Where dads do the spadework

8th May 1998 at 01:00
Jobless fathers on a mentoring scheme are getting back to work - at school. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Dressed in their tattiest clothes and workmen's boots they could have been mistaken for contractors repairing the playground.

But the eight men mixing mortar and demonstrating bricklaying to pupils are local fathers taking part in a mentoring scheme which aims to get them back to work while giving pupils positive male role models.

The Men's Family Learning Development Project is based in Hartcliffe, Bristol - on one of the largest council estates in the South-west and an area of high unemployment.

The men have been taking part in "taster" courses at Hareclive primary in computing, woodwork and bricklaying.

Duane Bryant, the development worker for the project, said: "It projects a positive image of education to the children when they see their fathers involved in school. Most of the fathers have probably not achieved very much themselves academically and now regret it, or have not been given the opportunity.

"This gives them a chance to try their hand at something new and the confidence perhaps to apply for jobs."

Paul Hodgkiss, who has a son and a daughter at the school, hopes to become a teacher. Currently unemployed, Mr Hodgkiss has been asked to help out with one-to-one maths teaching at the school.

He said: "Originally I planned to help with reading and spelling but the teachers found out that I was quite strong on maths.

"When I was at primary school the teaching staff was split roughly 50-50 men to women. This seems no longer to be the case. Boys need role models, particularly as many children in this area are from broken homes and have no male permanently at home. I am interested in my children's education and want to be involved, as do all the fathers who come here."

The project, which is backed by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education and the University of the West of England, also has pupils' support. Matthew House, aged nine, said: "We have learned that shovels can be dangerous. The dads teach us things that the teachers don't."

Teachers say they have already noticed a difference in families' attitudes to school and learning.

Stuart Roach, class teacher at Hareclive primary, said: "Half the battle with teaching children is getting the parents interested and involved.

"We believe the scheme has broken down the reluctance of some dads - which may be based on poor personal school experience - to come into school and it has made them more involved in what their children are doing. Many feel more confident to help their children at home with reading."

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