Fathers Figure: teaching materials that examine parenting and paternity leave

3 January 2006

by Lyndsey Turner

First published in The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk) on Tuesday November 1, 2005
After centuries of “mother knows best” parenting, the nation’s dads are beginning to make their presence felt. Approaches to childcare have changed radically over the past 30 years. More mothers are going back to paid work, many more homes are dual-income households, and the increase in lone-parent families, rising divorce rates, the introduction of flexible working hours and greater awareness of fathers’ rights brought about by the high-profile stunts of groups such as Fathers4Justice have contributed to a tectonic shift in attitudes towards family responsibilities.

Gone are the days when a father’s annual contribution to parenting involved leaping up and down in a sack on school sports day. Modern dads mean business, and the government has started to take notice. The recently announced work and families bill gives new fathers the option of taking three months’ paternity leave supported by a weekly state allowance of £106. If implemented, the proposals represent a significant realignment of the role of the father in childcare.

But before we break out the congratulatory cigars, it’s worth remembering that Britain is only just catching up with its European counterparts. And some social commentators tell us that the modern family is in crisis.

The government’s proposals provide the opportunity to discuss parenthood and childcare within the classroom.

What is paternity leave?

After finding out how aware students are of the laws surrounding maternity leave, explain the government’s proposals to extend paid leave to new mothers and fathers, news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_poli tics/4355488.stm.. Structure a comprehension exercise, designed to elicit empathy and understanding of the issue, around the case study posted at news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4357366.stm. Use the article as a way into a discussion of the students’ own experiences of working parents and early childcare. Challenge students to synthesise the material they have encountered and to comment on the work and families bill.

Using information at www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1269665,00.html, discuss the reasons why some men do not take up paternity leave.

European families

In the maths classroom, ask students to compare the government’s new proposals with provision made in other European countries www.rollercoaster.ie/pregnancy _birth/paternal_leave1.asp and to represent their findings using suitable presentational methods. KS4 pupils might benefit from investigating the social and cultural factors that underline attitudes towards parenting in Finland (www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,404715,00.html), Denmark and Iceland (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe /4629631.stm).

Social benefits

As part of the citizenship curriculum, discuss the impact of these new proposals on businesses, using two recent press releases (www.fsb.org.uk/news.asp?REC=2808 and www.cbi.org.uk/ndbs/press.nsf.) to stimulate debate. Draw up a list of the pros and cons of the bill.

Widen the discussion to include the rise of dad action: see www.fathers-4-justice.org. The homepage of Fathers Direct, the national information centre on fatherhood, includes articles and advice. See www.fatherhoodinstitute.org.

Discover some of the legal, economic and social problems faced by working mums and dads offered by the Department for Trade and Industry – www.dti.gov.uk/er/workingparents.htm. Outline the role and function of pressure groups to students before asking them to visit www.maternityalliance.org.uk, noting the ways in which this group is seeking to influence government policy and social attitudes. Find out what the Equal Opportunities Commission has to say about parent power and the rights of working parents www.eoc.org.uk/Default.aspx?page=17909. Discuss the statistics on the site and the implications for society.

Family history

Investigate the history of the British family by exploring information found at www.nettlesworth.durham.sch.uk/time/victorian/vfam.html. Encourage older students to compare 19th-century parenting to today’s. Younger students might benefit from a discussion of Victorian family photos at www.gtj.org.uk/tpack/vic_childhood_en.html. Analyse the composition of the family portraits held at www.nationalgallery.org.uk/cgi-bin/WebObjects.exe/CollectionSearch. and commission a piece of creative writing focusing on the relationships depicted.

Curriculum links

Key stage 2

Citizenship 1a, 1d, 2a-b, 2d;
English (En1) 1a-c, 3a-e, 4a-d; (En2) 5a-d; (En3) 1a-c, 9, 12;
Geography 1a-d, 2d, 3a, 3de, 4a-b;
History 2a-d, 4a-b;
ICT 1a-c, 3a-b;
Maths (Ma4) 1a-e, 1f, 2a-c

Key stage 3

Citizenship 2a-c, 3a-c;
English (En1) 1ab, 2a-c, 3a-e, 4a-d; (En2) 4a-c, 5a-d, 9; (En3) 1i-k, 1l-o, 8;
Geography 1a, 1c, 1f, 2d-e, 3c-e, 4a, 5b;
ICT 1a-c, 3a-b, 4a;
Maths (Ma4) 1a-d, 3a-b, 4a-b, 5a-c

Key stage 4

Citizenship 1a, 1c, 1e, 1h, 2a-c, 3a-c;
English (En1) 1a-c, 3a-e, 4a-d; (En2) 1ad, 5a-d; (En3) 1i-k, 1l-o, 8;
History 2a-d, 3a, 4a-b; ICT 1a-b, 2a, 3a-b;
Maths (Ma4) 1a-b, 1d, 3a-b, 4a, 5a, 5d-e

Scottish curriculum

English (levels C-F);
Environmental studies (levels D-F);
ICT (levels D-F);
PSE (levels D-F)

· Students can explore the issues of paternity leave in this week’s news in focus: a complete KS3 lesson on learnnewsdesk, learnpremium.co.uk’s children’s news website from the Guardian

Fathers Direct would like to thank The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk) for kind permission to reproduce this article