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Children whose fathers read, play, sing and draw with them show a “small but significant” increase in their primary school attainment, according to a study which suggests just 10 minutes a day could make a difference.

Although it has long been recognized that parental involvement is essential to a child’s education and development, a study by the University of Leeds claims that fathers have a “unique and important effect” on children’s academic performance.

Greater involvement of fathers before their child goes to primary school has been found to give children an educational advantage during their first year, while greater involvement at age five years helps to improve results in key assessments from stage 1 to seven years. The effect is slightly more pronounced in mathematics.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, distinguished between the impact of mothers and fathers. If fathers’ involvement had an impact on educational level, mothers’ involvement had a greater impact on emotional and social behaviors.

The study recommends that fathers spend as much time as possible each week on fun and educational activities with their children. “Engaging in several types of structured activities several times a week – even if only for short periods – helps enrich a child’s cognitive and language development,” the study concludes. “Just 10 minutes a day could have beneficial effects. »

It also recommends that schools and early childhood education providers routinely take contact details from both parents where possible and develop positive strategies to involve fathers. He suggests that the school inspectorate, Ofsted, consider the involvement of fathers in inspections.

Dr Helen Norman, a researcher at the University of Leeds Business School, who led the research, said: “Mothers still tend to take on the primary caregiving role and therefore tend to do most of the work. more children, but if fathers also actively engage in childcare, this means significantly. increases the likelihood that children will achieve better grades in primary school. This is why it is essential to encourage and support fathers to share childcare with the mother, from the earliest age of the child’s life.

The study, published on Wednesday, is based on a representative sample of almost 5,000 mother-father households in England, drawn from the Millennium Cohort Study (which collected data on children born between 2000 and 2002), which was linked to children’s official school records. from the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile at age five and the National Pupil Database at age seven.

Father involvement had a positive effect on a child’s outcomes, regardless of gender, ethnicity, school age, or household income. The study recognizes the significant adverse effects of early poverty on educational attainment.

Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at Exeter Medical School, said: “This is robust research, showing the importance of parental involvement in children’s development. Of particular interest is that fathers’ and mothers’ involvement might be linked to different outcomes for children, with fathers’ involvement being particularly linked to overall academic outcomes, while mothers’ involvement was more closely linked to general well-being, attention, mental health and mental health. social abilities.

“This may reflect the different ways mothers and fathers may play and interact with their children within traditional parenting roles in two-parent heterosexual families. This serves to highlight the important role that fathers play. It is important to keep in mind, however, that regardless of family structure, children benefit when their parents engage in these types of fun and creative activities with their child.

Andrew Gwynne, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood, said: “This research shows that even small changes in what fathers do and how schools and early years settings interact with parents can have a lasting impact on children’s learning. . It is absolutely crucial that fathers are not seen as a secondary consideration.”