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How does fathers’ involvement in childcare affect children’s educational development?

By Dissemination

9th Community, Work and Family conference: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

15-17 June 2023

Helen is presenting a paper that focuses on the relationship between fathers’ childcare involvement and their children’s educational attainment at ages five and seven (i.e. at the start and in the middle of UK primary education).

Results show that fathers’ involvement in the first year of school (at age 5) has longer-term positive implications by supporting educational attainment at age 7. On the other hand, mothers’ involvement affects the child in different ways by, for example, having a positive effect on their emotional and pro-social behaviour. These results underscore the importance of policy interventions to support and encourage fathers to be involved caregivers in the early years of a child’s life given the positive consequences this has on the children’s educational development, and on equality in the gender division of unpaid labour more broadly.

Supporting fathers to get more involved at school

By Blog

By Helen Norman, Rose Smith and Jeremy Davies

25 May 2023


Research shows that parents’ engagement in activities that promote their children’s learning – such as reading and playing – can bring huge benefits to children’s educational development. Parental participation in ‘school-involvement activities’ – everything from helping out in the classroom, to fundraising or being a school governor – can also have benefits because this demonstrates the value and importance of education to the child, which can have a positive influence on learning, behaviour and attendance (Campbell 2011). Parental school involvement is therefore an important first step that can lead to or enhance parental engagement at home. Yet our study finds that overall, fathers are only half as likely as mothers to take part in such activities.

Across all the school-involvement activities measured by the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) – a nationally representative survey of households that surveys children in the middle of primary school at age 7 – just under a third (32%) of fathers said they participated in their child’s school in some way, compared to more than three-fifths (61%) of mothers.

The gender gap is even more marked for certain school-involvement activities: mothers are about four times more likely to help in the school library or classroom, or be a member of a parent association, committee or group for example. In some of the activities, less than 5% of fathers contribute. For more detail, see Table 1 below.


Table 1: What activities do parents do in their children’s school at age 7?

Activity % of fathers involved % of mothers involved
Help with fund-raising activities 23 41
Help out in elsewhere in the school e.g. library 7 30
Help out outside of class with special interest groups like drama/sports 6 6
Some other activity* 5 5
Be a member of parent association, committee or group 4 16
Help out in class 4 20
Be a member of management board/governing body 3 5

*Some other activity includes help with upkeep/running of school, help with breakfast club/afterschool, help with courses for school and general help

Note: Some parents took part in multiple activities. Based on 4047 households


What do we know about dads who do get involved?

Having established that fathers are less likely to get involved in school-participation activities, we wanted to find out more about the ones who do get involved.

We looked at fathers participating in one or more of the activities listed in Table 1, when their children were aged 7[1]. We found that dads were more likely to be involved at school:

  • If they were frequently engaged in childcare activities at home: for example, playing with toys, drawing and painting or going to the park
  • If their children had good grades in their Key Stage 1 Assessments
  • If they were from a more affluent household (defined as having a household income that was more than 60% of the UK median, after housing costs);
  • If they were in paid work; and
  • If they were educated to at least degree level.

We also found differences according to ethnicity: for example, fathers of children from a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background were less likely to get involved with their child’s school compared to fathers of children from white backgrounds.

These findings suggest that barriers to fathers’ school involvement may relate to income, time, work and educational background.

Why do more mothers get involved?

We found that the same barriers that affect fathers’ school involvement hinder mothers’ school involvement. Yet despite this, mothers are much more likely to get involved at school compared to fathers. Why?

Research suggests that the societal expectation that mothers take the main responsibility for children’s care and education continues to dominate despite some shifts in social attitudes about gender roles (e.g. see Curtice et al 2020). For example, research with equal and primary caregiver fathers has found that even when fathers do equal shares of everyday aspects of care and school support, mothers remain the ‘educational executives’ who took primary responsibility for the important decisions about their child’s schooling – like coordinating and managing school activities, and monitoring their educational progress (Brooks and Hodkinson, 2022).

This maternal ‘primary responsibility’ role may be perpetuated by schools and childcare providers, who tend to position the mother as the primary carer and first point of contact despite the father’s main or equal caregiver status. Our own survey of UK fathers found a sizeable proportion of childcare providers and schools mostly or only contacting the mother about various aspects of school life, including sickness, homework and payment of bills (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Who does the school, nursery, pre-school contact most frequently about…

How can we help schools to engage fathers?

The assumption that mothers are (or should be) primarily responsible for managing and coordinating children’s care and education, may act as a barrier to fathers’ participation in school-involvement activities, helping ensure that on average fathers do less.

Schools could help to engage fathers by addressing them directly in their communications, providing resources and activities that encourage dads to participate and running father-targeted events.

It’s worth remembering that fathers (and mothers) do not all have the same time and resources to support children’s education, and that individual and structural inequalities exist amongst different parent groups according to socio-economic status and ethnicity (Parentkind, 2021).

Designing school-involvement activities that can be done from home and do not eat up time and money (including journeys to and from school, which may be expensive) might be preferable for working fathers (and working mothers) – allowing them to engage at different times that can fit around their work schedules. This approach may be especially effective for parents on lower incomes and those who work longer hours.

Schools could also try to implement inclusive strategies to engage fathers from different cultures, for example promoting activities in partnership with local mosques.

Why is this important?

Direct engagement with fathers is important, because if they get involved at school, it demonstrates clearly to the child the value and importance of education. They are also more likely to engage in positive ways in the child’s learning, guided by the school’s resources and recommendations. This may have beneficial effects on children’s development and behaviour over the longer term – as set out in our earlier blog.

Fathers’ greater participation in school-involvement activities could also help shift perceptions around who is primarily responsible for caregiving, thus reducing the burden for mothers and contributing to greater gender equality in the division of care more broadly.


Brooks, R. and Hodkinson, P., 2022. The distribution of ‘educational labour’ in families with equal or primary carer fathers. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 43(7), pp.995-1011.

Campbell (2011) How to involve hard-to-reach parents: encouraging meaningful parental involvement with schools, Research Associate Full report, National College for School Leadership: Nottingham.

Curtice, J., Hudson, N. and Montagu, I. (eds.) (2020), British Social Attitudes: the 37th Report, London: NatCen Social Research.

Goodhall, J., Montgomery, C. (2014) Parental involvement to parental engagement: a continuum Educational Review, 2014 Vol. 66, No. 4, 399–410.

Norman, H., Davies, J. Packman, K. and Lewis, S. (2022), What a difference a dad makes: engaging with fathers as well as mothers, Parentkind.

Parentkind (2021) Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools:


[1] We did this through logistic regression – a statistical method for exploring the relationship between different variables. We used MCS data that had been linked to the National Pupil Database so we could measure attainment in Key Stage Assessments at age 7.

Dataset for the linked MCS-NPD: University College London, UCL Institute of Education, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Department for Education. (2021). Millennium Cohort Study: Linked Education Administrative Datasets (National Pupil Database), England: Secure Access. [data collection]. 2nd Edition. UK Data Service. SN: 8481,

Fathers’ engagement in low-income households and the effects on children’s attainment at primary school

By Dissemination

British Sociological Association Conference – University of Manchester

14-15 April 2023

Abstract: Fathers spend more time on childcare than previous generations but the implications on children are unclear. Research conducted with mothers or ‘parents’ more broadly finds that engagement in educational types of activities (such as reading and playing) has an association with better primary school grades and cognitive skills. However, we know less about the effects from fathers’ engagement, particularly when they live in low-income households where opportunities to engage with children are more constrained.

This paper explores the relationship between paternal childcare engagement, poverty and children’s attainment at primary school. We theorise educational attainment in terms of a capabilities framework (Sen 1992) where household circumstances – such as parental engagement, household income, resources and other socio-demographics – interact and shape children’s opportunities (capabilities) to achieve in different ways.

We use structural equation models on data from three sweeps of the Millennium Cohort Study (2000-06) that have been linked to educational data provided by the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile at age five – a standard assessment for all primary school children in England. Results show that fathers’ childcare engagement does have a positive effect on children’s educational attainment, over and above the mothers’ engagement, and even reduces the negative effects of being in poverty. This has important policy implications because the findings suggest that fathers’ engagement in a child’s learning could offer different ways of tackling persistent socio-economic attainment gaps in early education.

Presentation slides: BSA_2023_HNorman_Fathers, mothers Inv in low income households_clean

Why should dads read with their children every day?

By Dissemination

That’s the title of a blog by DadPad, which you can read here.

We spoke to them about the PIECE study, and the blog includes on overview of our findings, as well as a summary of the Fatherhood Institute’s Fathers Reading Every Day (FRED) programme.

DadPad was set up by Cornwall Inspire CIC to give new fathers targeted information in the perinatal period.

Father reading with his child

Conversations on Care: Fathers and Care – influences and implications

By Dissemination

WiSE Centre for Economic Justice – ‘Conversations on Care’ lecture series, Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland

8th December 2022

Fathers are more involved in childcare and domestic work compared to previous generations but they still do much less than mothers. In this talk, Helen reflects on the gendered division of care, the barriers to father’s childcare involvement and the implications that this has on their children’s development.

Helen with Dr Nina Teasdale, Postdoctoral Fellow at WiSE

Time with Dad: Involving Fathers in the Home Learning Environment

By Dissemination

Fatherhood Institute (FI) online event, 7 October 2022

There were three presentations at this event:

Helen Norman – Does father involvement affect children’s educatonal attainment (PIECE project findings).

Adrienne Burgess – Head of Research at the FI – ‘What has lockdown done for father/child relationships?’

Jeszemma Howl – Head of Training at the FI – Can ten minutes matter? How a reading at home programme (Fathers Reading Every Day) impacts on father-child relationships.

You can watch a recording of the FI event and listen to all the presentations here

You can also read more about the FI work with Family Hubs: 

What a difference a dad makes: engaging with fathers as well as mothers

By Blog

By Helen Norman, Jeremy Davies, Kerry-Jane Packman (Chief Executive & Leadership Team – Parentkind) and Siân Lewis (Head of partnerships – Parentkind)


This blog was first published by Parentkind on 20 September 2022 here: 

Parents play a critical role in their children’s development – this is an accepted fact. More specifically, parental engagement in educational activities at home, such as reading and playing, improves children’s cognitive skills and academic achievements. Parent-school involvement (such as attending parents’ evenings or meetings, joining parent teacher associations or volunteering in extra-curricular activities) can also help support better behaviour, attendance and learning.

However, this useful evidence draws mostly on research conducted with mothers or ‘parents’ in a broad sense. Less is known specifically about fathers and the impact that their engagement has on the child’s cognitive and educational development.

The PIECE (Paternal Involvement and its Effects on Children’s Education) study aims to find out whether, and in what ways, fathers’ engagement in structured activities at home – like playing, reading, drawing, painting, and doing musical activities – influences their children’s educational attainment at primary school.

PIECE project findings

Findings so far suggest that fathers have a unique impact on their children’s academic achievements in the early stages of school.

Based on analysis of a nationally representative group of almost 5,000 two-parent households from a major survey tracking families with children born in the early 2000s (the Millennium Cohort Study), we’ve found that fathers’ childcare engagement had a positive effect on children’s overall attainment in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) at age five – over and above the mothers’ childcare engagement.

In other words, if fathers increased their engagement in educational childcare activities when the child was age five, the child’s overall attainment in the EYFSP also went up. This happened regardless of the child’s gender and ethnicity, age in the school year, whether they had attended formal pre-school childcare, the parents’ employment status and household income.

The mothers’ childcare engagement supported the child in different ways – by improving their prosocial behaviour (children acting in socially beneficial ways, like helping each other, and being aware of other people’s needs), and reducing emotional behaviour and hyperactivity – all traits that help them do better at school.

This suggests that both parents matter, but they matter in different ways.

Barriers to involvement?

Parentkind’s 2021 annual parent survey found that most parents (85%) want to play an active role in their children’s education. In response to Parentkind’s surveys parents have consistently noted that the main reasons that prevent them from getting involved are: not having the time, not being sure what skills and knowledge they have to offer, not being asked and finding the idea of getting involved intimidating. However, some parents face more barriers than others. For example, long and inflexible work hours prevent some fathers from engaging as much as they might like in their child’s care. Low-income parents also face financial and logistical constraints that may prevent them from travelling to and taking part in school activities.

In focus groups with fathers, the PIECE project researchers found residence status to be another barrier to child- and school-engagement. This was especially true because schools tend to channel their communications to one parent or household, rather than recognising or targeting more than one parent or household per child. So mothers – who tend to do, and are often culturally expected to do – more caregiving, are more likely to receive information about their child from the school. This can present obstacles for fathers, especially those in families where children live in more than one household, where mothers are more likely to have majority care.

Traditional preconceptions about gender roles can also play into this. Some fathers report that schools treat mothers as the sole point of contact even where the parents have asked them to direct information to dad. This might partly explain why fathers are also much less likely to participate in school life compared to mothers (for example in the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) – about double the proportion of mums participated in school activities when the child was aged 7 compared to dads[1].

What needs to be done?

It is clear that we need to do more to support and encourage dads to engage with their child’s school and home learning. The data suggests that their increased engagement would have tangible benefits on a child’s early attainment at primary school. However, on average, mothers continue to take most responsibility for childcare and are more likely to participate in school life. Such roles are often considered primarily a maternal responsibility – by society at large and by schools, as well as by many mothers and fathers themselves.

Parentkind’s Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools is an evidence-based foundation for schools leaders, with clear actions, to maximise and build upon parents’ contributions, embed parental participation and create positive partnerships with parents for the benefit of all children. Many methods do not require direct attendance at school, such as responding to school surveys, supporting learning at home and community outreach. From the PIECE project focus groups, targeted father-child events and clear, father-focused materials might encourage paternal school-involvement.

Our early study findings show that this is not just a case of being nice to dads. It is about recognising fathers’ unique impact, maximising the benefits this can bring and truly involving fathers in the education of their children. Not only might that take some of the pressure off mothers, but the evidence shows that our young people and their life chances could see a real boost.

[1] 60.5% of mums were involved in school activities compared to 32.2% of dads in our MCS sample at age 7. School activities includes things like helping out in classes, at the library, or at the school more generally, helping with fundraising or participating in Parent-Teacher Association meetings and committees.

Using longitudinal data to explore how fathers’ involvement affects children’s educational outcomes

By Dissemination

Fathers and Longitudinal Research Panel – Timescapes 10 Festival, 14 September 2022 (online)

Chaired by Professor Anna Tarrant, University of Lincoln

Helen presented a paper that discussed how the use of longitudinal data in the PIECE project allowed her to explore individual trajectories and levels of change in relation to fathers’ involvement, and the impact this has on children’s educational achievements through primary school.

In this presentation, she reflected on the first stage of data analysis that focused on exploring the relationship between fathers’ childcare involvement and educational attainment at one time point, when children are age five. She then reflected on the second stage of analysis, which introduced longitudinal data to account for fathers’ pre-school involvement. This second stage added further nuance and insight to the findings, which show that paternal involvement does has a unique and important effect on attainment at school. She also reflected on some of the qualitative work for the project, which involved bringing in the voices of fathers to enhance understandings of the long-term relationship between paternal care and attainment at school.

She was also joined by Professor Tina Miller and Dr Georgia Phillip.

The Timescapes 10 Festival is a major celebration of advances in qualitative longitudinal methods through a mixture of international symposia, panel sessions, video provocations, sandpits, and demonstrator events. Jointly run through the Timescapes Archive and the National Centre for Research Methods, the Timescapes 10 Festival celebrates ten years since the conclusion of the original Timescapes programme of research. See here for more details about Timescapes 10.