Dr Helen Norman leads research on paternal involvement and its effects on children's education
Fathers can give their children an educational advantage at primary school by reading, drawing and playing with them, according to the report published today.
Research led by the University of Leeds has found that children do better at primary school if their fathers regularly spend time with them on interactive engagement activities like reading, playing, telling stories, drawing and singing.
Analysing primary school test scores for five- and seven-year-olds, the researchers used a representative sample of nearly 5,000 mother-father households in England from the Millenium Cohort Study - which collected data on children born 2000-02 as they grew up.
According to the research, dads who regularly drew, played and read with their three-year-olds helped their children do better at school by age five. Dads being involved at age five also helped improve scores in seven-year-olds' Key Stage Assessments.
Dr Helen Norman, Research Fellow at Leeds University Business School, who led the research, said: “Mothers still tend to assume the primary carer role and therefore tend to do the most childcare, but if fathers actively engage in childcare too, it significantly increases the likelihood of children getting better grades in primary school. This is why encouraging and supporting fathers to share childcare with the mother, from an early stage in the child’s life, is critical.”
Dads’ involvement impacted positively on their children’s school achievement regardless of the child’s gender, ethnicity, age in the school year and household income, according to the report.
There were different effects when mums and dads took part in the same activities – the data showed that mums had more of an impact on young children’s emotional and social behaviours than educational achievement.
The researchers recommend that dads carve out as much time as they can to engage in interactive activities with their children each week. For busy, working dads, even just ten minutes a day could potentially have educational benefits.
They also recommend that schools and early years education providers routinely take both parents' contact details (where possible) and develop strategies to engage fathers – and that Ofsted take explicit account of father-engagement in inspections.
The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and led by Dr Helen Norman, Research Fellow at Leeds University Business School, in collaboration with co-author Dr Jeremy Davies, Head of Impact and Communications at the Fatherhood Institute, and co-investigators at the University of Manchester.
Dr Jeremy Davies, Head of Impact and Communications at the Fatherhood Institute, who co-authored the report, said: “Our analysis has shown that fathers have an important, direct impact on their children’s learning. We should be recognising this and actively finding ways to support dads to play their part, rather than engaging only with mothers, or taking a gender-neutral approach.”
Andrew Gwynne MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood, said: "This study shows that even small changes in what fathers do, and in how schools and early years settings engage with parents, can have a lasting impact on children's learning. It's absolutely crucial that fathers aren't treated as an afterthought.”
The final report was launched on Wednesday 20 September with an online webinar. Dr Norman and Dr Davies were joined by a panel of parental engagement experts and dads to talk about the study.
The ‘Paternal Involvement & its Effects on Children’s Education (PIECE)’ Final Report, authored by Dr Helen Norman (Principal Investigator) and Dr Jeremy Davies (Co-Investigator) was published on the Leeds University Business School website on 20 September.
The research project was also co-investigated by Professor Mark Elliot (Professor of Social Statistics at the University of Manchester) and Professor Colette Fagan (Vice-President for Research at the University of Manchester).
University of Leeds
The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 39,000 students from about 140 different countries. We are renowned globally for the quality of our teaching and research.
We are a values-driven university, and we harness our expertise in research and education to help shape a better future for humanity, working through collaboration to tackle inequalities, achieve societal impact and drive change.
The University is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, and is a major partner in the Alan Turing, Rosalind Franklin and Royce Institutes.
The Fatherhood Institute
The Fatherhood Institute is a research, policy and practice organisation working to build a society that values, prepares, and supports men as involved fathers and caregivers. A UK charity (No. 1075104), its vision is of a society that gives all children a strong and positive relationship with their father and any father-figures; that supports both mothers and fathers as earners and carers; and that prepares boys and girls for a future shared role in caring for children.
About the Economic and Social Research Council
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. We fund world-leading research, data and post-graduate training in the economic, behavioural, social and data sciences to understand people and the world around us. Our work helps raise productivity, address climate change, improve public services and generate a prosperous, inclusive, healthy and secure society.
- Fathers have ‘unique effect’ on children’s educational outcomes, study finds, The Guardian, September 2023
- Analysis: Why do we assume women care?, BBC Radio 4, November 2022
- Young children do better at school if their dads draw, play and paint with them regularly, study finds, The I, April 2022. (Also featured in the Daily Mirror, Daily Star, and various radio outlets.)