Image taken by Mayte Torres via Getty Images

A recent study by Warwick University and the Ifo institute in Munich has, for the first time, shown a direct link between longer parental leave and long term educational results.

What was particularly startling about the results is that the parents’ own educational background was a core factor in the cognitive development of their babies, and longer term exam results – particularly for boys.

While we’ve known about the maternal benefits to parental leave for many a decade, this study is the first that sheds light into the cognitive development of children, and the direct link to parental leave.

Perhaps this is the latest in studies, that must go someway for us to re-think a long outdated policy of paternity leave.

Two weeks then back to work, if you’re lucky

The UK statutory policy on paternity leave is two weeks, though for many fathers, the realistic time off for their own paternity is actually much shorter. We’ve seen that in fact 1 in 4 new fathers can’t take paternity leave at all due to a mixture of statutory leave pay not being enough, a lack of provision for it in certain company contracts, or the nature of freelance work.

The UK is not the worst globally for paternity leave, but it is far from the best. That crown is still very much held by Sweden, where fathers and mothers get 18 months to split as they wish.

So what can be done to start to support paternity leave better, and how close are we to the making the necessary changes?

1.Extended Paternity Leave

I last commented here that what was particularly interesting in the last election from a parental perspective was how, for the first time, paternity leave was being put into print as a campaign-able issue across all the major political parties.

A doubling of the current rate of paternity would be welcomed, but that policy in itself is fairly meaningless unless fathers across the country can actually access them. If 25% of new dads are already struggling to make two weeks work for them financially, how can we create the right conditions for as many new fathers as possible to take a month?

2. Better Education of Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave is a wonderful policy, but the awareness and take up of the policy is at incredibly low levels.

The latest stats from the Department of Business states that only 2% of eligible fathers are taking up the policy. In our own research with the Working Mums group last year what was clear was that more parents wanted to take SPL, but the amount of paperwork and process to take it made it a challenge for many. Beyond that we found both dads and mums needed to have more conversations, earlier in the pregnancy process, about what the policy meant for them as well.

A campaign around SPL would be welcomed, and more so the right conditions for parents to see how SPL could be workable for them. In a time where more and more mums are campaigning to go back to work earlier, SPL can be a great win/win if there is more done to make employers fully aware of what it means for their people.

3. Gig Economy Rights

The way we work is changing rapidly. There are more and more fathers working in more flexible ways. At present, employment rights for parents across flexible ways of working are notoriously basic - with many cases of zero hours contracts, no paternity policies, and/or basic holiday entitlement the norm.

While we can’t expect the same rights for full time contracted staff, until there is more done across HR policies across the gig economy we’re going to make it harder and harder for fathers to take any significant time off.

So what needs to happen? Perhaps it’s all three things, but as our children grow up an ever changing world, we only get one chance to give them whatever we can at the start of their lives – and we need to ensure every father feels enabled to do so.