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City fathers, City mothers

Parenting classes in the City? Mums and Dads are seeking advice on kids, courses and caring.

Siobhan Mulholland
Published: 15 March 2008

Rachel Vecht, a former primary school teacher, is readying a meeting room of a City bank for her class. Over the next 10 minutes, around 20 people in their 30s and 40s wander in, smiling shyly, before sitting in one of the chairs that have been arranged to form a semicircle. The group - an equal mix of men and women - stays silent for the best part of 40minutes, lapping up Vecht's every word on subjects ranging from how to get the most out of reading with your children, helping with maths homework, and advice on choosing schools.

Then she stops and asks her audience if they have any questions. The hands shoot up. Vecht, a 34-year-old mother of three, started her education consultancy - Educating Matters - seven years ago after her first child was born. She realised schools were always very keen for pupils to practice their reading at home yet rarely told parents the best way to go about this, so she took it upon herself to give guidance. Vecht started out small and local, hosting sessions in parents' homes. Since taking Educating Matters into the workplace, she has taken on a team of teachers to work with her in delivering seminars on a range of educational subjects. Much of what she offers is tailored to the anxieties of busy working parents who want to get the most out of the limited time they have with their children.

For example, the lunchtime sessions held in City banks and law firms have proved popular with employees keen to learn how to get the best out the bedtime hour - that very precious time between when working parents get home and when their young children go to sleep. Sue Eve, a mother of two and senior HR manager at the City law firm Allen & Overy, finds the sessions reassuring. "[Vecht] makes me feel comfortable about being a working mother,"she explains. "She advocates short, sharp measures instead of spending hours with your child. So as long as you're focused, and I think a lot of working mums are, you can achieve just as much."

What Vecht also provides is that all-important school-gate chit-chat - the tips, hints and reassurance that "at-home" parents or those with more flexible work schedules share when they meet each other at pick-up and drop-off times: insights into different local schools, tips on teachers, even how their children are doing academically and socially.

According to Lorenzo Sanchez-Mangas, a vice-president at Goldman Sachs and father of four daughters, Vecht's knowledge brings a healthy perspective to children's development. "She tells us what is expected of children at certain ages, which is important because you go to dinner with friends and you listen to them talking about their family, and you think that their children are Einsteins."


High-flying lessons in parenthood

Parenting lessons for the financial elite

They may be financial titans but City mothers and fathers are turning to family coaches for advice on how to bring up their children.

Karen Robinson
Published: 30 March 2008

Quality time with the children takes on a new meaning if you're a City banker, mired in the culture of long hours and charting every lurch of a febrile stock market. Bedtime story? Maybe next week . . .

However, lack of time to help little Warren with his homework has not stopped some of the masters and mistresses of the financial universe wanting the very best for him. So parents who work in the City are increasingly turning to experts for advice on how to turn their children into mini-alphas - just like them.

Can a child's academic problems really be solved by parents attending hour-long lunchtime sessions with a former primary school teacher, though? Rachel Vecht believes she can make a difference. Today she's in the towering marble and plate-glass citadel of Lehman Brothers in Canary Wharf, east London, where a group of the investment bank's employees are learning how to help their own children with their homework.

There is no surreptitious BlackBerrying as the 10 women and 12 men - from senior executives to support staff - listen to Vecht outlining how to set realistic goals for children and encourage them to learn.

Then the questions start. A confident-looking American in a pink shirt, asks: "Given that we're oriented towards achievement, how can we go about this? My tendency would be to want my son to be well ahead of where he should be."

Take the lead from his teachers on what he's capable of, Vecht advises gently.

The grey-suited mother of a nine-year-old wants to know how to "motivate" him. "He won't give his all and live up to his potential," she complains.

Vecht suggests setting small targets, recognising attainments with rewards, "one step at a time. Don't just say: 'I expect you to be perfect at everything'".

Then she tells a story about her brother, obviously tailored for this audience. He was a waster, she says, until at 16 he discovered his focus and drive, buckled down - "and ended up running a hedge fund".

"But what if it never hap-pens?" is the plaintive response from a quiet man at the back. He pours out the story of his 18-year-old daughter, who has dropped out of school and college, demonstrating a stubborn lack of desire to achieve that is totally baffling to her high-performing parent. "What on earth are we going to do," he wails.

Vecht says she can talk to him later - everyone who comes to the courses can phone her afterwards for more help. Back in the room with Vecht, there are nods of recognition as, one after another, the assembled City high-flyers reveal their worries about helping with primary-school maths homework. They are at a loss, they say, because the way they work with numbers is so different from the school's way of teaching. Others don't think their children's teachers demand a high enough standard of handwriting.

Vecht's company, Educating Matters - which also gives courses on reading, numeracy, exams and selecting schools - has been brought in through the bank's Leaf (Lehman Brothers Employees and Families) network. It provides other experts to advise on children's sleep and eating problems, and there is even a class for first-time fathers.

Lehman is not alone in this trend to "help employees manage the demands of their careers and personal lives" - in the words of Raj Ray, the company's European head of diversity, who sees the network as a means of getting everyone to "operate at optimal level". And unlike much of the City's corporate culture, he points out, this is not an American import. "The New York office doesn't have a Leaf network."

The idea is big in Britain, though. Vecht's clients include Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley - "all the big investment banks".

Kevin Dixon, 36, a commercial analyst at Lehman, attends Vecht's homework session, though his daughter Aminah is only four. "I want to get the fundamentals right early on," he says, adding that he has taken away some ideas to share with his wife Luna, who does not work.

One of his colleagues tells me Lehman is more family friendly than his last employer - "a Japanese car manufacturer, which had no family focus except a children's Christmas party. That's one of the reasons I left".

And, of course, one of the reasons firms are bringing in the family coaches. "For these firms to recruit new staff costs a fortune," says Vecht. "It's an inexpensive way to keep them happy, given the hours they work - even if they take my information and pass it on to the nanny at home."

Ray confirms that the parenting consultants have "very high impact for relatively low cost -a few hundred pounds per event - and do reduce staff turnover".