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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 December 2007, 12:11 GMT
What do children want?
Max Cotton
Max Cotton
The Politics Show

children playing
The government's Children's Plan will be published in mid-December

In mid-December the government will be publishing its Children's Plan for England.

It is Labour's grand vision of childhood.

Lots of people have been involved in the consultation for this document, but most importantly, lots of surveys of what children themselves think have informed this debate.

For example, 80% of children say they prefer playing outside and measures to help them are likely to be in the Plan.

According to Adrian Voce from Play England, who has been involved in the consultation, "play is a serious business."

According to him, unstructured outdoor play is an essential part of a child's emotional education: "play is nature's training for life and I think it's been overlooked."

playing
Outdoor play is very important for children
He worries that "the modern world very much constructs children as adults in the making, so most of policy is about educating them for later life while protecting them from the world around them."

Money

Socio-economic background is going to rear its ugly head when the Children's Plan is published.

Class and poverty have a huge influence on a child's well being, and the government are already committed to abolishing child poverty by 2020.

But recent figures show they are missing their targets, and by the time they are six bright but less advantaged children are still being overtaken by less bright children from more privileged backgrounds.

Critics are angry the government have not been more successful.

Nick Clegg, a candidate to be leader of the Liberal Democrats, says "a lot of parents will feel quite jaundiced after ten years of such failure."

Meanwhile Tim Loughton, the Conservative spokesman on children, warns that the nanny state ethos means some families who do need to improve their children's lot think they do not need to bother because the government will do it for them.

Finding time for children

esther rantzen
If we have so organised society that we put children right on the edges and everything else right in the centre, we're going to reap the whirlwind
Esther Rantzen
The new Children's Plan is going to mean that other parts of the government's policy will come under new scrutiny.

For example, one of Labour's most important tools in dealing with social deprivation has been getting people back to work, and some experts are worried about the impact that may be having.

Esther Rantzen, who founded Childline 25 years ago, says parents are finding it increasingly hard to make time for their children, and that we are in danger of marginalising our children's interests.

She worries: "if we have so organised society that we put children right on the edges and everything else right in the centre, we're going to reap the whirlwind."

Testing, 1, 2, 3

Education has been another tool that the government have used to tackle inequality.

But testing, examinations and the greater emphasis on academic achievement has also put pressure on children.

sitting exams
Are exams putting too much pressure on our children?
According to Adrian Voce, children need a work-life balance too. There is too much emphasis on education and schoolwork, he says.

One AS-level student in South London that I met, her name is Alex, told me "when I did my GCSEs my life was put into an envelope."

At 16, she believes no previous generation has been subjected to such pressure from from exams and testing.

Risky childhood

For all of us, the problem is that at the end of all that education - whatever form it takes - we are top of the league for teenage pregnancies, there has been a big increase in the number of teenagers drinking alchohol, and incidences of sexually trasmitted diseases (excluding HIV) have seen an increase of 100% amongst young people since 1997.

The Government's Children's Plan is expected to try and tackle all of this, and the idea has been broadly welcomed by children's campaigning groups, and it is a big ask.

Broccoli
English children are generally happy, and they do eat their vegetables
But the situation is not as bad as it sometimes seems.

Much of the survey work informing this debate suggests that the children of England are pretty happy, that they do eat vegetables, and that they are getting plenty of exercise.

The question which remains is whether our children are having enough fun.

The Politics Show is on BBC One at 12:00 GMT on Sunday 2 December.

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