because they do not know how their children can achieve success. In my view, addressing that disparity is our biggest challenge and should be one of our priorities.’
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Early learning and the role of parents are key, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said in his maiden speech. Parents are the earliest role model a child associates with and ‘their parents may count among the most powerful and inspiring figures in their life.’
As a governor of a primary school he has seen at first hand the importance of integrating parents into the child's learning: ‘Not just at school, but during the preamble to school. This had the benefit of allowing the child to be eased into a new environment and for parents to understand the nature of a child's development.’
Early learning is not limited to educational attainment alone, Lord Ahmad continued. His reflection on ‘ that emotional bedrock and the social importance of developing social and emotional skills’ was ‘as a beneficiary of parents who, despite the challenges that they faced, spent a great deal of time and took a deep interest in developing my skills during those early years,’ he said. ‘They are two individuals whose encouragement, support and affection were unlimited and unconditional.’
The term ‘maiden speech’ refers to the first time a new Member gives a speech in the House of the Lords. A maiden speech usually takes place during a general debate and is uncontroversial.
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