Long-hours threat to family life
The Education Secretary Alan Johnson has said it is “ludicrous” to
believe that mothers going back to work could damage their children.
This follows research for the Department for Education and Skills
linking long hours in childcare with increased anti-social behaviour.
Mr. Johnson was addressing a teachers’ conference, which had heard
warnings of the “institutionalisation” of children. Work hours and full-time childcare
were destroying family life, said teachers.
The research published by the DfES found that children spending more
than 35 hours per week in a nursery were more likely to be “anti-social, worried and
But Mr. Johnson, speaking to journalists at the Association of Teachers
and Lecturers in Bournemouth, defended the importance of providing childcare that allowed
parents to return to work.
The government is promoting the idea of “extended schools”, which
will provide after-school classes and a safe childcare environment for working parents.
But teachers at the conference expressed fears about the long-term impact on family life
when children spent so much of their time away from the parents.
Cecily Hanlon from the Childcare and Early Development Centre in Leeds
challenged the “long hours culture” that was now being experienced not only by
parents, but by their young children.
Babies and toddlers were now spending 10 hours a day, five days a week
in institutional childcare, she warned. “They can spend their whole childhood in care.
It’s a tragedy for the child and for the family,” she told the teachers’ conference.
While there was rhetoric about “family-friendly jobs”, the reality she said was that
people were forced to be “job-friendly families”. Spending so much time away from
their own family meant that children were increasingly influenced by their peer group,
rather than adults, she said.
And Ms. Hanlon called for more research into whether such a weakening
of the links within families was contributing to more aggression among youngsters. “As a
society, are we going to reap the whirlwind?” she asked the conference.
Teachers, while defending the importance of childcare, also pointed to
the economic reality facing many families with young children. With the need to pay such
huge mortgages, the one-income family was no longer feasible, said one teacher. As such,
there was little option for parents other than to work long hours and for their children
to spend even longer days in childcare.
Another speaker criticised the culture of “wrap around care” when
it “should be the parents wrapping their children in their arms”. But the Education
Secretary said that improving and extending childcare was an important part of giving more
options to families – along with measures such as longer maternity leave, paternity
leave and flexible working. He pointed to the example of Finland where high-quality
childcare from an early age was a successful part of a high-achieving education system.
“It’s about giving parents opportunities so that they can combine their working lives
with their family lives,” said Mr. Johnson. “The idea that somehow women going back to
work are letting down their children is frankly ludicrous.”
By Sean Coughlan, BBC News