Thanks very much. It’s great to be here at CityFathers and CityMothers - CityParents.
And I’m very impressed by the rate of growth in your organisation since last year.
As we all know, parenting is one of the most important jobs any of us will ever do.
And not just for mothers - it’s a job for both parents.
Apart from actually giving birth - which women haven’t yet managed to delegate, despite Arnold Schwarzenegger films suggesting otherwise - fathers face just the same challenges and dilemmas as mothers, and it’s very important for both parents to be involved in their children’s lives.
In defence of parents
Sometimes it feels as though the whole issue of parenthood has never been more fraught.
The debate swings between blaming parents for all society’s problems - for being too focused on their own careers and neglecting their children, letting them run riot and play computer games late into the night.
Or it blames them for being too obsessed with their own offspring - painting an unfair and untrue picture of entitled mums and dads ramming their Bugaboos into pedestrians, clogging up the streets on the school run and hogging all the best spaces in supermarket car parks.
The reality - of course - is that neither of these gargoyle stereotypes is true.
In fact parents today are working harder than ever, spending more time with their children than ever, and worrying more and more about how to help their child succeed.
Across the developed world, the trend is increasingly for dual-income families. Sixty per cent of families in the OECD have 2 parents in work - and about two-thirds of mothers in the UK are in paid employment.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not working hard at home as well. This generation of working parents with young children spends more time on childcare than stay-at-home parents did in the 1970s. And stay-at-home parents are devoting more time to their children.
According to the Multinational Time Use Study in 2005, employed women spent an average of 97 minutes per day with their children below the age of 4 - 20 minutes more than non-working mothers did in 1974.
So we should all speak in defence of parents and the work they do - and regardless of where they live or what they do, all the parents I meet have one thing in common. They’re really concerned about their children’s welfare; about how they’re getting on at school, and whether they’re happy; about whether they’ll get good grades, get a good job and get on the housing ladder.
Institutions to fit the modern world
Because as we all know, the world is getting more and more competitive.
The globe is shrinking, and people hop from continent to continent for work, study, and travel - while the relentless march of technology is transforming our jobs, our homes, and our lives.
Mostly, for the better. The internet has brought the world to our desk and our door; we can talk to people on the other side of the globe instantly, for free; the employment market is much more fluid, and much more dynamic, and people can increasingly move in and out of jobs and careers, of full-time and part-time and flexible work. As more basic tasks are automated or robotised, human intelligence and skill is more important than ever, and many of our jobs are getting fuller and more interesting.
It’s easy sometimes to take our world of limitless opportunities for granted. Remember when 4 TV channels felt like unimaginable luxury? When getting sports results on Ceefax was like magic? When everyone had to carry a London A to Z to have any hope of getting around? We now rely on technology.
But modern life can also be tiring. When you can communicate instantly, the speed of life and of work increases exponentially - and with emails, BlackBerrys, mobiles, wifi, we are ‘always on’ and always frenetic.
All too often, corporate culture rewards the person who stays longer and later - regardless of whether they’re actually doing the best job and delivering the best outcomes.
Look at my workplace - the ultimate example of presenteeism, where you have to show up in person to walk through a lobby and vote at 10pm.
Our workplaces - our institutions - need to adapt to the world we live in. Too often they are saddled with the cultural assumptions of the past. They need to focus more on the work employees do, and the results they achieve, than the hours they spend in the office.
That would be better for the economy - and better for all of us.
Education ever more important
And, above all, it would be better for our children.
Because if the world feels fast now - just imagine how much faster it will feel in 20 or 30 years’ time.
Our children will face competition from the rising, hungry nations of the world; will do jobs we can’t even imagine, working in ways we can’t predict.
The one thing we know is that education and skills will only become more crucial. The correlation between international test scores at age 15 and economic growth has already increased by a third in the last few decades.
And we know that other countries and regions are racing ahead. Fifteen-year-olds in Shanghai are already 3 years ahead of those in this country in maths. And those in Poland are one year ahead.
That’s why education and childcare go hand in hand. We need to support parents and also give children the best start in life.
That’s why this government is doing everything possible to drive up standards in schools and help every child reach their full potential.
Of course we also want rounded, creative, innovative youngsters - who are resilient and can handle change.
Just this weekend, I published new guidance helping teachers to identify and support young people suffering from underlying mental health problems - meaning healthier, happier classrooms.
Schools to support modern life
And we’re determined to make schools become institutions that work better with modern life - that prepare children for all the challenges of the modern world, and support and help families.
That’s why Michael Gove announced earlier this year that he wants state schools - just like independent schools - to offer a school day 9 or 10 hours long, and we will support schools to do this.
Not necessarily for extra lessons - but for a safe, calm place to do homework, or to go over classes which you didn’t get the first time round; time for clubs like debating, cadets, orchestras, sport and drama, for volunteering or careers talks from employers - all the sort of enrichment activities which our best schools already offer as a matter of course.
And I’m pleased to say that new research from the DfE shows that last year around half of all primaries in England - almost 10,000 schools - were offering care both before and after school during term time, breakfast clubs, homework clubs, and so on.
Sixty-four per cent of all English primary schools provided access to before school care, 70% provided access to after school care and 19% provided access to holiday care.
And before and after school care is actually most common in schools in the most deprived areas - helping to give children who need it a better start in life. Seventy-three per cent of primary schools in the most deprived areas run before-school activities, for example, compared with just 61% in the rest of the country.
Of course, for parents who work, an extended school day makes balancing care and career much easier.
At the moment, the school day normally runs from 9 to 3 - meaning that any parent whose work day runs beyond these hours is completely stuck.
By extending that day, parents can spend less time fretting about getting out of work on time - and spend more time together as a family.
Academies already have the freedom to extend the school day - and many are using that freedom to achieve brilliant results.
Like Great Yarmouth Primary School, in Norfolk.
Until September 2012, this was Greenacre Primary - one of the worst schools in the country, in special measures after it was condemned by inspectors in 2010 as failing.
Under the expert stewardship of the Inspiration Trust, led by Theodore Agnew and Dame Rachel de Souza, and the fantastic leadership of head Bill Holledge, it was reopened as an academy in 2012 - open until 5 or 6pm most evenings, offering pupils a free programme of after school activities, from horseriding and cookery to sport, drama and music, along with supervised homework sessions.
Just last week, it was rated good with outstanding leadership by Ofsted - an incredible turnaround.
As the Ofsted report said, “enrichment activities and study sessions provided as part of the mandatory extended day increase pupils’ self confidence, life skills and engagement in learning. They contribute to the pupils’ improving achievement.”
As well as wanting to see more schools offer that sort of provision, we also want more schools to reach down the age range and offer nurseries for 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds as well.
Like Evelyn Street Primary School in Warrington - a school of about 200 pupils between 2 and 11, rated outstanding by Ofsted.
Their nursery already has 52 places for 3- and 4-year-olds. Now, it’s started offering 16 places to 2-year-olds as well, which are already in high demand.
As far as parents are concerned, it’s one joined up service. Nursery care is available from 8am to 6pm. Parents can choose the times they need, and use their funded hours for any of them, topping up with paid-for care if necessary, getting really high-quality, teacher-led nursery care. And Evelyn Street is managing to provide this at two-thirds of the average childcare cost in the North West because they share so many of the costs with the school.
And they’re achieving great results. Because children and parents engage with school much earlier, both attainment and behaviour are noticeably better, particularly among the most vulnerable children.
The idea of using our schools better has growing support from all political parties - in fact, just last week, Margaret Hodge MP said that:
The sensible policy direction would have been to locate more and more of our childcare offer in schools rather than build other buildings partly because it would be more sustainable, partly because it would make better use of valuable community assets and [is] where people feel comfortable, and partly because it brings the influence of the education community to bear on the quality of childcare provision.
We know that there’s huge demand from parents - and already, the school census shows that in January 2013, 5,358 state-funded mainstream primary schools recorded themselves as having ‘nursery-type’ school classes - over 30% of the total.
So we’ve made it easier than ever for every school to open a nursery for the whole day from 8am to 6pm.
Over the last year, 49 schools all over the country planning and delivering places for 2-year-olds - both in the country and in cities - have been helping us to work out how we can make it easier for more schools to offer places to 2-year-olds.
It’s been a huge success. Three-quarters of their in-house school nurseries are already full up. And while the traditional nurseries that we’ve got at the moment only offer care for half the day at most, 4 out of 5 of these new model school nurseries are now offering full-time care, in both the morning and the afternoon, making life much easier for parents who work full time.
Because these nurseries are based on the same site as schools, they can work much more closely together - sharing breakfast, after school and holiday clubs, and providing continuity from early education into education.
Many of the people in this room may think that 8am to 6pm doesn’t work with their schedules. So we’re also introducing childminder agencies from this September, giving much greater flexibility. One of them, for example, will be operating within a school, offering a seamless, flexible service to parents. By offering cover and quality assurance, childminder agencies provide a one-stop shop - while making it much easier for more people to become childminders and work with both schools and parents.
Better for parents
As far as parents are concerned, schools can offer one, joined up, flexible offer - meaning that parents can choose the services they need, and pay for them with government-funded hours, our new Tax-Free Childcare worth £2,000 per child per year, their own money, or both.
And by using our school facilities better, we can get much better value for money and a better integrated service.
So we want many more schools to get involved. We’re speaking to all the big academy chains, encouraging them to lead the way, linking with private nurseries to provide the best offer to parents.
And we’re also working with children’s centres - which offer early help and are based in the most deprived areas - are now reaching out to more parents.
We’ve just had some very good results last week that 90% of eligible parents are now registered by children’s centres, and 90 to 98% are very or fairly satisfied with the services they received, including activities like breastfeeding support and parent/baby classes.
In this room we’ve got a group of pioneers, demanding a culture change from their workplaces to focus on outcomes, not presenteeism.
In the same way, we should also demand a culture change in the schools. Next time you are in your child’s school, if they don’t already, ask them whether they’re planning to offer 8 to 6 provision - ask whether they’re going to extend their age range downwards, and welcome 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds to be part of the school family.
We all need to be asking those questions of our schools. We know that the world has changed since we were children - and parenting has changed along with it.
Our institutions need to change too. They need to work with us, and support us.
In the workplace and the playground, the office and the classroom, we need our institutions to support and help family life - helping parents, helping children, helping our whole society.