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[UK] Early Year Child Education Policy in England: An Appeal to Single Mothers and Fathers

Summary:
The English government1) is now engaged in introducing a new system of birth registration starting next year that will ensure the sound education, growth and welfare of children born to unmarried mothers. It aims to revise public procedures so that even unmarried parents of a child will both be required to register the birth of their child, and thus publicly clarify the father’s responsibility in child bringing up. What will this change mean for English education policy which is devoted to the development and education and vocational training of children between 0 and 19 years of age?

Keywords: England, unmarried mother, child education reform, birth registration, child's rights

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Children's Plan and Basic Policy

With the change from the Blair to Brown cabinet in 2007, the Education and Skills Department was reorganized into the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), which declared the Children's Plan (hereafter, the "Plan") in December of the same year. This ten-year basic Plan, starting from 2008, aims to make England the best place for children and young people to grow up. According to Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for DCSF, the government changed the name of the department and proposed this first ever Plan as a way of realizing the goal.2)

The Blair government introduced policies that took a positive approach to early year education, schooling and vocational training. The Children's Act 2004 institutionalized policies that would support the comprehensive processes for the better child-bringing, education, vocational training and welfare services for all the children between 0 to 19 years of age.

Before the coming of the renovation of the Children's Act in 2004, there was reported a child abuse which had caused the girl, Victoria Climbie, to die at the age of 8.25 years. The report shocked the whole of the country. The government set up an investigative committee, and before long, the detailed Laming Report was issued in 2003. The report cited: "It was the worst case of deliberate harm to a child he (a Home Office-accredited pathologist) had ever seen". 3) This report was the impetus for discussions between those concerned with child education and welfare and government organizations, and after dialogues with public, the government revised the Children's Act. The revised Children's Act 2004 has appealed a wide range of experts to discuss and cooperate on issues of child education, health, social welfare, social rehabilitation and so on, and also places considerable responsibilities upon the local authorities (local governments).

 

Outline of the Children's Plan

The Climbie case was the backdrop against which the English government formulated the policy, "Every Child Matters." It is a comprehensive policy that aims to revise all policies that have an influence on children and youth. The Children's Plan, with the budget of one billion pounds, can be the necessary part of this policy, and calls for the following.4)

  1. Better understand children's needs based on development stage i) age 0-7; ii) age 8-13; iii) age 13-19, and set up the most appropriate policies.
  2. Personalize curriculum, and introduce single-level testing instead of the present standardized academic tests for age 7-14.5)
  3. Refurbishing 3,500 playgrounds and building 30 new adventure play areas.
  4. Flexibility in the year to enter school for summer-born children.
  5. Free childcare for disadvantage children from age 2
  6. Introduce sex education in schools and offer guidance for emotional and psychological problems of youth
  7. Set up parents' councils in all secondary schools and promote dialogue between the school and parents
  8. Raise the basic qualification for teachers to Masters level.

 

Parents, Register Together!

The program that has been drawn up is based on the following principles. First, children are not brought up by the government; parents bring them up. Furthermore, the government must provide greater support to parents and families than in the past. While government policies, recognizing the unique potential of each child, strive to ensure that all children can grow up healthy, happy, and fulfill a role in society, the government of England reaffirms that the basic responsibility for child rearing and education lies with the parents. In England (strictly speaking in England and Wales), approximately 45,000 births are registered annually in the name of one parent alone. If the father's name is not recorded upon registration of birth, the man who fathered the child will automatically evade responsibility for the child's education. In other words, in such cases, the man who fathered the child relinquishes equal rights with the mother to have a say in important decisions that will affect the child's life. If the mother and father are married when the child is born and the mother registers the birth, it can be legally presumed that the mother's husband is the father. However, if they are not married and they do not both officially recognize that the man is the father of the child when the mother registers the birth (or if the court has not decided it), that is, if the unmarried father does not submit a birth registration, the man will be absolved from responsibility for the child's education, but will relinquish the right to make decisions regarding the child's future. The proposed legislation would make joint birth registration a legal requirement for unmarried parents.

 

White Paper "Joint Birth Registration: Recording Responsibility"

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) issued a white paper on June 2, 2008, calling for a change in the method of birth registration of children born to unmarried parents. It seeks to legally require the recording of the father's name on the child's birth certificate. It also proposes non-legislative measures that are related to this effort.
The government has adopted this policy because it considers it to be an important measure that will improve child welfare and that children have the right to know who their parents are. The Labor Party government seeks to foster a culture that values children's happiness and stresses that fatherhood, like motherhood, should entail both rights and responsibilities.
The policies adopted by the government of England have been formulated through the two latent main steams since 2006 toward the betterment of registration.

1) December 2006, A New System of Child Maintenance; Cm679766)).
This White Paper sets out changes in the method of birth registration, making joint birth registration of the names of both parents a legal requirement for all unmarried parents unless this is decided to highly unreasonable or unless a court recognizes another method. Citizens from all walks of life were asked for their views on this proposal.

2) June 2007, Joint birth registration: promoting parental responsibility; Cm7160
The government published materials that were used to solicit the views of citizens in addition to the Green Paper. This was also reissued in December 2008. By revising the current law, the government believes it will strengthen the often vulnerable position of unmarried mothers and their children, and thereby ensure the safe growth and protection of young children during this period of development that has a most important effect on their future. This proposal advocates the following: 7)

  • Equal status of the mother and father
  • Strengthen father-child relationship
  • Strengthen father's ties to the mother and child and promote father's protection of the child
  • Improve the father's understanding of his responsibilities as a father to the child
  • Help to identify mothers and children who are vulnerable and at risk
  • Supporting parents in playing a role in their children's lives

The Green Paper also includes proposal to preserve the parental status of a mother who gives birth to a child through artificial insemination or by other means due to infertility of the mother or the parental status of a same-sex couple to whom a child is born.

3) June 2008, Joint birth registration: recording responsibility; Cm7293
The current law applies to legally-married parents and in the case of adoptions and same-sex couples, but this White Paper stresses the legal responsibility of unmarried mothers and father to record both their names on the birth certificate of the child when registering the birth together.

The proposals in this White Paper seek to "promote child welfare and the right of every child to know who his or her parents are. In most cases, a child's right to be acknowledged and cared for by his or her father should not be dependent on the relationship between the parents. To support this right we will ensure that fathers who want to take responsibility for their children do not have to overcome unnecessary obstacles. We intend that joint birth registration should play a key part in developing the Government's determination to develop a culture in which the welfare of children is paramount and people are clear that fatherhood as well as motherhood always comes with rights as well as responsibilities."8) This White Paper supports legislative measures to clarify the responsibilities of the parent with parental authority and to make these measures easier to understand or the necessity of an ordinance for the declaration of parental authority.

 

New Comprehensive Child Protection Policy: Welfare Reform Bill

On December 11, 2008, the Queen gave a speech which outlined important issues to be deliberated by Parliament during the coming 2008-2009 session. On January 14, 2009, the Welfare Reform Bill was introduced to the House of Commons, where deliberation has been ongoing since January 27.

This bill is related in many respects to the Child Poverty Bill. The Green Paper, "No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility: Cm7376," was published in July 2008 with responses from citizens of all walks of life and these are said to have greatly influenced the deliberation of the bill.

As for the basic concept of the bill, it provides support to all who need assistance, but advocates welfare measures that encourage those who receive assistance to become self-supporting and fulfill their responsibilities. In this sense, bill combines measures that both provide support and promote meeting one's responsibilities. The bill is wide-ranging in scope and includes the following with regard to safeguarding children's welfare.

  • i) Legal measures to enable people with disability to choose and request services.
  • ii) Child protection
  • iii) Requiring both parents to register the birth of their child

Item (iii) includes various matters of contention which cannot be addressed in detail here, and issues of child poverty will merit separate treatment in the future.

 

Protecting Children: Parental Rights and Responsibilities of the Father

The move to review the procedure involved in birth registration is a policy decision that is intended to legally clarify the responsibilities of fathers. Given that the number of births among women under 20 is not decreasing, a number of policies have been formulated to provide healthcare for the mother and child and post-natal care for the child. At the same time, society as a whole is concerned with addressing the issue of fathers' responsibility. While the mother-child relationship is integral to the child's growth, this policy seeks to ensure that both men and women who are parents also understand the importance of the father's role in protecting children. A close reading of the White Paper indicates that it includes legal measures that adequately take into account the position of fathers who do not acknowledge paternity and take into careful consideration the sexuality of unmarried young people and their relationships. Another important position is that the child has the right to know his or her parents.

As the regional population has become more ethnically diverse, English society shows increasing cultural and religious diversity as well. The question is how this will transform it in the future and suggests the existence of some fundamental and urgent problems of values. Prior to his resignation, Prime Minister Blair, as head of the Labour Party, called for a "respect action plan." This agenda dealt firmly not only with crime, but also appealed for rebuilding a traditional way of English life as a starting point for new local lifestyles and emphasized the family.9) In this sense, joint birth registration can be seen as one of a series of child protection measures within a social welfare policy that fundamentally aims at reorganizing family relations and revive localities.

Since the 18th century, judicial precedent has recognized the parental rights of the father, and common law is premised both upon the responsibility of father to protect the child together with his authority. On the other hand, there are also arguments for minimal official involvement or interfererence in sexual relationships between men and women 10) and the above proposal can be read as policy proposals that advocate a new form of sexual relationships between the sexes.

 


1) Currently, many measures regarding education policy are handled by local governments in the UK, that is, the devolved legislatures of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Decentralization is a much debated topic.
2) Ball, Ed 'Forward', in The Children's Plan, Building brighter futures, 2007, Cm7280, p.3.
3) The Victoria Climbié / INQUIRY: report of an inquiry by Lord Laming, 2003, 3.84. This report of Victoria's abuse is harrowing to read.
4) 'Executive Summary', The Children's Plan, op. cit. pp. 5-14.
5) The National Curriculum, introduced in 2007, will give standardized test to children at the key stages of age 7 and 14.
6) "Cm" in "Cm6797" is an abbreviation of "command paper," which is an edict formally presented to Parliament at the command of the Queen. By custom, the government's legislative policies are proposed in a speech delivered by the Queen on the first day of the new parliamentary session.
7) House of Commons Library, Joint birth registration, Standard Note: SN/HA/4916, 2008, pp. 3-4.
8) Cm7293, p.5.
9) Respect, Labour Party, 2006
10) A.S. Neil et al, Children's Right, 1971

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