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Helping Parents to Parent

Many parents need support to be the best parents and ensure their children have the best outcome, is the overall conclusion of our report, released today by the Social Mobility Commission.

The report analyses evidence from parenting programmes in the UK and around the world and examines how public policy can support parents, particularly in the early years. It argues parenting programmes and interventions should be available to all parents regardless of background. Such programmes can help to develop parental management skills and confidence, build healthy family relationships and enhance children’s social, behavioural and cognitive development and well-being, the report says. FK&Y’s Dr Barbie Clarke said, ‘We argue that every parent needs help at this challenging time of huge change. It’s back-up for all parents and early family support avoids creating problems for the future. Programmes need to be universal to reduce stigma and encourage parents to take part.’

‘We know early years is key. Our report looks at parental stress, mental health and how parents can create a home learning environment to benefit the child. We investigate social mobility and how supporting parents allows children to have the best possible outcomes throughout life.’ However, there is a lack of long-term research to assess the effects of interventions, Barbie explains. ‘There needs to be more longitudinal research on what are undoubtedly effective interventions to find out how they support children’s outcomes in the medium and long term.’

The most successful parenting interventions examined in the research include a focus on equipping parents with a greater understanding of child development (e.g. All Children in Focus in Sweden), developing parental confidence in their role as parents (e.g. Parents as Teachers in USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), or on providing assistance to parents to co-parent (whereby both parents become actively involved and cooperate in the child’s development and upbringing; e.g. Family Foundations in USA). Also successful are those that aim to reduce stress and tension within the family (e.g. Parenting Shops in Belgium).

For more information and discussion of the report, read the full report here, the SMC press release here and a review of the report in Nursery World here.

Nursery teachers’ qualifications have little impact on children’s learning

The London School of Economics along with University College London and Surrey University conducted a research study which revealed that the children’s learning and development was not significantly impacted upon by nursery teachers’ qualifications. The researchers evaluated data from the National Pupil Database and found that children’s learning only increased by a third of a point with graduate teachers. There was also no significant effect on children’s outcomes if they attended a nursery rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. Dr Jo Blanden, lead researcher of the study, stated that government’s efforts to improve teacher qualifications in order to improve children’s learning may not be particularly useful. Chief Executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance emphasized that voluntary nursery settings are not of a ‘lower quality’ only because they are less likely to employ graduate staff. This research contrasts with the findings of a study conducted by Save the Children in 2016 which claimed that nursery teachers must be qualified to improve children’s outcomes.

Schools to have cyber-security lessons

Schools in England will offer cyber-security training to pupils in an attempt to have more experts defending the country from cyber-attacks. In a five-year pilot beginning in September 2017, around 5,700 students aged 14 and over will spend nearly four hours a week gaining skills in cyber security including training in hacking. This comes at a time when foreign cyber attacks are considered a huge threat to national security and there is a shortage of recruits with the right skills for cyber defence. The cyber security lessons are sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and £20m funding will be provided to tailor lessons for pupils and fit them around the curriculum. Cyber security expert, Brian Lord, says that the scheme is an “essential initiative” to attract and recruit more people into the profession. Read more here.

Poll reveals half of British children ‘fear’ the Internet

A poll conducted by the cybersecurity company, Kaspersky Lab, to mark Safer Internet Day, reveals that almost half of the 1,000 pupils asked (aged 10-15) were scared or worried about going online. The poll questioned children about their attitudes towards using the Internet and nearly 49% were wary or concerned about strangers accessing their personal information or being asked to do something which they were not comfortable with. 1 in 10 children believed that deleting information did not ensure that strangers would not be able to access it and more than 36% surveyed said they had regretted posting online due to negative repercussions on someone else. Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, David Miles, said that we all must take responsibility to make certain that children are kept safe from online risks while simultaneously ensuring that children are also able to benefit from using the Internet.

Research suggests girls’ confidence declines by age six

A collaborative research study from Princeton University, New York University and the University of Illinois has presented findings which suggest that girls begin to lose confidence in their own abilities by the time they reach six years of age. The study which included 400 children found that as gender differences develop, confidence and faith in one’s own gender also diminishes. The study included an experiment whereby children were read a story about a very intelligent protagonist, they then had to choose from images of two men and two women, to identify who they thought the protagonist was. At the age of five, children were more inclined to pick their own gender but by the age of six, girls were more likely to pick the opposite sex, while boys continued to pick the male images at least 75% of the time. One of the researchers, Professor Cimpian, states that society’s stereotypes manifest themselves quite early in children’s lives and this can have an impact on life choices and trajectories.

Play and childhood development

Cambridge University, along the Lego Foundation of Denmark, is aiming to recruit a Lego Professor of Play to advance research on play and its role in childhood development. The professor will join the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning (PEDAL), a new research centre at Cambridge University. Bo Stjerne Thomsen, global head of research for the Lego Foundation, asserts that the hope is for the UK government to promote more playful learning in schools in order to foster creativity, problem-solving skills and innovation in individuals. Cambridge University states that the position for the Lego Professor will be filled by a candidate who is a specialist in education and can innovate creative methods of conducting research across a variety of disciplines linked to children’s development. Read more here.

‘The internet is not designed for children’ says UK Children’s Commissioner

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, presented a report which stated that the Internet is ‘not designed for children’ as they are unaware of the risks and do not know how to keep themselves safe. A study investigating whether teenagers understood Instagram’s terms and conditions revealed that none of the adolescents using Instagram clearly understood the terms. The terms and conditions were then simplified and some of the teenagers deleted the Instagram app from their phones while others realised the risks of sharing personal data online. Instagram’s head of policy stated that they ensure that users are able to understand information governing their policies and procedures. A spokesman from the government said that the UK was ahead of other countries in respect to internet safety but admitted that the risks presented in the report need to be considered as there is a lot about the internet that remains unknown. Read more here.

The Prince‘s Trust survey identifies youth anxieties

A survey of 2,215 16 to 25 year olds in the UK, carried out by YouGov for the Prince’s Trust Macquarie Youth Index, has found that political upheaval, job worries and low self-confidence have left young people anxious and daunted. 58% claimed that political events had made them fear for their futures, whilst 41% considered themselves more anxious than last year. Half of the young people asked perceived getting a job to be harder than a year ago, and 42% considered traditional goals like home ownership or a steady job to be unrealistic. Results showed the lowest levels of confidence and happiness seen among this age range in 8 years since the research began. The Prince’s Trust recently launched a strategy to embed mental health support into its employability and personal development programmes which will address these issues.

Gendered toys influence career choice

Research from the Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET) reveals that science themed toys with a focus on engineering, maths and technology are mostly targeted at boys while toys targeted at girls are mostly pink in colour. An analysis of search engines and online toy retailers found that a search for ‘girls’ toys’ led to results of which 89% were pink. A similar search for ‘boys’ toys’ led to more science and engineering related toys. According to the latest data, only 9% of women are part of the engineering work force in the UK. The IET claims that this is down to gender stereotyping which begins in early childhood and heavily influences career choices in adulthood. Mamta Singhal, a toy engineer, says she grew up playing with both girls’ and boys’ toys which included dolls as well as cars and building blocks. According to her the marketing of toys can be a good place to begin altering perceptions of gender in order to encourage girls from a young age to become interested in subjects like physics, maths and engineering. A spokesman from Let Toys be Toys, which campaigns against categorizing toys by gender, has said that many toy manufacturers had made great progress in reducing gender-based labels, and there has been an overall 70% drop in online search options based on gender since 2012.

Codebreaker school for gifted teenagers

A new sixth form college in Bletchley Park is to be opened to equip teenagers with the skills required to become codebreakers. The school aims to fill the gap currently not accounted for in Britain’s national security workforce. The boarding school, aptly called ‘The College of National Security’, will be open free of charge to nearly 500 of the most talented applicants and will teach skills including cyber skills, logical thinking and problem solving along with other subjects such as physics, maths and computer science. Alastair MacWillson, chair of Qufaro, the not-for-profit consortium of cybersecurity experts which is responsible for the initiative, considers a cyber threat to be the biggest national security challenge for Britain in the 21st century and estimates that currently there are only 700,000 cybersecurity experts in Europe. The ‘Internet Security Threat Report’ presented findings in 2016 which revealed that nearly 75% of online websites have serious issues around security and privacy. MacWillson is aiming to get state funding for the school from the Department for Education, but if that fails, the school will still be free of charge and will rely on funding from corporate sponsors instead. Read more here.

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