Helen and Rose presented further findings from the statistical analysis that explored how fathers and mothers childcare involvement affects educational attainment in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile at age five at three conferences:
By Dr Helen Norman, Dr Jeremy Davies and Dr Rose Smith
Fathers now spend more time on childcare than their own fathers did, but three-fifths (59%) feel they do not spend enough time with their children – and this may be impacting negatively on their children’s learning.
Our analysis of almost 5,000 two parent households from the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study (footnote 1) found that almost a fifth (18%) of dads felt the time they spent with their five-year-old was ‘nowhere near enough’. Another two-fifths (41%) felt their time together was ‘not quite enough’(see Graph 1 below).
We wanted to find out whether there was a relationship between the amount of time fathers felt they had with their five-year-old, and their child’s overall achievement in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) at age five.
What we found
Using logistic regression analysis (a statistical method for exploring the relationship between different variables), we found that the odds of children reaching a good level of overall achievement in the EYFSP (footnote 2) reduced by 18% if the father said he spent ‘nowhere near enough time’ with his child.
This was the case even when we accounted for other factors that might affect the child’s attainment. These included the child’s age in the school year, their gender, ethnicity, household income, whether they had been to pre-school formal childcare and their parents’ employment status. In contrast, the mother’s feelings about time spent with her child had no significant effect.
This suggests that time spent with fathers is important, but we note that this is not the only thing that affects how well a child does at school. For example, socio-economic status, peer relationships and quality of teaching are likely to be important too. We want to find out whether fathers’ involvement might interact with or change some of these other influences.
The effect of long working hours
Several factors can affect fathers’ time spent with children – like the demands of their job, their partner’s employment status, whether they have access to formal childcare and their own parenting attitudes and beliefs (see Norman et al. 2014; Fagan and Norman 2016; Hardy et al. 2022 for more details).
Our analysis with the MCS found that work hours are important. A quarter of dads (24.7%) who worked long full-time hours (45+ per week) said they spent ‘nowhere near enough time’ with their five-year-old, compared to 17% of dads who worked standard full-time hours (30-45 per week).
Graph 1. How do fathers feel about the amount of time they spend with their child (aged 5)?
Source: Sweep 3 (2006) of the MCS – when cohort children are aged five. The sample comprises 4,966 two (opposite sex) parent households in England. Ten dads who answered ‘not sure’ and 79 dads who did not provide a response to the question are excluded from the Figure. Data is weighted to account for the stratified sampling design and non-response.
Exploring what dads do with the time they have
So far, we have considered how fathers feel about the time they spend with their children, but what about what fathers actually do with their children – does this have any effect?
As our study progresses, we will explore whether and how fathers’ childcare involvement affects their children’s educational attainment in more depth. We have developed robust measures of fathers’ (and mothers’) involvement in childcare activities, so we can look further at the relationship between parental involvement and children’s educational attainment at age five.
We will also look at attainment at ages seven and eleven, by linking the data to the official educational records of children in the National Pupil Database. As well as establishing whether and how fathers have an impact, we will consider whether this is more important for boys or girls – or at certain stages of the child’s life.
We want to look at this because we know that inequalities in attainment start from an early age. We know that among children surveyed in our sample of the Millennium Cohort Study, more than three-fifths (62.4%) of girls reached a good level of achievement in the EYFSP compared to less than half (46.8%) of boys. Just 39% of children from poorer households (footnote 3) reached a good level of achievement compared to 57.5% of children from more affluent households.
Could fathers’ involvement at home help to alleviate some of these gendered and socio-economic effects?
Dads and reading
In our initial explorations of the MCS, we found that a higher proportion of children reached a good level of overall achievement in the EYFSP when dads engaged regularly in activities such as drawing and painting, playing games and reading with their children.
For example, as Graph 2 shows, three-fifths (60%) of children whose dads read to them regularly (i.e. several times a week or more) reached a good level of overall achievement in the EYFSP, compared to just two-fifths (38%) of children whose dads rarely did this. It is clear that the proportion of children reaching a good level of EYFSP achievement falls as the frequency of fathers’ reading with them reduces.
The pattern is similar for mothers, although the proportion of children reaching a good level of EYFSP achievement if the mother reads to them regularly (57%) is slightly lower (see Graph 3).
This suggests that both parents’ involvement is important. In our ongoing analysis we aim to explore, in more detail, the different ways fathers and mothers may affect their children’s overall achievement, and how this varies according to socio-demographics and children’s own characteristics.
Graph 2: The proportion of children who achieved a good level of achievement, or lower, in the EYFSP – according to how often fathers read to them at home
Graph 3: The proportion of children who achieved a good level of achievement, or lower, in the EYFSP – according to how often mothers read to them at home
Would you like to take part in the PIECE Talks – a series of think-ins where we’ll explore issues raised in this blog, and our wider study? Click here for more details.
We analysed data from the first three sweeps of the Millennium Cohort Study – a nationally representative survey that follows the lives of children born in 2000-01.
The EYFSP captures the ‘Early Learning Goals’ as a set of 13 assessment scales including, for example, disposition and attitudes, emotional development, reading, writing and knowledge and understanding about the world. The Department for Education defines a Good Level of Achievement as a score of ≥78 points in the total EYFSP score (which ranges from 0-117) but this must include a score of ≥6 in each individual scale under Personal, social and emotional development and Communication, language and literacy (for more detail see the EYFSP handbook).
Families whose equivalised income was 60% below the UK median, before housing costs, were defined as being poverty (Ketende & Joshi, 2008).
Norman H, Elliot M, Fagan C. 2014. Which fathers are the most involved in taking care of their toddlers in the UK? An investigation of the predictors of paternal involvement. Community, Work & Family. 17(2), pp. 163-180
Fagan C, Norman H. 2016. Which Fathers Are Involved in Caring for Pre-school Age Children in the United Kingdom? A Longitudinal Analysis of the Influence of Work Hours in Employment on Shared Childcare Arrangements in Couple Households. In: Ruspini E; Crespi I (eds.) Balancing Work and Family in a Changing Society: The Fathers’ Perspective. Global Masculinities. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 83-98
We ran a series of online discussion events (‘PIECE Talks’) with parents and education practitioners in May 2022. These focused on understanding how fathers support their children’s learning, the help fathers want and receive, and any challenges.
We know, from existing research, that parents’ early childcare involvement is important for children’s development – but much of this evidence is based on research conducted with mothers or parents more generally. We know less about whether and how fathers’ impact on their children’s development – even though fathers have an equally important role to play in the care of their children!
Who did we speak to?
We spoke to fathers who have at least one child under the age of 12, and who are from a diversity of backgrounds (including, but not limited to, biological/non-biological parents, those in two parent or single parent families, parents that live with their children full or part-time, or not at all).
We asked about what fathers do, what support (if any) schools, nurseries and other family services offer and whether there are particular challenges to fathers’ (and mothers’) involvement in their children’s care and learning.
We also spoke to teachers, heads and other school staff with a role in parental engagement, early years managers and staff, people from organisations and projects with an education focus and companies/ projects using technology to support parent-school relationships.
Why did we hold the PIECE Talks?
The ‘PIECE Talks’ have helped to inform our wider study, which explores links between fathers’ involvement in everyday educational and caregiving activities, and children’s progress at primary school. The care and support fathers provide is wide-ranging and might include helping with homework, or simply playing a game or going out for a walk. We wanted to find out what dads do and feel is important. We also wanted to hear about the support schools and nurseries provide.
When and where did the PIECE Talks take place?
We held the PIECE talks online (using Zoom) with fathers, and schools/ early years settings/ the education sector to share some of our early project findings, and to hear different perspectives and experiences around fathers’ childcare and school involvement. They have fed into our resources for schools, early years settings and families. We audio recorded the sessions, but only for transcription purposes and everyone’s contributions have been anonymised.
The PIECE Talks ran as follows:
Fathers: 16 May 2022 at 7.30pm – 9pm
Education sector: 19 May 2022 at 12pm – 1.30pm.
Download a PDF version of our flyer for the events (this includes an invitation for a mother-focused event, which we were unable to hold, below…
Our newFathers and Children’s Learning survey aims to build a better understanding of how fathers get involved in supporting their children’s learning, and how schools, nurseries and other family services can help.
The survey is aimed at all fathers (biological or otherwise) with children aged under 12, and asks them about:
What they do to support their children’s education
How confident they feel doing this
The support they receive from their children’s schools
Whether there are areas they’d like more help with, and what they’d find most useful.
Later this year (in spring/summer 2022) we will be holding online sessions with parents and professionals, to think more deeply about ways to support fathers’ involvement. We will also produce toolkits to help schools and nurseries – and families themselves – maximise fathers’ involvement. The Fathers and Children’s Learning survey will feed into all of this, so it’s an important first step on a bigger journey.
Please promote the survey to parents, and others who can spread the word. You can download resources to help you do this, below. Promoting the survey could be a great way for your organisation to open a deeper conversation with parents – and taking part in one of our online discussions later this year could help with this too.
Stay in touch
To make sure you stay in touch with our project, and receive an invite to our online sessions, join the Fatherhood Institute’s Time with Dad network here, or email Dr Jeremy Davies via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Downloads to help you promote the survey
We’ve created a printable poster and flyer, for you to hand out and post on noticeboards in schools, nurseries, workplaces and community spaces. There are also templates for letters/emails (a version to send to Dad, a version to send to Mum and a version addressed ‘Dear Parents’), and some suggested SMS/Whatsapp messages and social media posts. You can download these below.