The father of all community improvements

16th May 2003 at 01:00
Superdad was the word when headteacher Gareth Todd set about boosting his primary school's morale. Jack O'Sullivan reports

Developing a primary school does not usually involve the headteacher heading to the rugby club for a pint. But that is where Gareth Todd Jones sought help to build up Pen Pych community primary in the Rhondda Valley.

He went in search of dads. He and his staff had decided that getting fathers more involved in their children's education could be a key to reviving the fortunes of a deprived south Wales community.

"I bought them a beer and told them that I was forming a group of dads to give them an opportunity to work with their little ones at school," recalls Mr Todd Jones, 50.

A year on, more than 20 fathers make up Superdads Pen Pych, which plans to advertise itself on beer mats locally. The fathers now run sports clubs, camping trips and have sorted out the school garden.

"We've done cooking, making cards and mobiles for Mothers' Day, woodwork, sewing and making weaving frames," says Mr Todd Jones.

"There has been a definite improvement in performance in the classroom. The children with active fathers tend to have good social skills."

When dads are more involved at primary level, both boys and girls do better in examinations at 16, according to Charlie Lewis, professor of developmental psychology at Lancaster University. Other research indicates that positive fathering protects against criminal behaviour, particularly in boys, and eating disorders in girls.

Pen Pych is among many schools taking part this month in a "Message to Dad" competition sponsored by the Department for Education and Skills. The idea is to use a lesson to find out what children want from their fathers or the male carers in their lives. Organised by Fathers Direct, the national information centre on fatherhood, the initiative aims to foster active fatherhood.

A key way to capture dads is for children to be the messengers. So Fathers Direct has designed another scheme: on the weekend of Fathers Day (June 14-15) hundreds of leisure attractions around the country are offering special events for children and their fathers. Details are on the website link below.

Jack O'Sullivan is a co-founder of Fathers Directwww.fathersdirect.comfathersday www.teachernet.gov.uk

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