Case study: Dads in Demand primary school animation project

19 August 2010

Creating new opportunities for dads to become involved in learning activities with their children was the aim of the Dads in Demand project. The result was a project that not only gave children and their dads opportunities to learn something new and have great fun – but also delivered hugely impressive benefits in terms of children’s achievement against National Curriculum targets (see Evaluating the project below).

What was ‘Dads in Demand’?

Run in five primary schools in Harrow, north London, the Dads in Demand scheme gave black and ethnic minority fathers the chance to participate in courses making animated films with their children.

The ten hour long courses were underpinned by learning techniques which taught the fathers new skills to support both their own and their children’s learning.

The intention was to reach out to fathers who had little contact with the school environment and lacked an understanding of the importance of their role in their children’s education.

Funded by an £85,000 grant from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ Transformation Fund, the project was run by the charity Campaign for Learning in partnership with the Fatherhood Institute, Harrow Ethnic Minority Achievement Service, the British Film Institute (BFI) and the education innovator Futurelab.

Reaching out to dads

The fathers were recruited through the schools. Personal invitations were sent by children to their fathers or other male carer. They made cartoon Wild West ‘wanted’ style posters on which they drew the picture of the person they wanted to attend the course with them. This cartoon format was considered the most effective way of communicating with the fathers, particularly those who did not have English a first language.

Fathers were also invited to an assembly where animation projects were showcased and some were approached personally by teachers.

A total of 45 dads from a range of ethnic backgrounds – including Somali, Afghan, Asian, Polish and Romanian – completed the courses over a period of three months.

What the dads and children did

They were taught the techniques of stop motion animation, the technique of moving an object in small increments between individually photographed frames to create the illusion of movement.

Using a range of media including plasticene, pre cast figures and drawing, each father and child paid made a short animated film. Subjects ranged from a Somali folk tale to dolls discussing communication and technology. Each family unit learned to share tasks and ideas and developed new skills as they were taught techniques of storyboarding, making sets and models, filming and editing and how to use new software.

Animation was used to engage the dads as research has shown that this is an issue in which they are particularly interested along with technology and photography.

The thinking behind the project

There is powerful evidence that fathers’ positive involvement in their children’s education can have a profound impact on how well the children do in terms of academic achievement, behaviour and other measures. Read the Fatherhood Institute’s Research Summary on Fathers and their children’s education.

The Dads in Demand course was built around the Campaign for Learning’s ‘Learning to Learn’ principles. This teaches dads to become a coach for their child – to not give up when a project becomes difficult, to learn how to problem solve and to help their child to succeed at learning.

Andy Giles, National Project Officer at the Campaign for Learning, says sessions were designed to encourage fathers and their children to reflect on why they were on the course, what motivated them to attend, what kept them coming back. The ground rules were that they should respect and value teamwork and plan goals for each session and the entire course.

Many of the course participants threw themselves into the work with gusto. Andy recalls one pair who came in with 30 toy cars on which they stuck letters spelling out the title sequence of the project: “Dads in Demand Working Together as One.” The six-year-old boy was so focussed that he took 671 photos in one session in order to animate the sequence of cars.

Sometimes the dads became too competitive and tried too hard to perfect their work. To prevent this Andy organised a break every very hour so that everyone could refocus their energies and look at other people’s projects to see what they could learn from them.

“I encouraged the dads to ask themselves – is this about making a Stephen Spielberg film or spending quality time with my child? One of the key aims was to help dads understand more about their children, what they were learning, what their strengths and weaknesses were, what they were interested in and what worked in terms of motivating them. We wanted the dads to gain a more in depth understanding of how they could parent and work with their children to get the best out of them.”

Evaluating the project

The schools targeted children who were underachieving according to National Curriculum expectations – in particular those from ethnic minority groups (such as Somalis) who traditionally underachieve, and children on free school meals. Harrow Ethnic Minority Achievement Service looked at the Dads in Demand children and compared their attainment in the year before the project, and in the year of the project. They found that:

  • 73% of them achieved National Curriculum expected progress, compared to just 15% in the previous year
  • 54% of them exceeded National Curriculum expected progress, compared to just 10% in the previous year
  • 23% of them made two years’ worth of progress in the single academic year of the Dads in Demand project.

‘Although schools are doing a number of interventions there is no doubt the dads project has contributed to this and had a real impact on attainment and increased motivation in the children, and increased support from home has clearly had an impact on their children,’ says Harrow EMA consultant Mark Smith.

Andy Giles adds that feedback from the dads has already shown that the project made them feel more confident about supporting their child’s learning. The children said they found their dads had a lot more skills than they previously realised.

“Nobody went away unhappy with what they had done. Every dad we spoke to was really keen to do another animation project or wanted to go on and trial more software,” says Andy.

Following up the project

A family learning conference was held in March at the close of the project to showcase the work that had been done.

The films were uploaded on toYou Tube and a premier of all the films was screened at the BFI in May. The dads were invited and given a family fun guide signposting them to a range of activities, websites, software and internet links to give them fresh ideas and encouragement to carry on learning activities with their children.

Staff in one of the schools are setting up a project to make larger scale film with fathers and several agencies in Harrow have expressed an interest in replicating the work.

Jo van der Meer, Family Learning Practitioner at the BFI, who co-ordinated the animation work, says: “The fathers working with their children engaged with the project very enthusiastically – the buzz and positivity was really heart warming. It was clear that for the fathers this was a new experience for them.”

Juliette Collier, Deputy Chief Executive and Head of Family Learning at the Campaign for Learning, says the project has been hugely positive: “The school heads were passionate about it because they didn’t know anything about dads before because they were invisible. The dads came to the conference in March and talked about what it meant to work with their child and how important it was. They were such brilliant advocates and the kids were so proud of them and what they had done.

“It is important that dads understand and recognise how valuable they are in supporting their kids’ learning and development. There is a wealth of research evidence out there that says the involvement of dads can make a difference to outcomes for children.”

You can view the films at:

If you’re a teacher or work in family learning in some other way, and are keen to get dads more involved, check out Fathers’ Story Week – a great opportunity to reach out to fathers and father-figures and ‘hook’ them in.

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