Roles, Responsibilities and Relationships: Engendering Parental Involvement
Paper presented at SERA conference Dundee September 1996
A stream of research has consistently documented the complex and powerful influence that home and community have on young children's educational achievement. Despite a growing acknowledgement that educational strategies to encourage parental involvement to support children's learning must take into account the social context within which they operate, continued use of the word "parent" can conceal the wide diversity and variety of parenting cultures that are encompassed. This paper explores the evolution of a specific home- school initiative, in order to raise questions about how individual schools respond to the diversity in children's home background and culture. It highlights the challenge of developing strategies which offer men and women equal opportunities to be actively involved in their children's early learning. Although salient points are raised about the extent to which the gender bias of parental involvement programmes can influence the involvement of fathers in supporting their children's learning this experience underlines the importance of not concentrating on gender issues to the detriment of other issues which emerged as determining the quality of parent- professional relationship.
This paper does not offer a blueprint for success but it does highlight the importance of analysing the current social context within which any home-school initiative operates and of providing a means to build on the interests, motivation and relationships that already exist.
Over the last two decades a stream of research has consistently highlighted the complex and powerful influence that home and community have on young children's educational achievement and has given prominence to the need for parents and teachers to work together. It is now widely acknowledged that educational strategies must take into account the social context within which they operate. This and the increasing regulation of relationships between parents and schools through legal and contractual requirements has resulted in home-school relations being regarded as a key professional task. Despite a growing consensus that the relationships between home, school and community should be an integral part of school development plans and an increasing number of developments in education seeking to ensure continuity of experience from the context of home to school being implemented, a number of questions and concerns are being raised which require the character and intentions of parental involvement to be further examined and reshaped. This paper will, through a description of the evolution of a specific home- school inititiative, raise questions about how schools respond to the diversity in children's home background and culture and highlight the gendered nature of educational planning and implementation of pre-school initiatives to encourage and support parental participation in early learning.
Although an ever expanding body of literature in the field of home-school relations stresses the importance of the relationships between teachers and parents
Git is being increasingly recognised that the concept of "parental involvement" is often used as a convenient "umbrella term" to cover all types of contact between home and school (Sharrock 1970) and is one which has been defined and interpreted in a variety of different ways each with its own different philosophical and ideological base. In a political context, legislation since the 1980's focusing on parental rights and choice with respect to their children's schooling has encouraged debates about the boundaries between school and parents. Parents now have rights to information about curriculum and organisation of school settings and information about their child's programme of work and the progress they make.
In school effectiveness terms, recent international comparisons and extensive media coverage have raised increasing concern about falling standards in schools This has led to further scrutiny of the relationship between parents and professionals. With parental involvement now identified as one of the key variables of the 3 "Es" effectiveness, efficiency and excellence of educational establishments. (Gotts & Purnell 1987, Jowett & Baginsky 1991, Brighouse & Tomlinson (1991) and as an important factor for the effectiveness of any interventionist programme (Brofenbrenner 1974, Fraser 1996) schools are under increasing pressure to explore ways of effectively working with parents.
One of the most important factors that has served to emphasise the vital contribution that parents make has been the significant change in our understanding of young children as learners. Child pyschology studies, documenting the significance of a child's early years for future development have increasingly emphasised the wide diversity of experience, knowledge and understanding that children gain prior to coming to school. Viewing children as "active learners" whose learning is "embedded in the network of people and their purposes and interests that make up the community." (Hughes 1986) has resulted in a growing recognition of the importance of children's experiences beyond the school boundary and of the complex and powerful influence of the home and family on children's learning. The potential of all homes, even those in conditions of extreme poverty, as contexts for learning is increasingly highlighted.
Research studies (Hannon & James 1990 ) continue to emphasise the considerable influence of the knowledge and experience children gain or don't gain before coming to school on future attainment. The development of children's future understanding and knowledge depends on educators recognising and building on their existing experiences and it is now widely acknowledged that for maximum benefit the school must successfully build upon the child's existing knowledge and experience. In addition the increasing focus on baseline assessment at P1 and transfer of information in the transition between pre- school and school means that it is now essential that teachers listen to parents to gain better understanding of the knowledge and experience children have gained before coming to school. (Hannon et al 1991) Although current discussions focus on how to implement policies and strategies which enable schools to involve parents meaningfully in their role to support their children's learning there is evidence to suggest that educators continue to underestimate the prior knowledge and experience that children bring to school and that the home continues to be an underused resource( Epstein 1986).
Amidst growing evidence that the school's practices not just family characteristics make a difference to the extent to which parents do / do not become involved. schools (Dauber & Epstein 1993) schools now face the ongoing challenge of exploring how best to contact and involve parents and to build up relationships between parents and professionals to enhance educational achievement. "The practical challenge for teachers is this- how they can help parents to understand what they are doing in the classroom and support parents in their efforts to provide experiences at home." (Hughes,Wikely & Nash 1990)
Recognition that parents are a key source of information and an important educational resource has marked a significant change in perspective about the relationship between home and school and of the role of parents vis a vis teachers.
As a result we are now in the era of the partnership trend which emphasises the role of the teachers as partner and co-operative worker. (Skilbeck cited in Fish 1995:186) It has been suggested however, that the current common usage of the term "partnership with parents" masks the complexity of clearly defining the concept and the difficulty of translating this into practice. (Bastiani in Munn 1993:113). The partnership discourse creates potential challenges for both parents and schools and Atkin et al (1988) have highlighted the important role of education authorities in effectively assessing local needs and in encouraging and supporting individual school developments towards effective home-school liasion.
Education Authorities are now being presented with the responsibility of developing policy and practice to enhance working relationships between teachers and parents and to support individual institutions as they put into practice strategies to create links between bome and school.
The Pilton initiative
The City of Edinburgh has a long tradition of involving parents in nursery education. Major research into the status of the family and debates about school effectiveness influence the policies and practice of Education Authorities. The growing recognition of the importance of parents and teachers working together for continuity of learning and experience has underpinned the many funded projects in the field of home-school relations that have been developed in the city over the last decade. (Mother Start:Raven1980, Craigmillar Children's Project: Whyte 1992).
The Pilton Home Link Project (1990 - 1995), an Early Intervention initiative, was set up to strengthen links between families and schools in a multi deprived area of Edinburgh. Jowett & Baginsky (1991) however caution that it is frequently assumed that parental involvement is a good thing per se without any real understanding about what this phrase encompasses or what principles underpin such an approach. The Pilton project's expressed aims of developing the concept of shared responsibility for children's learning and recognising and using the family's contribution reflect the current shift in emphasis from education being the sole responsibility of the school to the realisation that families play an important role in children's learning.
There is evidence to suggest however that although professionals now widely recognise the crucial role that parents play in young children's learning and development parents often find it difficult to see how what they do at home with their children has a positive influence on their children's learning. Many continue to believe their influence is minimal compared to that of the formal process of education. (Lynch & Pimlott 1976) The prime focus within the project initially was therefore to lay a foundation for better communication between home and school which encouraged channels of two way communication and to enhance parental confidence in their ability to play an active role in their children's learning in the early years.
The creation of a Homelink Teacher post in the Pilton Project specifically for implementing programmes and practices to contact and involve parents was seen to be central to building up relationships between parents and professionals. Although there continues to be some debate about the extent to which effective home-school communication and contact can be created and sustained by making one person responsible for partnership work evaluation of the effectiveness of the role of the homelink teacher in the early stages of this project indicates that having a teacher with the specific remit of "working with parents" was a valuable resource in making more effective contact with the wider community, in initially establishing a range of opportunities for parental involvement and in helping parents to feel more secure and confident about their involvement in both in school and out of school settings. (Caddell 1994)
The gender neutrality of the term "parent" in the reporting of Early Intervention strategies has been criticised as implying participation from both mother and father when it is clear that it is referring to predominantly maternal involvement. (Hughes et al 1991, David 1993 ) The reality within this context was that both mothers and fathers were becoming more actively involved and making choices about the nature of that involvement e.g. barbeques, outings, sports day. The term "parent" did therefore seem to reflect the reality of involvement with young children particularly at family events in the nursery. However, as the Project progressed it became clear that project initiatives to encourage more active involvement within the school setting, attracted mainly mothers. Men were not making use of the developing opportunities for involvement offered to the same extent as women. This raised the issue of why men, while bringing children to and from nursery on a regular basis were not as actively involved as mothers within the school setting.
Why should a focus on paternal involvement be a key issue?
The important role that fathers play in the education and development of their children has over the past two decades increasingly become a focus of interest and discussion on a number of different levels. Internationally, the European Commission, has played a central role in making the participation that men have in the care and upbringing of their children a topic that is currently being researched more closely. The titles of conferences that have taken place in Europe e.g. "Father Figures - fathers in the families of the 1990s"(1994) "Men and their Children" (1996) Men as Carers (Italy 1993) and "Fathers in the families of tomorrow" (Denmark 1993) indicate this widening debate about fathers and the increasing interest in the role fathers assume within their families. In terms of the role that fathers play in supporting their young children's learning a growing body of research, which continues to highlight the complex and powerful influence of home and community, has led to the growing recognition that both parents have an impact on their young children development and learning. Study findings suggesting that fathers make positive contributions to all aspects of children's development e.g. self confidence, sex roles, acfhievement motivation are now challenging prevailing attitudes and expectations that it is normal for the care of young children to be predominantly the domain of the mother .
The changing priorities of the Pilton Project.
The issue of why men were less likely than women to take up opportunities for involvement despite them playing a significant role in bringing their children to the setting became even more apparent when the focus of the Project changed towards a literacy focus. This change in priority towards a specific focus on early literacy and the nature of parental involvement sought reflected the growing wider national concern about levels of literacy achievement. Recent evidence from external evaluations of Early Intervention Projects suggest parental involvement to be of positive value and that regular parental assistance is linked to children's motivation and future progress in literacy skills. (Fraser 1996, ) The central aims of the Pilton project therefore became more focused on developing opportunities for parents to become actively involved specifically in their children's early literacy development.
Although very little existing research focuses specifically on fathers' involvement in children's schooling ( Lareau 1993) reviews of early literacy research suggest that gender plays a role in boys' choice of reading material (Save the Children ). The growing interest in exploring factors which influenced and inhibited fathers involvement within this particular initiative can therefore be seen to be partly related to the wider significance of the influence of male involvement in children's early literacy development. There was however another important aspect that came to light as the project evolved which resulted in the extent of fathers' involvement becoming a necessary area of interest.
Within the Pilton project meeting parents on their own territory was seen as an effective move towards establishing relationships to support and build on what families were already doing . Home visits were an integral part of the homelink teacher's role. Men's employment patterns are often offered as a significant barrier to more active involvement in family life. This usually refers to pressures on men of being in the "breadwinner" role. In this particular context however the employment trend was high unemployment amongst men and an increase in the number of mothers with young children going out to part time work. As a result not only were more men bringing children to and from nursery and school but increasingly when home visits were being made to families it was the fathers who were "at home" with the children.
Discussions with fathers during these home visits indicated that. although very few fathers had participated in existing programmes which had been developed for "parents, there was a significant number of fathers who were interested in being more actively involved in supporting their young children's learning. Comments shared suggested however that were unsure of how to go about this. There was a widely accepted view amongst the men that nursery was essentially a service for women and children and that the nursery, dominated by women and female staff, did not offer them an environment in which they felt comfortable.
Parents' Room or mothers' room?
Fathers made particular reference to the quality of parent to parent interaction within the parents' room. Parents' Rooms have been described as "a symbol of the participation and involvement of parents" (Bastiani 1989). The extent to which parents use groups as the opportunity to sit down, have a cup of tea and a chat has been identified as a pre- requisite to other forms of involvement (Ferri & Niblett 1977, Pugh et al 1987). The importance of an attractive, welcoming environment for parents to come into and a general ethos in which parents believe they are welcome and of value has been identified as a critical factor in constructing and developing home- school relations. Project schools had set up parents' rooms as the "organisational hub" with regard to initiating events for parental involvement but this environment was perceived by individual fathers to be particularly female orientated and dominated.
"Even if you go into the parents' room it's all mothers."
"Well take women when they start talking there's just themselves and nobody else."
Although the predominance of women in the parents' room could suggest a gender bias there was evidence to suggest that the extent to which opportunities for involvement met individual needs and interests was not necessarily a gender issue. School staff had in the past been made aware of difficulties in meeting the expectations of all parents. Attendance at and interest in opportunities that they had developed for parents to be more actively involved in their children's learning was often limited. Work commitments and conflicting family priorities had in their experience been factors limiting the involvement of both men and women. The different perceptions that men and women had of the parents' room did however raise an important issue. Despite an apparent exclusion of both men and women comments made by women implied that many of them had and were continuing to make a conscious choice not to come into the room. In contrast, the feeling that men had of this context being a female orientated and female dominated environment "a place for mothers", suggests that this impression of a gender bias was a crucial factor in inhibiting them from coming in or from spending any significant time there.
There was also evidence that some men believed that there appeared to be less options open to them to be involved with their children than those open to women.
As one father put it,
"There's a lot of fathers bring their children to nursery and to school for that matter but there's nothing for dads. It's all women. It's time to give the dads a chance that's what I say."
The new challenge identified within the project was therefore linked to debates of equality of opportunity; that of developing both strategies and locations which would give both men and women equal opportunities in sharing time with their children and of ensuring that there were options of interest to fathers so that those who wished could be more involved in supporting their children's early literacy development.
Communication with parents
Although much of the research on parental involvement concentrates on the relationship between parents and the institution, individual attitudes and attributes are also recognised as a crucial element for setting the scene for parent-teacher relationships. (Lareau 1987, Epstein. 1989, ) There is a substantial research base which s|uggests that the extent and quality of teacher -parent communications can increase forms of parental involvement. (Moles 1993, Dauber & Epstein 1993, Hoover & Dempsey et al 1992. ) Staff teams in individual project schools had already established communication with parents about the new literacy initiative and were sharing information with parents about how they could be more actively involved in supporting their children's early literacy development. In the nursery context regular daily face to face contact was proving to be valuable in terms of keeping parents up to date through exchange of information and in helping both parents and staff to feel comfortable in their interaction with each other.
Although observations of parents as they brought their child to and from the nursery indicated a degree of shared responsibility between mother and father in bringing child to and from the setting it was the mothers who were more likely to communicate with staff on a day to day basis. Restricted opportunities for interaction have been identified as a barrier to parental involvement in school participation (Moles 1993). Early years staff members in schools are pre-dominantly female and questions have been raised about the extent to which nursery staff in their daily contact with bith both fathers and mothers may re-inforce the stereotypical view that the care of young children is predominantly the responsibility of mothers. (Coleman 1991). The pattern of communication between staff and parents could therefore raise issues about differences for mothers and fathers in terms of home-school communication and relationships.
But can communication barriers between staff and fathers be seen solely as a gender issue? Studies have identified key factors and characteristics affecting the way in which parents and professionals relate to each other. ( Wolfendale, 1992. Marsh. 1995) In the context of the Pilton initiative comments from mothers during home visits about having to "make an effort" and "pluck up courage" to talk to the staff about their child questioned whether talking to professionals is in fact effortless, or easier for women than it is for men. Lack of confidence and "fear of making a fool of yourself if you ask the staff something that you should already know" were identified by both men and women as influencing the extent to which as parents they felt comfortable in talking to teachers.
Comments made by Pilton fathers in the course of conversations with the home link teacher "Bet you own your own house", "When I was at school I never stayed around the place long enough to get to know the teachers." and "Spend time in the nursery? I'd feel right out of place.. a real giant amongst all the wee kids." suggest awareness of social class differences between themselves and teachers, personal memories of school, past relationships with teachers and personal characteristics such as being tall were further potential factors which may influence men's confidence and assertiveness in making contact with professionals. The attitude of individual teachers and the extent to which they develop a good rapport with individuals also influences the type and extent of involvement of both parentsThese perceptions and comments from both mothers and fathers serve to caution that to focus solely on gender may mask other influences which determine the nature of staff- father interactions. .
Father's involvement: women's perceptions
Another important factor which has been identified as determining father participation is the extent of women's acceptance and encouragement. (Lamb et al 1985, Atkinson 1991). It has Vbeen suggested that mothers, "many of whom struggle with the ambivalence of overtly seeking paternal involvement but covertly experiencing an encroachment on their domain of perceived power and expertise." (Russell 1994:17 cited in Henry 1996:5) ) often present barriers to fathers adopting a more active role in the family. Such conflict was to some degree apparent in the Pilton context. Although many mothers shared with the homelink teacher that they wished their partner would share more of the responsibility for family work and for supporting their children there appeared to be a sense of frustration caused by women feeling impeded by their partner's presence."He's always under my feet." This and women's general response of "He'll never come to something like that."when the idea of an intitiative for dads and their children was first aired serves to heighten awareness that any intiative with the potential of influencing or changing family roles may present challenges to individual and family expectations. Past experiences of developing opportunities for involvement had suggested that work commitments and conflicting family priorities had limited the involvement of both men and women. In developing this new initiative it was therefore vital that the opportunities for involvement offered were realistic in the context of "pressing family routines". In deciding how best to build on the parental involvement which already existed in terms of family interest, motivation and relationships close attention had to be paid to the views of everybody concerned.
Timing and location of activities
Initial developments and the practical decisions that had to be made in terms of the when, where, and how to attract individual fathers to this new all male initiative were guided and informed by listening to comments from both fathers and mothers. Attentive listening to the views and priorities of both mothers and fathers suggested that an all male initiative was the way forward and that a Friday morning suited the majority of partners. Mothers it seemed were keen to have time just before the weekend to see to necessary family routines without children "in tow" and fathers' responses suggested that to come on a Friday fitted well with other potential competing priorities. Both identified that this specific day also benefited the children. It helped to compensate for the asymmetric week in place in the nursery which meant that their children had shorter sessions in the nurserry on a Friday. This particular choice of day and time however highlights a significant situation in terms of equality of opportunity. Attendance depended on the men "being free" to be with their children during potential working hours. It was the status of being unemployed which enabled men to come to this group. Employment patterns, high male unemployment in the area, meant that initially this was not an issue but as the group became more established, gained a higher profile and as more men became interested in joining the group there was evidence that being in employment was indeed an excluding factor for some men. Perhaps more crucially two of the regular participants on the offer of employment had to temporarily sever their relationships with the group. When the employment ended these two fathers found it too challenging to pick up where they left off as the dynamics of the group had "moved on"
The location for weekly meetings of the group was the parents' room of one of the 4 project schools. To an extent this decision was a pragmatic one, based on the "best accommodation" available but it also reflected a need to explore how parents' rooms could be made into a setting in which men felt less self conscious. The choice of the specific school however was significantly influenced by another factor; the homelink teacher's knowledge of and relationship with individual fathers. It has been argued that many parental involvement programmes assume an unrealistic level of confidence. competence and interest of parents. (Macleod 1996) The roles of fathers vis-a-vis their young children are affected not only by their own beliefs and attitudes but also those of the community around them . The majority of men initially came to the group as individuals unsupported by friends. The level of confidence and self esteem required was not easily realised by all of the Pilton fathers. The choice of location reflected the realtionships the homelink teacher had developed with individual families and fathers. Through her relationship with individuals fathers she had developed an awareness of fathers who were more confident than others on their "home ground" and could identify those who had the assertiveness and confidence to come into a school environment neither they or there children were familiar with. In these early days of the intiative the confidence of individuals and the relationships individual men developed with each other, the homelink teacher and the group were of crucial importance.
It has been suggested that if the involvement of fathers is to be encouraged the presence of male workers to provide role models and to help challenge stereotypical views of men is essential. To some extent having a local "rock musician" to play nursery rhymes and songs for the group it could be argued provided such a role model. Certainly in the very early days there were two or three fathers who were encouraged to come along because of "the chance of getting closer to the guitarist......" .but there was clear messages from the majority of men that " You're really there for the kids and well we really just have to sit back and hide behind the kids when you're singing. "
Nature of the activities
It has been suggested that examination of the type of involvement that is encouraged in home- school initiatives is necessary because the predominance of mothers' involvement influences the type of involvement that is encouraged. However, the experience of this initiative indicates how important it is not to fall into the trap of developing further stereotypes. Some of the fathers who became regular attenders were divorced or separated from their partners and were the prime carers of their children. The roles they played in their children's upbringing had strong parallels to the gender typical roles of mothers. Over emphasis on male and female differences could therefore have marginalised these fathers who were playing both roles. In addition, another father, a well known local "biker" enjoyed cake baking as a hobby. In this context it was necessary, when developing strategies, not only to examine the type of involvement that was being encouraged but also the assumptions that were being invoked when developing "appropriate opportunities" for parents to be more actively involved. Listening to the needs and interests expressed by fathers was once again the key to identifying common interests, and the way forward in deciding on the nature of the activities. In this particular context it was a common interest in music amongst fathers that provided the initial focus for shared activity. Singing songs and rhyme, was a key activity in all four nursery classes that the children attended. This particular focus therefore also provided opportunity for the children involved to build on previous nursery experiences and for the fathers to make links between these and the songs their children enjoyed at home.
As the group progressed the variety of activities enjoyed by fathers and children did not always include music. The men were keen to know more about other ways in which they could support their children's learning. It appeared that personality, relationships and group acceptance were important factors in helping individual men adopt roles with their children which may have challenged the expectations of the individuals involved. The Pilton experience highlighted that it was the confidence and assertiveness of individual parents that determined whether or not the opportunities offered by the initiative was in fact effective in sharing the message with fathers that they are a valued resource in their child's learning. This again highlights the need to be aware that gender is only one of a wide spectrum of factors which may influence relationships and the ways in which fathers become involved in their children's learning.
Dads & Kids?
Closer examination of the composition of the group raises some further interesting issues. Although the term "dads" gave an identity to the group the use of this term was not wholly accurate. Two single fathers with sole custody of their children were regular participants but another lone father with sole custody of his children made a conscious choice not to join the group. Passing comments about how since his partner's death he found it difficult to "keep up with his mates" and to maintain regular contact with them through common male networks in the pub etc. perhaps raise questions about the extent to which his role had created a barrier between him and other men. Additionally, inclusion of grandads and exclusion of drug users (made obvious by public acceptance / rejection by the other men in the group) draws attention to subtler issues . and raises questions about how in other contexts non -strategic use of the the word "father" could constrain as well as liberate and serves to highlight the importance of ensuring correct strategic use of any term.
There was evidence to suggest that the personality and confidence of individual men was a key factor in the extent to which wider community dynamics and expectations influenced the decisions made by individual men to come/ not come to the group. Initially the men who came to the group were those who had the necessary individual "street cred" to combat any negative comments from their peer group about singing children's songs. As one father put it "Well dads are supposqed to be all sort of macho and when you get up to sing something like the teapot song well not many dads in this community would want to be seen doing that!" However, as the initiative evolved there was further evidence that the issues around encouraging individual parents to be more actively involved was proving to be much more complex than either a gender or personality issue. In deciding to use community resources to make their own "Dads & Kids" teashirts and banner it became very evident that the fathers perceptions of their role in the group and the dynamics within the group had "moved on" They were now keen to communicate a "group" identity . The influence of wider community dynamics and expectations could not be underestimated. This new group identity was not only a turning point for the men involved. It had a significant effect the perceptions of other men and the women in the community. Levels of acceptance and encouragement from mothers have been identified as a crucial aspect in influencing fathers involvement in the home. (Lamb et al 1987) They suggest that to have positive consequences it must be the result of the desires of both parents. The "Dads & Kids" experience suggests that as the group evolved both men and women in the wider community were becoming more aware of the group activities and that it was becoming a topic of conversation in and around the local community. Within individual families there was evidence that both parents were to some extent beginning to see the potential of assuming joint responsibility for parenting functions and were less ambivalent about the sharing of roles
There was evidence that group's activities also had an effect on the attitude of the early educators who had daily contact with the families. The Dads & Kids experience had caused them to examine their current attitudes and approaches to encouraging parental involvement. Guided by the comments of both mothers and fathers staff were able to identify new characteristics of parental involvement approaches and were using these to inform planning and practice.
"In our zeal to include fathers we should be careful about trying too hard and we must remember that condescension can be as damaging as exclusion."
The way forward?
The importance of effective home- school relationships and the positive effects of parental involvement continue to be documented. As a result both parents and educators are under increasing pressure to work "in partnership" to support children's learning. This presentation has presented a brief "snapshot" of the very early stages of an intiative which is continuing to inform the the planning and practice of home-school programmes. It does not offer any blueprint for success but it does offer insights into the complexities of developing strategies to increase options open to fathers to support their children's learning. The ongoing "Dads & Kids" initiative continues to raise salient points about gender as an issue but this is only one of a variety of factors. The evolution of this initiative continues to stress the importance of not concentrating on gender to the detriment of other issues which emerge.
In particular several key issues are raised. Relationships within the group were central to the effectiveness of this initiative but the evolution of the group also highlights the need to build on an analysis of the current context and to identify potential barriers. In developing any home-school initiative it is vitally important to "listen to parents", to acknowledge the influence of the wider community dynamics and expectation and to understand more about how gender constructs, as well as wider social identities impact on "parents" roles. The success of this particular initiative without the presence of a male "role model" as leader in enhancing the role of fathers in their young children's early learning highlights the need to recognise the wider identities including class, social identity and experience.
It has encouraged early educators in the schools involved to look carefully at the degree of support that fathers receive in their role as parents and has highlighted ther importance of being sensitive to the challenges that new roles may present in terms of individual and family expectations. Listening to the experiences of the families involved has given them deeper insights into the lives and roles of the families involved.
Hannon & James (1990) assert that is if we are to increase parental effectiveness as well as involvement in supporting children's kearning then educators need to go beyond merely making broad suggestions to parents. Issues raised by the Pilton "Dads & Kids" experience can perhaps help towards ensuring that parental support continues to be effectively channeled.
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