In our school this year, we are focusing on raising the attainment of boys in relation to their female peers. This is by no means anything new; the gender gap is an entity that has plagued school results for as long as I can remember (and probably long before that). I should say that our boys perform better than national averages, but do not perform as well as the girls.
You might be sat there in the same position. You’ve got an interesting situation in your school, where girls are outperforming boys, it features prominently on your School Improvement Plan (SIP), and you’ve read all the new books on the subject etc.
One of the things we’re trialling this year, in an attempt to improve outcomes for boys, is to try and involve dads more in school life. As part of this initiative, we’re running termly events with dads as the specifically chosen targeted audience. The intended impact of this is twofold:
- Actively engage dads more in the education of their children, with a particular focus on boys
- Provide dads with a networking opportunity
In many ways, I think that the latter is perhaps the most important. Generally speaking, within our school anyway, it’s mums who ‘do the school-run’. They are the ones who engage in that ongoing dialogue with school and have the opportunity to ‘network’ with other mums. In this way, mums are able to extend their personal network. Our personal networks are an invaluable resource when we encounter a problem. It allows us to ask a question of somebody else, who can then consult someone from their network, and so on until a solution or suitable advice is arrived upon.
In facilitating termly events for dads, and other male role models and carers, one aim is to help dads to add an extra branch to their personal networks: other dads.
As a school, we sent out surveys targeting dads and male role models and carers specifically. What we wanted to find out was whether there were any barriers in place restricting their involvement with their children’s education, both in school and at home. The results were fascinating.
Our annual parent survey from the close of the last academic year was overwhelmingly positive, but when we engaged with just the dads we discovered some key issues. Dads:
- felt less comfortable coming into school,
- had decreased capacity to attend school events,
- had very little time to share books with their children,
- had less time than mums to assist with home learning activities and felt less confident in helping with home-learning tasks.
Although these findings originate from a small-scale piece of research done within one school, I can well imagine that these results could be replicated across the vast majority of schools. Additionally, I am not suggesting that this stems purely from the day-to-day running of a school; quite the contrary, it is my personal belief that many of these barriers originate from outdated social ‘norms’ and stereotypes – something we also hope to address in our work this year.
Our aim this academic year is to begin removing these barriers and communicating the message that male role models matter in the experiences linked to children’s education. On this note, we fully appreciate that not all homes have male role models residing in them and it is for this reason that we are actively encouraging dads to come in and share their skills and expertise with the children in our school. Although we use the term ‘dad’, we invariably refer to a whole range of role models within children’s lives.
This term, we held a ‘Dads Breakfast’ event. Invitations went out to welcome dads into school one morning where they could enjoy a hot drink and a breakfast roll. We hoped that this was the very first step to removing some of the barriers that we identified. It was a very well-attended and brilliant morning.
I’ve included a snippet of verbal feedback below:
“This was a great idea because schools often listen to mums, but today it was good to be able to talk to school staff and have events for dads.”
Unpacking this one short statement is an undertaking in itself. Listening to this person talk about their thoughts and feelings was an invaluable experience. It made me ponder how they came to acquire their personal belief that schools have a bias towards mums and female carers. There are a plethora of reasons why this could be the case, perhaps not least of all the predominantly female workforce. It made me realise that in tackling the gender gap we were embarking on a much more difficult, and multi-faceted, journey than we had first perceived.
One thing’s for sure: the events of the start of this year have certainly caused me to ‘tune-in’ to this issue and make me even hungrier to get to the crux of the gender gap (if that is at all possible).
Stay sharp and help dads to realise that they do truly matter.