How do you make a school father-inclusive? Help is at hand with new resources from our pioneering Scottish pilot study.
LOOKING out over a hall packed full of delighted dads getting back rubs from their children, Alison Cameron knew she was at a mountain top moment in her teaching career.
“You could actually feel the love in the room,” remembers the acting headteacher of Prestonpans Infant School, who coached the children in their carefully rehearsed Father’s Day gift. “When the children went back to their classrooms, the amount of male carers who came up to me and said thankyou for that!”
The massage was just one of a wide array of events and strategies road-tested earlier this year as part of the East Lothian Father-Friendly Schools project – a pilot study which Ms Cameron and her staff rolled out in partnership with DadsWork, Fathers Network Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.
The resulting full report, research summary, video and guide for schools, launched this week at the Scottish Learning Festival, are a valuable resource for teachers and educationalists seeking to understand the barriers that have traditionally seen fathers less involved than mothers in their children’s education.
BARRIERS & ENCOURAGEMENTS
Long working hours, negative personal experiences, mum-centric communication from schools and social inequality were all found to be barriers in the study; conversely dads' involvement was increased through positive imagery, gender-specific events, warm and genuine welcome, focused resources and appointed "champions" of father inclusion.
Above all, dads want to be involved. Tim Porteus, a Prestonpans dad and early instigator of the idea of father-friendly schools, believes change is coming: “We’re not conforming to this old stereotype any more,” says the dads’ worker at Midlothian Sure Start. “We want to be proactive, hands-on, nurturing, full-on parents, equal with mums, because we know that we can do it.”
That enthusiasm, when it translates into greater participation, is proving a win-win for everyone – families, children, society at large. It's why Fathers Network Scotland is targeting education and early years as part of our #DadUp campaign.
“There’s an abundance of research that states that fathers’ involvement in education raises attainment for their children,” says Ms Cameron. “So if we work together with all parents then we get the best for the children and the best possible outcome!”
A GUIDE FOR SCHOOLS
The project canvased opinion from teachers, fathers and children at six participating primary schools, as well as drawing on the big data of the Millennium Cohort Study – a large scale survey of children and their families.
Ms Cameron is particularly proud of the Father Inclusion Guide, written with fellow headteacher Chris Wilson – a classroom-friendly toolkit which is packed with ideas, modelled on Education Scotland’s How Good is Our School document and now available online for others to draw on.
Some of the important tips to emerge from the exercise, as summarised in the accompanying video, include:
- Make a display of positive images of dads – childcare is usually female-dominated
- Bring dads together – in gender-specific events to build confidence
- Get to know Your Dads – their first names, their situations, their interests
- Appoint a “champion” of father inclusion - to keep dads in the picture across school policy
- Signpost father-friendly resources - to accelerate change
IT'S DADS' MOMENT...
There is a challenge to dads to grasp the opportunity too.
“Make that connection, be brave and just walk through the door,” says Kevin Young, head of DadsWork and one of the key players in the pilot study. “You’ll be welcomed with open arms and it’s absolutely fantastic to be involved with your children in school.”
Ms Cameron believes the project could have a welcome impact across Scottish education, if its findings are grasped and ideas built upon.
“Awareness of fathers in education has raised tenfold within each of the schools,” she says. “If you, me, the Scottish government, local authorities value the input of dads in education, this is just a starting point, and this is a really good starting point – and let’s not lose it.”