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University seeks to improve experiences of young fathers in education at national level


Research undertaken by Leeds Trinity University is having a positive impact on the experiences of young fathers in Higher Education.

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The research findings are prompting a review of professional practice in universities while influencing national policy debate to ensure that their support needs are better understood.

Led by Professor Carmen Clayton, the series of three research projects took place between 2018 and 2020.  They involved interviews with young fathers, online surveys and focus groups with education and health practitioners.

Young Fathers: Higher Education Experiences (2018) investigated young fathers’ Higher Education experiences and aspirations, whilst exploring the role of local practitioners and universities in providing better access, information, and support for young fathers who either aspire to enter HE or those who are in HE already. 

New Pathways for Young Fathers (2019) was conducted in partnership with parenting website DaddiLife and Leeds City Council to explore young fathers’ education, employment, and training pathways. The study focused on young men’s future aspirations and what barriers and enablers exist to improving their life chances and potentially those of their children. 

British Families in Lockdown (2020) investigated the day-to-day experiences of British families initially during the first seven weeks of lockdown and is an ongoing study.  Parents from a diverse set of socio-economic backgrounds were interviewed, including young fathers. 

The findings demonstrate the impact of creating a more inclusive and sympathetic approach amongst education practitioners and aims to improve access, information, and support for young fathers in or aspiring to enter Higher Education.  The research is also informing national policy debate, with findings being shared with organisations including the NHS, Department of Education, Public Health England, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood and written evidence was accepted by the House of Lords’ Inquiry into the Role of Public Services in Addressing Child Vulnerability. 

Carmen Clayton, Professor of Family and Cultural Dynamics at Leeds Trinity University said: “It is incredibly important to highlight some of the success stories and challenges faced by young fathers, in order to take steps to improve their access to Higher Education and their overall experience of studying as a parent.”

“Although widening participation agendas have been a policy focus for many years, young fathers have often been overlooked despite their educational aspirations. By listening to the viewpoints of young fathers themselves and professionals, it has highlighted the gaps in policy and practice, and the key barriers that we must address.” 

John May, Manager of Leeds City Council’s Support and Prevention Team, who collaborated on two of the studies said: “Prior to these studies, there was little knowledge about young fathers’ educational ambitions after compulsory education.  Such knowledge is important for service providers at both the local and national level, particularly when young fathers demonstrate aspirational attitudes and want to do well for themselves and their children.  Not only do the findings help to inform day-to day practice of professionals, but wider issues at a strategic level.” 

“Better awareness and a more sympathetic understanding of young fatherhood experiences also helps to challenge the often-negative perceptions of young men as parents. Discriminatory attitudes towards young fathers are known to deter young men from seeking help and can still be seen within media, social and political discourse.”

Through this research, the organisations involved have been brought together to work in a collaborative manner where these links did not exist previously.  This has enabled a structure for co-operation, co-production, and sustained partnership beyond the research itself. 

The research has also provided opportunities for partner organisations to work more closely in alignment with other external stakeholders to better meet the needs of young fathers.  This has enhanced their capacity to serve the needs of young fathers better which directly benefits the young men.

Professor Carmen Clayton’s research was included as part of Leeds Trinity University’s submission to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021.  Professor Carmen Clayton is currently leading on a new research project which builds on the existing research described above. The new study is titled Connected Young Fatherhood: Rural and Urban Experiences During the Pandemic, which focuses on employment experiences of young fathers since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Read more about Leeds Trinity University and REF 2021.