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Involving fathers in their children’s learning and education: Research and practice. Rebecca Goldman Department for Education and Skills This research was carried out whilst on secondment to the National Family and Parenting Institute The context.

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Involving fathers in their children s learning and education research and practice

Involving fathers in their children’s learning and education:Research and practice

Rebecca Goldman

Department for Education and Skills

This research was carried out whilst on secondment to the National Family and Parenting Institute

The context
The context education:

Ofsted (2000): “there is a disturbing absence of men involved in family learning”

Department for Education and Skills (DfES)

Fathers Advisory Group 2003-04

Every Child Matters(Green Paper, 2003):-

  • “family learning programmes…engaging parents in their children’s development”

  • “programmes for fathers as well as mothers…better communication between parents and school…and especially fathers”

Research aims
Research aims education:

To map and examine, in relation to fathers’ involvement in their children’s learning and education (ages 4-16):-

  • types of fathers’ involvement and the relationship to educational outcomes for children

  • facilitators and barriers intervening in involvement out of school, in school and in family learning programmes

  • approaches and good practice in involving fathers

Methods education:

Review of the research evidence and other literature

  • Bibliographic & website searches; Consultation with academics

  • UK/ Europe/ USA/ Canada/ Australia/ New Zealand

  • Research published/ in progress since 1997

  • Over 150 research papers/ reports synthesised

    Mapping and 13 case studies of recent and current projects (England and Wales)

  • Consultation through practitioner networks; Website searches

    Joint DfES/NFPI seminar on fathers’ involvement in education and family services (December 2003)

Why involve fathers
Why involve fathers? education:

Fathers’ involvement with children’s learning/ in schools associated with (for children):

  • Better exam results

  • Better school behaviour

  • Less criminal behaviour later on

  • Better relationships in adult life

    Independent associations to those between mothers’ involvement and same outcomes

Part one
PART ONE education:

How involved are fathers in their children’s learning and education?

Is there a distinctive “father role”?Which fathers are more likely to be involved?Which fathers are less likely to be involved?

Involvement in informal out of school learning
Involvement in informal out-of-school learning education:

Resident fathers less likely than resident mothers to be involved in most aspects of children’s out-of-school learning

More involved than mothers in:

building and repairing activities

practical activities and hobbies

ICT, maths and science

recreation, sports, outdoor activities, family trips

Focus on play and fun together

Substantial proportions of fathers also read with their children, help with homework, and give praise and support to their children for their schoolwork.

Involvement in schools
Involvement in schools education:

Resident fathers less likely than resident mothers to be involved in children’s schools

But: significant proportions of resident fathers attend parents evenings and general school meetings, and drop off and pick their children up at school

Non-resident fathers are especially unlikely to be involved in their children’s schools.

Fathers’ educational expectations and interest in child’s educationgenerally same as mothers’ educational expectations and interest

Involvement in family learning programmes
Involvement in family learning programmes education:

About 5% of learners in family language, literacy and numeracy initiatives are fathers (2002-03 NIACE evaluation)

About 12% of learners in wider family learning initiatives are fathers(2002-03 NIACE evaluation)

Fathers likely to drop out from school-based programmes held during daytime hours where mothers in majority

Many initiatives specifically for fathers (NFPI mapping)

Initiatives with practical activities (e.g. design and technology) can attract both fathers and mothers

More involved in child s learning education
More involved in child’s learning/ education education:

  • Resident fathers

  • Single parent fathers - as involved as single parent mothers in schools

  • Mother involved in child’s learning

  • Early father involvement

  • Good relations between parents

  • Positive school environment - welcomes parents

  • More egalitarian roles in household/ childcare

Less involved in child s learning and education
Less involved in child’s learning and education education:

  • Non-resident fathers

  • Older (secondary age) children

  • Father has lower qualification level

  • Manual workers

  • Works in evenings/ Works long hours

  • Large families

  • Mother has lower qualification level

  • Child has behavioural problems/doing badly at school

Part two
PART TWO education:

What are the barriers?

What are fathers’, mothers’, children’s and practitioners’ views and attitudes?

Barriers education:

  • Traditional gender roles

  • Attitudes of fathers, mothers, children and practitioners

  • Work and time- and the gender pay gap

  • Fathers’ circumstances (e.g. geographic proximity to child; literacy level) and confidence

  • “Feminised environments” (schools and family learning) with few male practitioners

  • Lack ofinformation about fathers

  • Inappropriate recruitment and practice with fathers

Fathers attitudes women s work
Fathers’ attitudes: education:“Women’s work”

Less likely than mothers to say:- a child’s education is equally or more the parents’ responsibilitythan the school’s (UK 2001 Parental Involvement survey)

Menmore likely than women to say: “nothing would encourage them to learn” and they had not enjoyed learning at school (UK 1997 Adult Learning Survey)

But some fathers do see it as their responsibility to help with children’s learning (qualitative studies)

Gatekeepers education:


  • Ambivalence amongst some mothers to father involvement (much literature)


  • Say they interact more and feel more comfortable with mothers; Believe that fathers see school involvement as mother’s role; Expect fathers to be little involved

  • Some fear of child abuse and aggression

    (UK and Australian small-scale studies in schools)


  • May want to keep home and school separate

Involving fathers in their children s learning and education research and practice

Lots of barriers! education:

But which are most important in which contexts?

And which can schools and family learning providers influence?

And which can central government and local policymakers influence?

Part three
PART THREE education:

Don’t despair…

Some fathers do get involved…

Fathers perceive benefits…

And so do practitioners…

Much good practice…

Why some fathers do get involved in learning
Why some fathers do get involved in learning education:

  • Response to children’s encouragement/ invitations

  • Build stronger relationships; Bonding

  • Helping their children to learn is important for children’s success (even where their own school experience was poor)

  • High expectations for children’s educational success/ Want child to do better than they had

  • (Learning new skills) (Social reasons)

Case study 1
Case Study 1 education:

  • Primary school working with Local Education Authority (LEA) in inner-city area

  • Sons and daughters

  • Many different ethnic groups; ten fathers involved

  • Fathers recruited in school playground; recruit others

  • Weekly morning session at the school (children released from class) (family learning room) (unemployed and part-time work amongst the fathers)

  • Mixed practical activities including arts and crafts, games, poetry, cooking, visits to museums, ethnic cultures

  • Have moved onto basic skills IT course for the fathers

  • Two female facilitators; Head-teacher has keen interest

Case study 2
Case Study 2 education:

  • LEA project working with secondary schools (Years 7 and 8), libraries and local sports clubs (includes rural areas)

  • For fathers/ male carers and teenage sons

  • Reading and Sports:- provide sports kit, sports-related literature (incl. fiction), and activity cards (e.g. ICT, visits to library; using newspapers; sports skills) for home

  • Sons have weekly session (school); Initial mtg for fathers

  • End of course event in local sports clubs with coaching session and certificates/ prizes

  • Recruitment by schools using postcard invites taken home by children; Teachers, teaching assistants, librarians, sports coaches facilitate

Good practice key principles
Good practice – Key Principles education:

  • Programmes and strategies specifically for fathers

  • Diversity is key: One model of practice is not sufficient

  • Include “father figures” and non-resident fathers

  • Purpose, Commitment, Creativity, Perseverance, Flexibility

  • Make fatherswelcome and appreciated; Develop 1:1 relationships with and consult fathers

  • Influence and discussattitudes and concerns held by practitioners and mothers

Good practice some interesting points i
Good practice – some interesting points I education:


  • “Sell the activity as ‘something’ you are doing for your children (Bryant and Henderson, 2002)

  • Appeal to mothers and to CHILDREN

  • Personal approaches/ Use e-mail and telephone

  • Incentives to recruit – commercial sponsorship?

  • Already involved fathers recruiting others


  • Take account of work, football, TV sport, local events, religious festivals, daily prayer times

Good practice some interesting points ii
Good practice – some interesting points II education:


  • Using ICT (McGivney, 1999: “working on a computer is safe and private with no risk of humiliation”)

  • Value fathers “alternate literacies”-technology, popular culture, map-reading (Fletcher and Dally, 2002) -Wider family learning

  • Web pages, magazines and non-fiction -Brookes (2002): “men and boys are reading…not necessarily novels”

  • High quality materials and technology

  • Appropriate learning styles - dynamic, active, focused

Good practice unclear from research mixed evidence
Good practice- unclear from research/ mixed evidence education:

  • All fathers/ male carers only? Or include mothers too?

  • Male teachers/ practitioners?

  • Degree of “traditionally masculine” content?

  • Length of courses?/ No. of sessions?

  • Accreditationfor fathers? (some say no)

  • Timing?- weekdays can be OK

  • Venues?- schools can be OK

Conclusions education:

  • Involve fathers – it matters!

  • Lots of good practice to follow!

  • Think about a whole-organisation approach, including attitudes and perceptions of teachers and practitioners

Policy implications
Policy implications education:

  • Return to some gendered language (”mothers/ female carers” and “fathers/ male carers”) in medium-term

  • Training modules for head-teachers, teachers, other school staff and family learning practitioners on working with fathers

  • Employers set up pilots of paid parental leave schemes – time off work for fathers and mothers with school-age children to attend school events

  • Increase number of male primary school teachers and family learning practitioners

Look out for
Look out for…. education:


    Goldman, R. (2005) Fathers' Involvement in their Children's Education: A Review of Research and Practice. London: National Family and Parenting Institute.

  • DfES good practice guide for schools Engaging fathers - Involving parents, raising achievement

References i
REFERENCES I education:

  • Baker, R. and McMurray, A. (1998) Contact Fathers' Loss of School Involvement. Journal of Family Studies, 4(2), 201-214.

  • Ballard, K, et al. (1997) Children with Disabilities and the Education System: the experiences of fifteen fathers. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 44(3), 229-241.

  • Bennett et al. (1998) Expectations and Concerns: What Mothers and Fathers Say about Inclusion. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. 33(2), 108-122.

  • Brassett-Grundy, A. (2002) Parental Perspectives on Family Learning. Wider Benefits of Learning Research Report No. 2. London: Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning at the Institute of Education.

  • Bright, K., Silberberg, S. and Fletcher, R.(2002) Men's Views of Volunteering in Schools. Engaging Fathers Project Research Report. Australia: The Family Action Centre, The University of Newcastle.

  • Brookes, S. (2002) Reaching Fathers. Literacy Today, September 2002.

  • Bryant, D. and Henderson, A. (2002) Men's Family Learning Conference Report. Bristol: Bristol Community Education Service.

  • Clough, J. et al. (2000) Engaging parents in a primary school setting.Children North East Research Report. Newcastle: Children North East.

References ii
REFERENCES II education:

  • Fletcher, R. and Dally, K. (2002) Fathers' Involvement in Their Children's Literacy Development.Australia:The Family Action Centre at The University of Newcastle.

  • Fluori, E. and Buchanan, A.(2001) Father time. Community Care,4-10 October 2001.

  • Fluori, E. and Buchanan, A.(2003). What predicts fathers’ involvement with their children? A prospective study of intact families. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 21, 81-98.

  • Karther, D. (2002) Fathers with low literacy and their young children. The Reading Teacher, 56(2), 184-193.

  • Kids Club Network (2003) Buzz Report 2003. London: Kids Club Network.

  • Lloyd, T. (1999) Reading for the future: boys' and fathers' views on reading. London: Save The Children.

  • MacLeod, F. (2000) Low Attendance by Fathers at Family Literacy Events: Some Tentative Explanations. Early Child Development and Care, 161, 107-199.

  • McGivney, V. (1999) Excluded Men: Men who are missing from education and training. Leicester: NIACE.

References iii

  • Millard, E. and Hunter, R. (2001) It's A Man Thing!: Evaluation report of CEDC's Fathers and Reading project. London: CEDC

  • National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education (2003) Evaluation of LSC Funded Family Programmes. Leicester: NIACE.

  • Nord, C., Brimhall, D. and West, J. (1998) Dads' involvement in their kids' schools. The Education Digest. 63(7), 29-35.

  • Ofsted (2000) Family Learning- A Survey of Current Practice. London: Ofsted.

  • Ortiz, R. (2001) Pivotal Parents: Emergent Themes and Implications on Father Involvement in Children's Early Literacy Experiences. Reading Improvement, 38(3), 132-144.

  • Shumow, L. and Miller, J. (2001) Parents' At-Home and At-School Academic Involvement With Young Adolescents. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 21(1), 68-91.

  • The Stationery Office (2003) Every Child Matters. London: TSO.

  • West, A. et al. (1998) Parents' Involvement In Education In and Out of School. British Education Research Journal24(4), 461-484.

  • Williams, B., Williams, J. and Ullman, A. (2002) Parental Involvement in Education. London: DfES Research Brief RB332.