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2 May 2006 : Column 437WH—continued

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Social Behaviour Teaching

1.30 pm

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): Raising the issue of the teaching of social behaviour in primary schools is simply the most important thing that I can do as a Back-Bench MP for the future of my constituency. In November, I became chair of the local strategic partnership in Nottingham, which we have revived and relaunched as One Nottingham. Its mission is to tackle deprivation and inequality not by running after symptoms, but by prevention and early intervention. One Nottingham has three emblematic policies: to create a city strategy to bring people on incapacity benefit back into work; to co-ordinate activity on the 50 most difficult families in Nottingham; and, most importantly, to teach social behaviour to every primary school child in our city. We continue to develop that work and offer neighbourhood renewal funding in co-ordination with our partners, especially the local education authority, and with full support from Ministers responsible for schools, for which I am most grateful.

Why teach social behaviour in primary schools? Our white, working-class, outer-city former council estates are beset by the symptoms of educational failure, including petty criminality, antisocial behaviour, teenage pregnancy, low aspirations and low academic attainment. Eleven per cent. of kids going to secondary school cannot read the first lesson. We send fewer kids to university than any other constituency in the UK. All those symptoms can be tracked back to the inability to learn effectively because of poor social, emotional and communication skills. The teaching of social behaviour is designed to give youngsters at primary school the essential skills that we all take for granted, but in my constituency are not always taught by parents.

Ofsted inspection after Ofsted inspection reports that, despite high standards of teaching, leadership and environment in local primary schools, youngsters do not attain acceptable standards. The reports go on to state that many of those children arrive at school unable to complete a sentence and to recognise a letter or a number. In those circumstances, it is essential that the children are given the social toolkit to be able to learn, rather than being squeezed into a middle-England academic model, which dooms them at the age of five to a lifetime of failure. The Government are now helping us to address the causes of the problems, rather than the symptoms, which is most welcome. To drive ever harder on the consequences—be they child abuse or young people not obtaining five A to C grade GCSEs—without addressing the causes is no longer a sustainable or long-term strategy.

What is social behaviour? Essentially, learning social behaviour involves learning the skills necessary to progress at school and the ability to resolve arguments without violence, to empathise with classmates and to develop self-respect and mutual respect. It includes responsibility for and ownership of behaviour. Children need to understand that their actions have consequences for themselves and others. They need to learn techniques for solving day-to-day problems, particularly alternative courses of action to deal with provocative situations.
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Social behaviour means children valuing themselves and their achievements. Poor self-esteem is at the root of many conflict situations. If children have a belief in their own worth and potential, they are much more likely to value and respect others. Teaching social behaviour means growing the ability to understand, share and express feelings appropriately. Children with competent communication skills, who are effective listeners and who can co-operate and express feelings appropriately, are better equipped to manage in the classroom.

A social behaviour curriculum includes responsibility for and empathy towards others. It includes helping children to put themselves in another person's position, to see themselves as part of a group, to learn from others, to be receptive to others and their perceptions and to be tolerant of others' views. Social behaviour means being able to co-operate. I am talking about children being helped to acquire the skills that will help them to work with others not only at school but in their working life. It means being able to make and evaluate decisions—to reflect on decisions and their outcomes—and to analyse situations effectively.

Those attributes of emotional intelligence, which middle-class kids take for granted, are often absent in Nottingham, despite the excellent early years and children's centre work. Social behaviour is not a cuddly add-on to the so-called proper teaching of academic subjects; it is the prerequisite for that teaching and attainment. One head teacher told me this weekend that of a sample group of children who behaved badly in his school, only 4 per cent. attained age-appropriate academic standards when tested.

However, this issue is not only about education. With the respect agenda, we are beginning to understand that if the tackling of antisocial behaviour is to be effective, it must be complemented by the earliest possible promotion of social behaviour. Likewise, the objectives of our health and our skills partners in Nottingham—for example, on improving life expectancy and widening vocational training—will be met only by rounded, socially able young people who can break out of the inter-generational cycle that we are suffering.

I do not necessarily say that social behaviour has to be taught everywhere, but in areas such as mine—in areas that need and want this—we need to do for social behaviour what we have done so successfully for literacy and numeracy. I ask central and local government to reflect on what we can learn from that success. Standards in literacy and numeracy have been raised in—I have scribbled down eight key ways, but I am sure there are more.

First, standards in literacy and numeracy have been given a special place at the heart of the compulsory national curriculum. Targets for improvement have been set and rigorously monitored at national, local and school level. Secondly, head teachers have been trained in effective leadership and management of literacy and numeracy in their schools. Thirdly, schools have been held to account, through Ofsted inspections, for the quality of the literacy and numeracy teaching that they provide. Fourthly, local authorities have received high levels of funding to appoint literacy and numeracy consultants to provide training and support to schools. Fifthly, lead people in schools—literacy and numeracy
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co-ordinators—have been appointed. Sixthly, massive investments have been made in information and communications technology resources—for example, materials for use with interactive whiteboards—to teach literacy and numeracy. Seventhly, huge efforts have been made to involve parents, even those who are harder to reach, in supporting the teaching of numeracy and literacy in schools. Eighthly, schools are receiving large amounts of Government funding to provide additional one-to-one and group support for children who need extra help to catch up with their peers.

There must be investment in social education in the local education authority areas that need it that is comparable to the investment that we have made, wisely, in the teaching of mathematics and literacy. That investment must be made in supporting children who need help to catch up in social and emotional skills, in ICT, in school-based co-ordinators who are enabled to develop their own in-depth expertise through professional studies in social and emotional learning, and in intensive, funded support for the learning and skills council in order to enable schools to involve parents. I am referring to family social and emotional aspects of learning programmes to parallel the successful family literacy and numeracy programmes.

Some people worry that academic achievement will be squeezed out if school time is needed to teach social behaviour. The opposite is true. Once we equip young people to learn, the academic achievement in what are currently educational deserts will blossom beyond imagination. We need to stop swatting the mosquitoes and start draining the swamp. Since the last debate on this subject, which was three years ago, I have been reinforced in my belief in the value of social behaviour teaching. Everyone—Ministers, practitioners and local head teachers—is starting to realise that that early investment is essential if we are not to waste all these young people's lives and to incur the massive lifetime financial costs of failure.

I recently visited Sweden, which has had the stability necessary to develop the preventive policies required. The standard practice there is for one year's paternity and maternity leave to be followed by the child going into a nursery at the age of one so that their social skills are developed, enabling them to make the best of the academic curriculum, which does not begin to be taught until the age of seven. In Finland, which has the highest academic attainment in Europe, a similar concept of developing a rounded, properly socialised young person is central to its levels of achievement. The lesson is that personal development precedes and facilitates academic achievement.

In Nottingham, we have already started down the road of teaching social behaviour in every primary school. One third of primary schools in Nottingham took part in the social and emotional aspects of learning—SEAL—pilot, which ended in August 2005, and which we are now rolling out nationally. Already the LEA has agreed that it

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We are looking to go further. In my capacity as chair of One Nottingham, I am seeking to agree with our partners, including Department for Education and Skills officials, regional advisers and the local education authority, a series of further measures in a Nottingham pilot.

The Minister's colleague, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools, has already written to me stating:

The letter continued:

Discussions to make progress in that direction will continue, especially with the local education authority, and notably with Edwina Grant and Councillor Graham Chapman, the director and chair of the children and young people's department.

Ministers, the Department, Ofsted and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority have already done much to make it plain that such an approach by the LEA and heads will be supported. However, 20 years of indoctrination into a target-driven top-down culture cannot be undone overnight, whatever flexibilities are said to exist in the current system. Excellent people locally, such as those in the LEA and school heads, need to be clearly and constantly reassured that if they do what they know to be right in local circumstances they will not be penalised on inspection.

I emphasise again that this is not a soft option, but the solution to Nottingham's educational problems. Achievement in this area and the measurement of social behaviour attainment has to be at least as tough as it is in the case of literacy and numeracy, with clear and effective benchmarks demanded and consistent year-on-year improvement sustained.

We might also want to think about the messages given by current inconsistencies relating to what we expect schools to deliver in the curriculum. Personal, social and health education is not compulsory in the primary years. Citizenship is compulsory in secondary, but it is afforded little status and is in need of a radical review to bring in the explicit teaching of social and emotional skills. Might it not be time to look again at the curriculum to ensure that it is designed—like the literacy and numeracy curriculums—on the basis of a framework of social and emotional competencies, with a clear progression from zero to 19 to which all our children and young people are entitled?

Once we have established the teaching of social behaviour in primary schools in Nottingham it will be important to do something similar in secondary schools. The social and emotional skills covered there need to build on those developed in primary education and include relationship, family and parenting skills, pre-empting high teenage pregnancy rates and the 58 per
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cent. of Nottingham births that take place out of wedlock. That will allow us to complete the virtuous circle of effective intervention, not just at primary and pre-school levels, but at the pre-pregnancy stage by ensuring teenagers have a better understanding of how to raise a family, sustain viable relationships and help their children attain prior to school.

It is impossible to overestimate the positive impact that that will have, and not just on crude academic attainment, but on health, crime, skills, quality of life and personal relationships. Enabled youngsters will learn, attain and achieve, and pass on these gifts to their own children, thus busting out of the cycle of inter-generational failure. Not having the will to do it will trap families, and communities such as mine, into repeated failure, underachievement and waste with the accompanying symptoms of bad behaviour in school, antisocial activity on our streets, criminality, joblessness and drug abuse.

The partnership with One Nottingham, the LEA, Government, head teachers and others is addressing the need to teach social behaviour in our primary schools. We can pay lip service to it, or get on and do it. The choice rests with us.

1.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Maria Eagle) : May I begin by saying how much of a pleasure it is to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr.   Allen)? His remarks reflected the close and passionate interest he takes in the future well-being of children and families in his constituency. It is clear that he is closely engaged with some of the most difficult issues in his constituency. I congratulate him on his advocacy on behalf of his constituency this afternoon and I recognise that this issue has not just appeared on his horizon; he has been talking about it for some time. He has had a chance, therefore, to develop his opinions and ideas on the subject in a significant way during the past few years. I know that he has been tackling Ministers at various levels of the Government about this matter through every method known to the Back-Bench parliamentarian, and I congratulate him on his persistence.

I found it interesting to listen to my hon. Friend's list of things to do for One Nottingham, and I wish it every success in its three specific quests. If he manages all of that, I might come to him for advice on how to run a Whitehall Department. There is no doubt that focusing on important issues and tackling them with great gusto is one way of making organisations and partnerships work, and I wish him every success.

My hon. Friend is right to say that social behaviour teaching has a vital role to play in helping to equip children to behave well and to learn, enabling them to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them at school and helping them to realise their potential. If school is for anything, it is to help children realise their potential. The work also contributes directly to the "Every Child Matters" outcomes for children, which is why my Department is so interested in the subject.

My hon. Friend is right to say that, far from being some trendy or peripheral subject that might be thrown in if there is an extra bit of time in the day, such teaching
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relates to the hard-edged skills that our children need to thrive and that promote good social behaviour, such as anger management, conflict resolution and resilience. If children do not develop those social, emotional and behavioural skills, the real risk is that they will be more likely to disengage from learning, which can, as he described, lead to a downward spiral of poor behaviour and under-achievement.

Most parents, of course, go a long way towards teaching their children such skills, but it is undeniable that some children inevitably receive less support than others, and their development cannot be left to suffer as a result. All children, no matter how well their parents teach them, can benefit from the reinforcement of social behaviour learning in school. Teaching social behaviour needs to be central to children's education. The Government are committed to promoting social behaviour in primary schools. Investing early helps children develop the skills at a young age, and to continue to develop them as they move through primary school.

A key plank of the Department's national behaviour and attendance strategy is the social and emotional aspects of learning programme, to which my hon. Friend has referred, which I shall call SEAL. It is an annoying acronym, but it is quicker to say. The programme was made available to all primary schools in June last year. The five key social and emotional aspects of learning on which it focuses are self-awareness, managing feelings, motivation, empathy and social skills. They are the underpinning qualities and skills that help promote positive behaviour and effective learning. In fact, they underlie almost every aspect of our lives, enabling children to get on with others and become responsible citizens. We are committed to ensuring that the programme is properly taught.

The SEAL programme provides an explicit, structured, whole-curriculum framework and resource for teaching social, emotional and behavioural skills to all pupils. It also provides for the progressive teaching of age-appropriate skills development from the foundation stage to year 6, and I welcome my hon. Friend's support for it.

To be fully effective, heads and other school staff must feel some real commitment to the work. It follows that the programme is better if it is voluntary, and individual schools should be able to determine the best way of taking the work forward. They are best placed to assess the needs of their pupils and school, and how to make best use of the SEAL resource. Most schools undertake related work, and SEAL builds on the good work that is already present. Teachers report that it can be readily adapted to fit existing work and the unique character of a school.

We do not expect work on SEAL to be confined to a particular time in the school day, although there is no reason why a school should not include a dedicated SEAL period in its programme if it wishes. However, SEAL needs to infuse the whole school and the curriculum. There are ideas and materials for promoting skills across the curriculum through existing work, so schools do not need to devote significant amounts of extra time to SEAL work; it can be threaded through the school day.
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As my hon. Friend said, SEAL also makes a helpful contribution to the delivery of aspects of PSHE and citizenship. Evidence from primary schools shows that the non-statutory framework provides a good basis to deliver effective programmes of citizenship and PSHE. I recognise that there are arguments for including PSHE in the compulsory part of the curriculum, but there is no evidence that it does not work when delivered properly and voluntarily.

I am pleased to say that the evaluation of the SEAL pilot programme carried out by London university's Institute of Education was positive. SEAL had a major impact on the development of children's social, emotional and behavioural skills, as my hon. Friend argued in his speech it would. Teachers reported that it created a calmer environment in the classroom, contributing to improvements in learning and attainment. Again, my hon. Friend suggested that such teaching would do so. In key stage 2 national test scores, schools implementing SEAL and other aspects of the primary behaviour and attendance pilot made consistent improvements across all subjects from 2003 to 2005. They were above the national average for maintained primary schools. There is some evidence in the evaluation that the programme can make the sort of impact that my hon. Friend suggested.

The Department's standards fund is providing just over £7 million to help schools and local authorities implement SEAL in the current school year. The aim is for about one third of primary schools to be implementing some or all aspects of SEAL by July. The programme is on target, and interest in schools is high and positive. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that a similar sum has been allocated for next year to continue the SEAL roll-out. A key principle is to support schools to develop experience and expertise in this area of learning, and to encourage them to share it with others to promote the national roll-out.

In that regard I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend said about Nottingham, his constituency and council. I am pleased to hear about the commitment in Nottingham to teach social behaviour in primary schools, as is my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools. My hon. Friend quoted from a letter that she has written to him on the subject. She takes a particular interest in the subject, and she is absent today only because of other duties.

I am also pleased to hear about the strategic approach that my hon. Friend is promoting and that the local authority and local partners are taking. I understand that Nottingham has been involved with the development of SEAL for some time, originally volunteering to join the pilot, which always shows good spirit. It is well placed to implement the programme throughout the local authority. I am pleased about the enthusiasm for it in Nottingham, and I am pleased to hear that many schools are adopting it and others plan to do so in the next school year.

My hon. Friend in his various capacities has had discussions with Nottingham about testing out approaches to strengthening the impact of SEAL locally. From his remarks, he clearly believes that that is the way forward in his area. I understood what he said about the particularly great need in his part of the world to teach social behaviour. I understand that Nottingham city council is to develop leading primary
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schools so that they become specialist centres of excellence for programme implementation and coaching. There will be a high skills capacity among staff using the SEAL resource, and they will then help support the development of school staff and other children's services professionals in the area. It is a commendable and positive way forward.

Schools already have sufficient freedoms in place to devote more time to SEAL if they wish. However, using the power to innovate would provide reassurance and certainty for heads. The Department is ready to advise about that. We will watch closely what Nottingham does, looking with interest at the pilot that my hon. Friend and other local partners, including the local authority, develop in order to take SEAL forward.

I agree with my hon. Friend that we should not confine our attention to primary schools.

Mr. Allen : One additional factor that we can bring to the party is the involvement of One Nottingham. It has some neighbourhood renewal funding, which could be used to match funding when the Department and the local education authority deem it appropriate.

Maria Eagle : That is interesting. It is important to allow local leeway, because every area is different. Different resources might be brought to bear on the programme from place to place. Some areas will not focus on it in the way in which One Nottingham has decided it ought to do so. I welcome that, and I am happy that the Department and my officials keep in touch with my hon. Friend and local partners about how best to take the programme forward.

We should not confine our attention to primary schools. They are a good place to start, but my hon. Friend is right that these things do not stop at aged 10, and we can all learn more as we get older. That is why a pilot is under way in six local authorities to help establish what works best in promoting social,
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emotional and behavioural skills in secondary schools. SEAL and the secondary pilot are part of a wider national programme to improve behaviour in schools. In the most recent Department stakeholder survey, three quarters of teachers said that pupil behaviour is generally good. However, any level of bad behaviour is too high, and it can disrupt disproportionately the school and class in which it takes place. That is why such a programme is needed. It has three main strands: developing children's social, emotional and behavioural skills, strengthening the capacity of schools to manage behaviour, and reinforcing parental responsibilities for their children's behaviour. We must not forget the parents; of course they have a role to play.

To strengthen capacity, all schools now have access to    high-quality materials for behaviour management auditing and training, and helpful support from more than 200 Department-funded behaviour and attendance consultants working in local authorities. In addition, the Education and Inspections Bill going through Parliament will give school staff an unequivocal statutory right to discipline pupils for bad behaviour.

Parents are the key to building a culture of respect in schools. They have the single biggest influence on their children. My hon. Friend may know that the SEAL programme includes work with parents. It provides ideas for fun and engaging activities that children can take home and play with their families, so that they can share with them SEAL learning and every theme of the programme. It is important that we also teach some of those skills to parents who perhaps missed out during their childhood.

I hope that between us we can provide a better environment in which children can learn to learn. I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the debate, and I wish him luck with One Nottingham and the local authority.

Question put and agreed to.

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