Pre-School Learning Alliance: fathers in early years

13 August 2005

Fathers’ Involvement in Early Years Settings: Findings from Research

by Tim Kahn

The research

The Pre-school Learning Alliance is committed to involving under-represented groups in its activities. Today, fathers are playing a considerably larger role in childcare ‘in the private sphere’ than in recent decades. However, fathers (father-figures are included here) are still ‘marginal’ in early years settings.

The research looked at two things:  firstly, how many men were involved – and in what ways;  secondly, what were the perceived barriers to involvement.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance research into Fathers’ Involvement in Early Years Settings (2005) was based on

  • responses to questionnaires sent to 10% of member settings (about 1400, with a response rate of almost 25%)
  • four focus group interviews with female staff/volunteers from settings
  • four focus group interviews with fathers.

The findings

The findings of the research were in many ways consistent with what is already known about the involvement of fathers in early years settings (and family services in general). The overwhelmingly female nature of early years settings, both in terms of staffing and the majority of adult users being mothers or other female carers, was identified as a key factor in discouraging fathers from getting involved. It was recognised that not only might early years settings need to reflect on and appropriately amend their activities to make them more ‘father-friendly’, but changes in the environment, i.e. social policy, would be needed to support fathers in their role as carers for their children ‘in the public sphere’.

Recommendations at a setting level included the following:
• organising activities that are sensitive to fathers’ needs (in terms of timing and content, for example);
• using inclusive language that ensures that fathers know that they are as welcome to participate in activities as mothers, using language that appeals to men as well as to women; and
• recognising – and therefore addressing the fact – that it is society’s gender role expectations and structures that keep fathers marginalised in early years settings.

Recommendations at a social policy level included:
• developing father-friendly government policies;
• funding work with fathers; and
• addressing the gender imbalance in the childcare workforce.

Obtaining the report

The executive summary of the research can be downloaded from the Pre-School Learning Alliance website.

A PDF of the full copy of the research can be obtained from

The Alliance also produced a Fathers Matter leaflet – something that was requested by practitioners who completed initial questionnaires – which contains ideas and practical tips for involving fathers in settings. This can be

  • purchased at £1.00 per copy (free to Alliance members and discounts are available for bulk orders). Contact

Next steps

Following on from the research, the Pre-school Learning Alliance is running a number of pilot projects around England to test out the effectiveness of different models of involving fathers in early years settings. These will take place between September 2005 and May 2006, and will conclude in Summer 2006 with a report on what appears to work best . 

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