Case Study (Schools and Learning): Involving Dads in Family Learning

9 February 2009

What: SHARE FOR DADS Project: a project successfully initiated and delivered by women to men

SHARE FOR DADS is part of a ContinYou SHARE family learning project, which aims to involve parents actively in their children’s learning; increase their understanding of the important role they play and of the learning process; improve the educational attainments of their children; enable parents to further their own education; and develop effective management and organisation of parental involvement in schools.

Organised by South Haringey Infants School (London) and Haringey Adult Learning Service, the SHARE FOR DADS group of approximately ten fathers meets weekly on a Friday morning in Haringey Infants School. Group membership changes regularly (due to a mobile population) and is multi-national (e.g. fathers from Zambia, Somalia, Turkey, Armenia, Bangladesh, Italy and the Caribbean). The activities take into account the different languages and literacy levels of participants. Many of the fathers have very basic education, and were at school outside the UK.

The sessions are practical, informative and curriculum based. Some take place with the children (released from class) and some without. Activities with the children have included mosaics, board games, puzzles, writing poetry, photography and cooking. There are also visits to e.g. art galleries and local museums. Three of the fathers put on a performance for the school displaying skills such as juggling and magic tricks. Activities without the children include an IT course which links with how the children are using computers to learn. Photographs are frequently taken to document the group’s activities, and are displayed prominently in the school. The fathers can gain SHARE accreditation with the Open College Network. One has received the SHARE Best Adult Learner Award.

Recruitment

Many fathers were recruited by approaching fathers who came into school and inviting them to participate. Promotion of the group by the fathers already involved to other fathers is important, and children are asked to tell their father about the group, for example creating invitations in class. All the school’s teachers are aware of the Dads group and work in partnership with the group’s two (female) facilitators. An external trainer may be recruited to help lead the IT course. The head teacher (also a woman) takes a keen interest.

Benefits of the scheme

Fathers exchange ideas and information about their lives and their children, also reflecting on male relationships, and their relationship with their own father, as well with their children. They report learning new skills, stronger father-child relationships and better father-child conversations, as well as father and child learning about one another. Children say they ‘feel special’ and really like it when their father visits the school. Teachers have observed widespread pride and greater confidence among the children of the SHARE dads, with one child much happier and her behaviour calmer, and another better motivated to learn.

Class-teachers feel SHARE FOR DADS raises the profile of fathers in the school, gives children positive male role models, and shows them fathers can be an important part of their school lives, and that fathers are connected to the school. They also note that the fathers talk to the teachers more confidently and take pride in local publicity about the group, and that sessions validate their role and existing skills. Some activities and visits have been repeated by the fathers with their family outside of the group. The men have learned about local learning resources and become more confident visiting e.g. local museums. One father has gone onto a borough-run parenting course at a local community centre.

For more information contact:
Veena Sharma
Borough Parental Involvement Co-ordinator
Haringey Adult Learning Service
0208 489 8880

Summary form

Share for Dads group in a infants school in Haringey, London

1) Basic description and objectives
The aims of the group are to provide children with good role models; and to give fathers an insight into school life. The group meets weekly in an infants school on a Friday morning to carry out joint activities, sometimes with their children, sometimes without their children.

2) Main providers
South Haringey Infants School and Haringey Adult Learning Service.(lEA) working very closely together

3) Partnerships
ContinYou.

4) Funder/s
No specific funding for this group. Uses school’s resources and LEA budget for family learning.

5) Children ages
Age 3-7 (infant school)

6) Characteristics of fathers
The group consists of about 10 fathers- not all the fathers attend each week. The fathers of children in the school are a mobile population so the membership changes frequently. A very international group of fathers- from Zambia, Somalia, Turkey, Armenia, Bangladesh, Italy and the Caribbean. The activities take into account the different languages and literacy levels of participants- literacy and language are not barriers to participation. Many of the fathers have very basic education, and were at school outside the UK. This SHARE group is the first experience of school for some of the fathers. Interestingly, many of the wives of the fathers are not involved in the school.

7) Venue/ Physical environment
Infants school – in a family learning room.

8) Timing of course/ sessions
The group meets weekly on a Friday morning during term-time. This daytime timing has not been a problem, as the group has recruited fathers who work part-time or in the evenings/ on shifts; and non-working fathers. The fathers have not requested evening sessions.

9) Background
The project has been in existence for about one year and it arose out of the ContinYou SHARE family learning project. SHARE aims to involve parents actively in their children’s learning; increase parents’ understanding of the important role they play and of the learning process; improve the educational attainments of children; enable parents to further their own education; and develop effective management and organisation of parental involvement in schools. Parents are invited into the school (90% of SHARE providers) for SHARE sessions with a teacher who has received training from ContinYou. SHARE provides activity books with activities which are flexible and adaptable and relate to the school curriculum.

Haringey LEA runs the SHARE programme in several schools, but it is unusual to have fathers involved. Therefore the Dads Only group was formed. There are plans to start a Dads Only group in another school.

10) Processes and implementation:- Length of course/ sessions; Structure of course/ sessions; Curriculum/ content and learning methods; Information and materials given to fathers and children at sessions;
The sessions are practical, informative and curriculum based. Some sessions take place with the children (they are released from class) and some without the children. The SHARE activity booklets are not used that often; many sessions arise from the school’s curriculum for the children and how the fathers can support this at home. The facilitators have asked the fathers what they want to do, but the fathers are often happy for the facilitators to suggest the programme.

Activities with the children have included mosaics, playing board games, doing puzzles, writing poetry, photography and cooking. There are also visits to e.g. art galleries and local museums. Three of the fathers put on a performance for the school at assembly displaying skills such as juggling and magic tricks. The activities often draw on the various ethnic cultures and traditions of the participants. One of the facilitators has commented that it is not necessary to have stereotypically masculine activities.

Activities without the children include an IT course to teach keyboard and word-processing skills. This has been specifically requested by the fathers. The course links with how the children are using computers to learn e.g. get the fathers to type in children’s poems and songs to show their children after school.

Photographs are frequently taken to document the group’s activities, and displayed prominently in the school.

11) Accreditation
The fathers can gain SHARE accreditation with the Open College Network, for example “Computers Don’t Byte!” for the IT course. One member of the group has received the SHARE Best Adult Learner Award.

12) Referrals/ Publicity (info. given to fathers)
Many fathers were recruited individually by personal contact, approaching fathers who came into school and inviting them to participate. When the group started, the facilitators spent time at the school at the beginning and end of the school day so that they could consult fathers and then recruit them. Promotion of the group by the fathers already involved to other fathers is important, as is publicity in school assembly on a regular basis. Children are asked to tell their father about the group, for example children created invitations to the group in class. There have also been coffee mornings. The class teachers remind the children about the group’s sessions.

13) Cost to fathers; Whether travel and childcare paid or provided; Any incentives – Free

14) Characteristics of facilitators/ Training
There are two female facilitators. One is a teacher in the school (responsible for leading on Ethnic Minority Achievement); the other is the LEA Parental Involvement co-ordinator who co-ordinates SHARE throughout the LEA. All the school’s class teachers are aware of the Dads group and work in partnership with the group’s 2 facilitators. An external trainer may be recruited to help lead the fathers-only IT course. The head teacher of the school takes a keen interest and often pops into the group’s sessions. All Share facilitators in Haringey attend two day training delivered by the LEA.

15) Feedback from participants (fathers, children)

  • The group is a place of support and understanding and new friendships.
  • Fathers exchange ideas and information about their lives and their children; they learn from one another and from shared experiences.
  • Fathers may reflect on their relationships with their own father, as well as on their relationships with their children; the two are obviously linked.
  • Male relationships are important.
  • Stronger father-child relationships and conversations.
  • Father and child learning about one another
  • Fathers are learning new skills e.g. IT, cookery, public speaking in class assembly.
  • Children feel special and really like it when their father visits the school.

16) Feedback from the facilitators and class-teachers

  • Raises the profile of fathers in the school. Gives children positive role models of men; shows them that fathers can be an important part of their school lives and that fathers are connected to the school.
  • Fathers can talk to teachers more confidently. The fathers take much pride in local publicity about the group e.g. photos in the LEA newsletter. The sessions validate the fathers’ role and existing skills.
  • Some activities and visits are repeated by the fathers with their family outside of the group. The fathers learn about local learning resources and become more confident visiting e.g. local museums.
  • One father has gone onto a borough-run parenting course at a local community centre.
  • Children are learning new skills, and also all the activities are designed to promote their language and numeracy development. However, one of the facilitators has observed that it is difficult to assess improvement in reading and writing specifically as an outcome of the group.
  • Observed impact (by class-teacher) on children’s behaviour in classroom, for example one child much happier in school and with calmer behaviour since her fathers has been attending this group. Children have much pride when their father visits the school, and this leads to greater confidence.
  • Observed impact (by class-teacher) on child’s motivation to learn in classroom.

17) Measured outcomes/ Research evaluation (fathers, children, other participants, home-school links)

No external or formal evaluation.

18) What has been important in engaging fathers
• Staff who are flexible and open to ideas. Important characteristics of the facilitators are experience, sensitivity, much planning, groupwork skills and effort/ persistence. Skills are more important than gender. Having female facilitators working with observant Muslim fathers has not been an issue.
• Having an ongoing dialogue with the fathers. Awareness of fathers’ issues and of cultural issues in parenting. Being respectful of others’ traditions and values (e.g. gendered norms).
• Both the school/ head-teacher/ class teachers and the LEA view parental involvement in children’s education as a priority.
• Giving the fathers status and recognition for attending.
• Giving the fathers an opportunity to learn new skills e.g. IT.
• Building 1:1 relationships with the fathers and knowing about their individual circumstances. Recruiting through subtle persuasion.
• Taking religious festivals into account when planning sessions and activities.
• The most successful activities have been visits and practical activities- having fun!

19) What was challenging in engaging fathers
Too much focus on talking during sessions isn’t so successful.

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