Jayne Dowle: Our children must learn the crucial lesson of how to be a proper parent

I THINK my four-year-old daughter might be ready to take a GCSE early.

Her present preoccupation is not with how babies are made, but how families are made. She had convinced herself that she would have to marry her brother to have a family of her own.

Dealing with her concerns was a bit tricky, especially the "should you marry or live together?" bit. Sometimes I wonder if I'm too honest for my own good, but her questions were serious and demanded proper replies. After I had explained that the idea is that she looks outside her immediate family circle for a partner, I got to thinking. If at four, she is already wondering how families work, is it ever too early to teach this in school?

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Well, if Frank Field gets his way, there will soon be a GCSE in parenting. No doubt Lizzie will be signing up at the earliest opportunity.

At first, I had my doubts about it. Surely our education system is already in enough turmoil? The last thing we need is to find space to cram in an extra qualification. But then Field, appointed by David Cameron to carry out a review on poverty and life chances, suggests that learning about parenting should be introduced to beef up Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) lessons. Frank by name, frank by nature, he dismisses PSHE as a "rag end" subject in its present form. Much more could be done, he argues, to teach pupils about the responsibilities attached to bringing a child into the world and caring for it financially, practically and emotionally.

You can see his point. The focus of lessons is usually on pregnancy, contraception and sexual health. Apart from site visits to the baby clinic, what happens after a child is conceived is left pretty much a blank sheet. And we don't need Frank Field to tell us what this blank sheet often ends up filled with; young parents who have been brought up by dysfunctional families themselves, with no idea of how to impose responsibility and discipline on their own children, adding to the burden on the state. If they had some basic knowledge of how to organise families, then they wouldn't need an endless – and expensive – parade of support workers to tell them how to sterilise a bottle and sort out the potty-training.

No doubt traditionalists will scoff, and dismiss it as a headline-grabbing fad. But think about it for a moment. A qualification in parenting is a lot more use, to a lot of young people, than a qualification in say, French or computer animation. Parenting is something that almost everyone, eventually, will end up doing, in the most pragmatic, hands-on sense imaginable. Even academic high-flyers need some practical grounding. Although I've got an honours degree in English, when I'm cooking I still find myself recalling the time-plans I learnt in home economics O-level.

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Obviously, with today's crowded school timetables it is fairly inconceivable that parenting would be made a compulsory subject in its own right. But it is certainly important for it to become an enhanced part of the PSHE syllabus for all students. And that means boys and girls.

All too often, it's the girls who end up, literally, holding the baby when their partners scarper, safe in the knowledge that the state will provide.

If boys were taught that they have a vital role to play in bringing up children, then we might see, over the years, a reversal in the number of young one-parent families. And, as the provision of state benefits shrinks, it will become ever-more important for young people to realise that they won't be able to rely on hand-outs to support them. Accepting that it is they who have first and foremost responsibility for any children they produce is an important step towards the self-reliant society that this Government wants to achieve.

On a more subtle level, bringing the subject of parenting skills into the open also lays the groundwork for the way that parents actually behave with their children. I know a number of fathers in their 20s who are confused about the approach they should take. Best mate? Or dictatorial dad?

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These days, the lines are blurred. When their own fathers, to whom they look to provide guidance, don't seem to have a clear idea themselves, or send out confusing messages, it can lead to untold distress. Better to tackle this before young people have families of their own than try to sort it out afterwards, when there are children running wild in the middle.

And I can see another benefit of teaching parenting. It might encourage more boys to consider childcare as a career. It gladdens my heart to see lads on work experience in Lizzie's nursery. But they are massively outnumbered by girls.

Even if male role models at home are sadly lacking, a caring, sympathetic man in the school foundation years can make a world of difference to a child. But when the next one turns up in Lizzie's class, he had better be prepared for plenty of questions.