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A father's place is in the classroom

Men urged to pitch in at school as studies show their involvement improves
children's behaviour and grades

Amelia Hill and Yvonne Roberts
Sunday April 3, 2005
The Observer

Men could soon be sweating over sewing, trying to cook a Sunday roast with
laughing five-year-olds, or helping a class with weaving. For the government
is to back a major scheme to encourage fathers into schools after fresh
evidence that visiting their children in the classroom increases academic
achievement and leads to better behaviour.

At a major conference on the role of fathers in the family this week,
Margaret Hodge, the Children's Minister, will back projects which include
fathers hosting Sunday roasts for children, helping with sports sessions and
children's reading clubs.

Hodge will cite a series of projects across the country where the role of
fathers has increased pupils' achievement. Children talked of being proud of
'their dads' coming into school, raising their enthusiasm for classes.

The announcement on Tuesday will coincide with the publication of the most
comprehensive study ever made of fathers' involvement in their children's
learning.

The government-backed survey, conducted by the charity Fathers Direct,
looked at dozens of schools which have pioneered ways to involve fathers in
their children's schooling.

In one example, Gareth Todd-Jones, head of the Pen Pych community primary
school in Mid-Glamorgan, asked fathers to meet him in the local rugby club
after studying research showing a child's education could be transformed by
the active involvement of their father.

'The valley, one of the most deprived areas in Europe, is an old mining town
and a lot of people have a rough, tough image of what it is to be a man,'
said Todd-Jones. 'They were not meant to do anything with their children.

'But they are now going camping with their children, doing cooking classes,
making cards for Mothers' Day, woodwork, sewing and making weaving frames,'
he said.

There are now 20 fathers and grandfathers in the Pen Pych Superdads group,
and Todd-Jones is planning to print beer mats with 'Superdads Pen Pych' on
one side and an invitation to join on the other.

'I have touched a nerve here with these young children,' he added. 'There
has been a definite improvement in performance in the classroom. Children
with active fathers tend to have good social skills and their overall
behaviour has improved.'

Robert Davies, the father of three children under 11, was a founding member
of Superdads. 'Most men in this area, like me, didn't even know how to
interact with their children before this group came along,' he said.

'What I've learnt has transformed our whole family: I am closer to my
children than I have ever been and their behaviour both at home and at
school is unrecognisable.

'It's amazing that something as simple as me being involved in their
lessons, should make them think of school as fun. They are now ahead in all
their classes.'

The study looked at other examples, including cookery sessions designed to
improve communications skills between dads and their children at Bungay high
school in Suffolk and a Bring Dad to School Day at Kensal Rise primary
school, north London, which more than two-thirds of the fathers attended.

At South Haringey infants school, also in north London, a Share for Dads
scheme has been created to give fathers an insight into school life.

'The children say they feel special and like it when their father visits the
school,' said Adrienne Burgess, co-founder of Fathers Direct, which studied
South Haringey's project.

'Teachers noted widespread pride and greater confidence among the "Share
dads" children; the positive impact of male role models made them much
happier, calmer and better motivated.'

The fathers who became involved were able to talk to teachers more
confidently and reported becoming far closer to their children.

Publication of the survey will coincide with the announcement that Britain's
most prominent public champion of sex equality is to lead Fathers Direct,
which lobbies for 'father-friendly' policies.

Julie Mellor, head of the Equal Opportunities Commission since 1999, will
take the same role at Fathers Direct. Her prime aim, she said, would be to
highlight the fact that 'a crucial piece of the jigsaw' is missing from the
family agenda of all three of the major political parties.

'Men have already changed on an unprecedented scale, but politicians have
yet to properly acknowledge that.

'In 21st-century families, fathers are doing a third of the parental
childcare. That's eight times what it was 30 years ago. Then they spent 15
minutes a day on childcare; now it's two hours..'

Mellor said 40 per cent of fathers were stressed at having too little time
with their children, and 10 per cent had given up, or not taken, a job they
couldn't reconcile with family life.

'Whichever party wins the general election, fathers will continue to be
pushed unwillingly into the role of main breadwinner, and mothers will
largely be left holding the baby while working for less than fair wages,'
she said.

Choices for men and women on how to share childcare were severely limited,
Mellor said, because men earned two-thirds of the family income and low pay
often blighted women.

The right to two weeks' paternity leave was introduced in 2003, but the
take-up has been poor because the pay is so low men that prefer instead to
take holiday leave.

'If public policy did more to support fathers in the care of their children,
women's choices would also widen,' Mellor said. In addition to much improved
paternity rights she will also push for a review of the benefits system for
separated families.

She backed the greater involvement of fathers in schools. 'We also have
evidence that fatherhood, given the right support, will motivate young men
coming out of prison to find work and stop offending,' she added.

Dads who make a difference

Pottery primary school in Belper runs an 'It's a Man Thing' project,
focusing on reading, writing and helping encourage fathers to become more
active in their children's learning. The project has been run in Derbyshire,
Dudley, Hereford, Bradford, Coventry, Newham and Portsmouth.

The Youth Sports Trust has joined community learning charity ContinYou to
develop a Top Dads project in schools across the country to introduce young
fathers to sport-related play, while offering one-to-one and small group
mentoring guidance on positive parenting.

A group of secondary schools in Hampshire has started Lads and Dads Book
Clubs for boys aged from 11 to 15. The teenagers read with their fathers
twice a term.

ContinYou's Active Dads project runs in schools across Britain to help
fathers and other male carers engage with their children through a variety
of activities including reading, walking, and going on trips to leisure
centres or places of local interest.

A cricket programme in Lancashire tries to involve dads more closely in
their teenage sons' education. Cricket-loving boys and their fathers are
loaned cricket kit, books and activity cards, and encouraged to read
together as well as play sport.

South Haringey infant school in north London aims to give fathers an
insight into school life through a Share for Dads project, in which a group
of fathers from Zambia, Somalia, Turkey, Armenia, Bangladesh, Italy and the
Caribbean meets weekly at the school for a range of activities, with and
without their children.


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