Skills: Importance for the UK Economy and Quality of Life

Earl of Effingham Excerpts
Thursday 9th May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Earl of Effingham Portrait The Earl of Effingham (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for raising this important debate and I congratulate both my noble friends Lord Marks of Hale and Lord Elliott of Mickle Fell on their maiden speeches; I look forward to hearing more of their valuable contributions.

Reading the newspaper headlines this week illustrates the seriousness of the situation in which we currently find ourselves, with regard to the quality of life for many in the country and the real need for skills for the success of the UK economy. We are told that there are a record 2.8 million people off work with long-term illness; that thousands of youngsters appear to have given up on school since the pandemic, with the highest number of so-called “ghost children” being recorded; and, to top it off, that almost a quarter of children aged 10 and 11 in British primary schools are clinically obese and that, for pupils in the poorest areas, the figure rises above 30%. However, with the right life skills for both young and old, this can be turned around.

We need only to look at further headlines to see think tanks calling for a wholesale curriculum and assessment review of the education system to add new topics such as financial education and mental health. The advanced British standard may indeed be an improvement on the current framework, but it is years away. The existing status quo is centred on teaching for exams that students will sit, but that is not necessarily what will help them in real life.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to visit a school academy in one of the most deprived boroughs of London. The academy is the envy of its peers in both the public and private sector, boasting an Oxbridge acceptance rate of 15% and a Russell group acceptance rate of 64%. I asked the principal how she achieved these results. Her response was that “Everyone, both teachers and pupils alike, wants to be here”. The same message came across in a business session recently, when discussing culture and values. The adage “If you love what you do, it is not a job” could not be more true. If we can create an environment where people feel good about multiple aspects of their life and in control of their situation, that will give them the confidence and ability to find a job that they love, grow the economy and attain a high quality of life.

The skills that make a difference can be narrowed down to four key pillars: food education, physical education, financial education and social education. Food education is paramount because you are what you eat; your gut is your second brain and what you put into it matters. Physical education follows, as it boosts energy, confidence and sleep quality, as well as reducing anxiety and stress. Financial education will then enable you to live the life that you want within your means. The right basic knowledge and small regular savings can create a potentially life-changing sum over the long term. Lastly, I will concentrate on social education, which is becoming increasingly vital as smartphones take over our lives.

During my visit to the same academy, the principal flagged that one of the few issues that they did experience was poor social interaction, and I noticed that some of the pupils, when they talked to me, did not look me in the eye and had trouble engaging directly. I think about my own career and consider myself extremely fortunate to have worked in the same room, paradoxically, with individuals who left school at 16 with no qualifications, all the way to rocket scientists with PhDs in astrophysics. The glue that bound us together was confidence and self-belief in what we were doing, which was derived purely from real, in-person, human interaction.

However, in the current day, by the age of 11 some 91% of children in the UK own a smartphone. The restaurant chain Prezzo has found that its customers between the ages of 12 and 27 suffer from “menu anxiety” and are too socially nervous to engage in a conversation with a waiter, preferring to order by QR code. The most truly shocking statistic is from a recent survey which found that a quarter of 18 to 34 year-olds have never answered their phone. This surely must be addressed as a top priority.

It will not surprise the Minster to hear me ask the Government how they will increase awareness on food education, physical education and financial education—but I would like to ask something else. Please can she update the House on the expected timeframe for a compulsory ban on smartphones in schools, to address the clear and present danger of in-person social interaction, which is arguably the most important life skill, becoming a thing of the past?

Educational Trips and Exchanges

Earl of Effingham Excerpts
Thursday 25th April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Earl of Effingham Portrait The Earl of Effingham (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for raising this important debate.

It is increasingly apparent from reading the newspapers that our current generation of schoolchildren live in a challenging world. Most recent research from NHS England found that 20%

“of eight to 16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder in 2023”.

Today’s front page of the Times warns us:

“England is worst in the world for under-age drinking”.


It is therefore essential that we do everything we can to help our schoolchildren understand that there is a big world out there that offers amazing learning opportunities away from their smartphones and peer group pressure.

I will offer some examples. Households in India spend roughly double the amount of time cooking at home versus the UK. Some 58% of households in America own listed company shares, versus around 20% in the UK. The Dutch and Germans spend approximately twice the amount of time that the UK does doing physical exercise per week. Food education, financial education and physical education should be three of the four pillars of a child’s learning, so giving our children exposure to how other nationalities operate is key. Learning a language also improves brain and memory functions; it boosts creativity and self-esteem and helps with future career opportunities. Probably most importantly for these trips, social interaction with new people in a fresh environment challenges us to step outside our comfort zones, which is a foundational life skill for the future.

I had the opportunity to visit an academy recently in one of the most deprived parts of the UK. It is achieving 15% Oxbridge entrance and 65% Russell group entrance. However, one focus area that the principal flagged and that I picked up on was that a lot of these pupils did not make eye contact when engaged in a conversation. Thrown into an overseas exchange, however, they would have no choice other than to do that. By giving our schoolchildren this opportunity, they can take away the positives of the experience and build on it incrementally. There will be less pressure on schoolroom disruption and a greater desire to learn, which will rub off on fellow pupils. In later life, with a better education under their belts, there will be less pressure on the NHS and the state.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government aim to ensure that we maintain the momentum of these overseas trips and exchanges, aside from responding to requests to continue collective passports and to win agreement to replicate the list of travellers scheme.

School Meals for Children

Earl of Effingham Excerpts
Wednesday 20th March 2024

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The Government believe that the school food standards are very clear. Schools must ensure that they provide children with healthy food and drink options, that they get sufficient energy and nutrition across the school day, and they clearly restrict foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

Earl of Effingham Portrait The Earl of Effingham (Con)
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My Lords, in 1825 the great politician Jean Brillat-Savarin coined the phrase “You are what you eat”. It is concerning that, according to research, ultra-processed food makes up 64% of the average UK school lunch. What is the Government’s strategy to both teach and empower children to make the right food choices?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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Cooking and nutrition are firmly within the national curriculum: in design and technology they are compulsory between key stages 1 and 3, they aim to teach children how to cook and the principles of healthy eating and nutrition. It is also picked up in the science curriculum; indeed, through the Oak National Academy, we funded a module on cooking and nutrition that will equip children leaving school to be able to cook at least six predominantly savoury recipes that will support a healthy diet.

Earnings: Mothers and Fathers

Earl of Effingham Excerpts
Wednesday 13th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I think the noble Lord might want to look again at what I said. I absolutely did not say that the Government do not gather any information on discrimination. Our domestic law on maternity discrimination is absolutely clear: discriminating against women in the workplace because they are pregnant or new mothers is unlawful.

Earl of Effingham Portrait The Earl of Effingham (Con)
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To paraphrase Christine Lagarde from the European Central Bank, if Lehman Brothers had been “Lehman Sisters”, we may have avoided a global financial crisis. We need more female representation on boards of companies and we need more female CEOs. Can the Minister say what focus the Government are placing on a voluntary, business-led approach to setting targets that will see more women in leadership roles?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his question. We can all imagine how successful “Lehman Sisters” would still be. The Government have long supported an independent, business-led, voluntary approach to increasing the participation of women in senior roles, both in relation to start-ups, with the Rose review, and, most recently, with the FTSE Women Leaders Review, which has set new voluntary targets for the FTSE 350 for both board and leadership representation.

Pupil Mental Health, Well-being and Development

Earl of Effingham Excerpts
Thursday 22nd February 2024

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Earl of Effingham Portrait The Earl of Effingham (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for tabling this important debate.

We have been presented with some alarming statistics. One in five eight to 16 year-olds has a probable mental disorder. There has been a 53% increase in the number of children in mental health crisis over the past four years. We understand that the Government want to establish mental health support teams, which will undoubtedly help, but I suggest that prevention is better than cure. It should be possible to prevent manifold mental health problems among our schoolchildren before they become major issues. The foundation of that well-being is based on the four pillars of the school education system, in this order of priority: food education, physical education, financial education and academic education.

I have intentionally left academic education as the last pillar because being academically capable does not necessarily mean that you will be happy and make a success of your life. However, being well educated on key life decisions involving food choice, physical health and financial matters will incrementally increase your chances of a fulfilling life.

I am sure that many noble Lords are familiar with the phrase “gut instinct”. The gut is our second brain. It uses the same chemicals and cells as our main brain. Food changes our mind and our mental health; there is a direct correlation between a healthy diet and cognitive learning. Food education should therefore be the cornerstone pillar of a decent school programme to promote good mental health.

The beauty of this is that we already have a strategy in place which works. Charities such as Chefs in Schools have a mission to transform school food and food education and are training kitchen teams to serve fine school lunches. The benefits to schools are wide-ranging. The charity states that

“research shows great school food makes obesity fall, while health, wellbeing and attainment increase”.

This is a tried and tested opportunity that is there for the taking by the schools; all they need to do is reach out. For the benefit of the register, I should say that I have no association with this charity, but my beliefs and its aims are aligned.

When it comes to physical education, Sport England’s latest survey estimated that only 47% of children and young people were meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more every day. Sport and physical activity can change children’s lives. It improves cognitive abilities, boosts concentration and improves classroom conduct and behaviour—not to mention physical and mental health, which in turn encourages their development as community and family members. Physical exercise should be the second pillar of their education.

Schools must involve parents and the community in this journey. They need to understand the benefits of physical exercise if they are to enforce home rules on limiting screen time and taking exercise outside, as well as doing more physical exercise at school. Teacher training is key. We have to help the teachers themselves learn how to best promote an active lifestyle, make physical education engaging and how to combine learning with physical activity.

Children can benefit from physical exercise even before their first class of the day. The central target in the Government’s second cycling and walking investment strategy is that half of urban journeys should be walked or cycled by 2030. Cycling to school is a fantastic way for children to exercise and contribute to those required 60 minutes per day. It can be a community event involving both parents and classmates.

The third pillar is financial education. In a recent survey, 47% of children from low-income families said that they worry about their family’s finances, which is adding to their stress levels and in turn presenting itself through challenging behaviours at home and at school. Financial insecurity leads to anxiety, stress and depression but financial education at an early age will help to mitigate these risks.

I believe the recently issued guidance on mobile phones in schools, which backs headteachers in prohibiting the use of mobile phones throughout the school day, can play a key part in caring for the mental health and well-being of schoolchildren. The school environment should be a place for the learning of the four pillars, as I have outlined, and for face-to-face social interaction—not mobile to mobile.

I therefore ask the Minister what the Government are doing to educate both children and schoolteachers on how to cook, how to eat well and how to make healthy food choices. What can the Government do to work with charities such as Chefs in Schools?

On physical education, what are the Government doing to involve parents and the community in journeys? What teacher training is taking place? Will the Government commit to revisiting the decision to cut funding for walking and cycling schemes as part of the cycling and walking investment strategy? With financial education, how will the Government make this a cornerstone of a school education?

Schools: Financial Education

Earl of Effingham Excerpts
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Earl of Effingham Portrait The Earl of Effingham (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, for raising this debate, which I believe is of fundamental importance. As I think we all subscribe to, education has the power and the ability to hold the keys to many amazing things.

There should be four pillars to our education system: food education; physical education; financial education; and academic education. As a general broad-brush view, most people in the UK would aspire to home ownership, a decent upbringing for their children and the ability to retire in later life. All four of those educational pillars will play a key role in this outcome, but financial education arguably plays the most significant one.

Helping the young population now will have the hugely positive effect of helping them to help their own daughters and sons in 20 years’ time. Financial insecurity leads to anxiety, stress, and depression, but financial education at an early age will mitigate these risks.

Compound interest is one of the wonders of the financial world, but without a decent financial education, schoolchildren will not know that by investing only £10 per week from the age of 18, they can potentially have a retirement pot of £400,000 based on an annualised return of 9%. I do not believe it would be a difficult sell to let these children know that, in exchange for £10 per week, they could potentially have £400,000 at the age of 68. It is an easy message to get out there.

So, in this two-minute timeframe, I ask the Minister: what are the Government doing to support parents and carers in this financial education mission? Data shows that the greatest impact comes when the message is delivered by those individuals in the home, as well as those in school, and we should do everything we can to ensure that message reaches the target audience.