A NATIONAL project due to be launched in September aims to encourage men to take a greater role in helping their children learn to read.
"It's a Man Thing," an initiative of the Coventry-based Community Education Development Centre, has already been piloted in seven local authorities.
It is part of a raft of community-centred initiatives developed by the centre to tackle under-achievement by boys and to bring men back into education and training. Other projects reach out to young men through sports and music, while Active Dads, funded by the Home Office, encourages fathers and their children to spend "quality time" together.
They have been fuelled by concern at the growing underclass of males who have dropped out of the education system.
The reading initiative includes books of ideas for reading together, a story cassette, and diaries for recording and writing about favourite books.
But in an attempt to make literacy more attractive to men, the project underlines that it is not just about books. Dads are encouraged to use anything from newspapers to board-game instructions to the Internet to help their children develop reading skills.
The scheme has grown out of the success of the Share project, which aimed to get parents more involved in their children's education.
It is not limited to fathers - step-dads, mums' partners, grandads and male family friends can all take part in the absenceof a biological dad. Basic skills tutors, adult education services and local libraries are all involved.
Project leader Lisa Capper, the centre's education development manager, said that with so few male teachers in primary schools, a lack of role models had been blamed for boys' under-achievement.
Schools involved in the pilot say it has been successful at building up links with fathers who previously had come to school only to complain.
But they found many dads needed a "carrot" to attend - anything from football coaching to using the school's computers to surf the Internet.
"It's notoriously difficult to get men to come along to primary schools for a meeting," Ms Capper said. "We did all kinds of different things to attract them - we even gave them beer. Word of mouth is usually the best way."
It has also provided a contact point for dads with poor literacy and numeracy to get help improving their own basic skills.
Community workers are concerned that adult education and training courses have reached more women. Yet male unemployment continues to be high, and male mental illness and suicide are on increase.
Chris Jones, the centre's economic and community development manager, said: "It's important to address these issues. If young, unemployed men are hanging around with nothing to do, it's bad for regeneration, bad for the environment and bad for their own personal health."