Last Updated: Monday, February 08, 2021

Evidencing change in fathers participating family learning groups

What is this?

Photo of father and son taking part in the Star Wars Fathers Project at Sanquhar Primary​The research focuses on a Men and their Children (MATCH) project involving community learning and development (CLD) adult learning staff and staff from family learning and schools services.

This team facilitates MATCH groups at two local primary schools. The school cluster catchment area suffers from multiple deprivation.

Over the course of the project (6+ years at the time of the research), the team perceived significant change in ‘personal agency’ in some fathers, i.e. in their ability to contribute to the groups. They became more disposed to offer opinions in group situations and to volunteer to serve on the groups’ committees. (The groups were constituted in order to apply for funding but also for the purpose of building community capacity, by giving participants the experience of running the groups and organising events.)

This study examines change in a sample of past and present committee members.

Who is this for?

​It is expected that this research will be most relevant to educators working with parents, including school staff, CLD workers, family learning workers and social services staff, through contributing to a deeper understanding of the factors affecting the abilities of parents to engage with those delivering education and social services,


​About this research

How was the research carried out?

This research employed qualitative methodology through an ethnographic approach. Such a perspective was judged appropriate because of the six-year tenure of the researcher with the subject group, with numerous shared experiences between researcher, interviewees and their children, and other team members.

This research also refers to research work carried out previously with the groups.

What are the strengths of the research methodology?

Photograph of father and son taking part in a pirate night at Kelloholm PrimaryData from the individual interviews were checked for veracity by means of a triangulation focus group 'putting individual responses into context' (Cicourel, 1974, cited in Fontana and Frey, in Denzin and Lincoln, 2005:704), whilst acknowledging Mason's view that the technique also contributes to validation 'in the sense that it suggests that social phenomena are a little more than one dimensional, and that [the] study has accordingly managed to grasp more than one of those dimensions' (2002:190/91).

Qualitative methods, such as face-to-face interviews, allow for issues to be explored in depth and also for researchers to explore any unexpected areas which may emerge on the day. Interviews also allow for researchers to develop rapport with respondents.

What is the context for this research?

The research setting is a rural MATCH project.

Notable for their lack of involvement at school parent nights and participation in adult learning opportunities, it was evident that men in the area needed some encouragement to develop their social capital. One response was the setting up of a MATCH group at each of the two local primary schools. Activity evenings take place monthly, with an annual Saturday or Sunday excursion intended to include families otherwise unable to participate due to other commitments. To date, over 100 dads with well over 200 children have participated in the groups.

The school cluster catchment area (population c.5000) suffers from poverty, high unemployment, alcohol and substance misuse, and rural isolation, with the associated restricted access to services. Over 20% of local residents of working age are ‘employment deprived’ compared to a national average of 11.6% (Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics, 2009).

Reflective questions

  • How effective am I at engaging with parents/adult learners for the purposes of the service I provide?
  • What may be the barriers to effective communication?
  • What benefits, if any, would facilitating a similar group bring to the community in which I work?
  • How would such an initiative benefit men and their children in my work context?

About the author

Jim Cooper is a community learning and development worker with Dumfries and Galloway Council.
This research was conducted as part of the final two modules of the MSc course in Applied Professional Studies at the University of Dundee in 2010/11.

Related research/reading

Fatherhood Institute: Co-parenting and Early Childhood Development

Fathers Network Scotland


The findings and recommendations from the research and development project are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Education Scotland.

Full reference

Cooper, J (2011) Loose Change. MSc. Dundee: University of Dundee.

Links to full research article

PDF file: Loose Change - research abstract (60 KB)
PDF file: Loose Change - edited findings (171 KB)