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“Working with children is seen as a predominantly female occupation. Yet male carers have much to offer, including acting as positive role models for boys - especially from families where the father is absent.”
This is a statement from The Government’s 1998 Green Paper, ‘Meeting the Childcare Challenge’.
So the issue of men in childcare was being addressed by government as far back as 1998, yet data from the Department for Education shows that in 2012, still only two per cent of the early years work force is male.
In a 2011 report, the government said: “We … want to tackle … the gender imbalance in the sector and make early education and childcare a viable career choice for all.”
Last year, the Pre-school Learning Alliance undertook research on parental attitudes to men in childcare on behalf of the Major Provider Group, which is made up of some of the country’s largest day nursery groups, of which the Alliance is a member.
The survey of 1,200 mothers and fathers who use childcare found that almost all (97.9 per cent) parents are happy for men to work with children aged three to five in day nurseries.
However, the percentage of parents fell to 89 per cent when it came to younger children aged from birth to two. Of the remaining 11 per cent, only 3.2 per cent of parents were unhappy for men to work with such young children.
To get more men to work in the childcare industry, the Pre-school Learning Alliance believes that school careers advisors need to promote childcare as a profession for both boys and girls.
The Alliance surveyed more than 130 male teenage school leavers in two south London schools to find out what they thought about a career in childcare and few were interested. Working in an all-female environment put 54 per cent off, whilst peer pressure and concerns about what other people would think of them put off half of respondents.
The boys felt working with young children was ‘hard work’ and cited a perceived lack of career progression in the childcare sector as another reason for not wanting to work in the sector.
The Alliance feels that the presence of men working in childcare could lead to greater involvement by fathers in general. A male child carer said his presence was an ice breaker with dads bringing their children to the day nursery as it got them curious, then involved in the nursery.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance MPG survey asked parents and men and women working in childcare what benefits more men working in childcare and early education could bring, and received the following responses:
• More men would end the stereotype of childcare being seen as ‘women’s work’.
• Having more men involved in early years childcare would increase the status of the work (and possibly salaries as well), as childcare is traditionally seen as a low-pay, low-status sector.
• The presence of more men in early years settings would make it easier for fathers and other men to feel more at home there and be more involved with their children’s childcare.
• Men would bring ‘added value’ to pre-schools and day nurseries, including a different perspective, different ways of working and being with children, such as ‘rough and tumble’ play with boys.
• The importance of male role models to young children, both boys and girls, particularly for those children growing up in families with little or no contact with males.
• A number of co-parenting parents and single parents spoke of the value their children (often sons) had from them having a male early years or primary school teacher.
How can we encourage men to work in the childcare industry?
It seems that promoting childcare as positive, normal and important career choice for men should be instilled in children from a young age. The points raised by parents and men and women working in childcare for the Alliance research confirms the points raised by the male childcare workers interviewed for this feature.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance’s research on encouraging men to work in childcare and how government and employers could encourage and support men to work in the early years sector found that:
• Childcare should be promoted as work for boys and men. Ideas included ensuring that careers advisors in schools encourage young men to undertake work experience placements in day nurseries, and promote images and case studies of men successfully working in childcare.
• Encourage aspects of the job that may particularly appeal to men. This included the importance of male role models for children and men’s involvement in rough and tumble play.
• Improve the status of childcare work. This could be achieved by promoting early years more as education than as care so that it is seen as more appropriate work for men. It was suggested that there could be a possible link between promoting men in the early years with men working in primary schools.
• Increase pay. Suggestions included more financial support for parents so that employers could pay childcare staff more and increase in the status, professionalism and salary levels.
• Ensure attractive training opportunities for men to train in childcare are available. These could include men-only and part-time courses.
• Stage more activities for fathers in early years settings, encouraging more men to enter childcare.
• Ensure that female staff teams fully integrate male colleagues. Also, make sure that men working in childcare are supported by mentors.
• The nursing profession is seen a possible model for early years childcare as it used to be a female profession but now attracts a sizeable percentage of men.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “One of the challenges the sector and the Government faces is how to persuade young men that childcare is not just a woman’s job and that there is the opportunity for career progression within the industry.
“It is deeply worrying that despite many advances in the sector over the past decade that the message is not filtering down to young men in schools. Perhaps this indicates that more needs to be done earlier by career advisors to help boys and young men to consider a career in childcare as an option.
“Our research has shown that the vast majority of parents who use childcare support men working as trained professional childcarers alongside women, and that female childcarers would welcome more men in the day nursery and pre-school workplace as well.
“We would ask that the Government help achieve this goal by getting the message out that childcare is a great career option for young men or men looking to embark on a second career at a later stage of life.”
Day Nurseries and early years providers are taking the issue of men in childcare seriously and doing what they can to promote the industry to men as a credible and rewarding career.
Kate Woolley, head of recruitment at Bright Horizons is also the lead at the nursery’s diversity council - a group of people from across the business, from nursery operations, HR, marketing, finance and early years who work together to champion diversity and inclusion in the business.
Ms Woolley said: “We currently have just under 150 men working in our nurseries. We are committed to increasing that number as part of our mission as a diverse and inclusive organisation.
“We are recognised investors in diversity and within our own diversity council we have a ‘men in childcare group’, headed by nursery manager, Damian Saul. The purpose of the group is to provide a forum and support environment for the men working in our nurseries so they can share experiences, ideas and challenges.
“The group is also working on practical ways in which we can increase the number of men in our workforce. For example, our recruitment team is now taking part in schools careers events for young people at GCSE choice stage – establishing the idea of childcare as an attractive career choice for boys as well as girls.”
Caron Moseley, marketing manager at Kiddi Caru day nurseries says there are over 30 men working across Kiddi Caru’s 19 day nurseries including two managers. She said: “Just like nursing a few years ago, working in a day nursery is still seen by many as being female dominated profession.
“However men who are passionate about working with children are beginning to find that this is an extremely rewarding career that fulfils their aspiration to nurture and teach children whilst also offering the opportunity for personal development and progression.”
With today’s dads playing a larger role in their child’s upbringing, Caron thinks it makes more sense to have both men and women working in childcare as she believes it is good to have a positive balance between male and female interaction in the nursery, especially in instances where there is no male figure at home.
The marketing manager at Kiddi Caru differs with the male childcare staff who do feel the children behave differently with male workers. Ms Moseley said: “In all honesty there is no discernible difference between how the children react to male and female members of staff.
“In instances where a child does react slightly differently in our experience this is possibly influenced by the fact that there is no male role model within the home environment.”
Carla Rogers, Kids Allowed HR Manager said: “We think it is really important for young children to have contact with a responsible male adult and a good role model. The parents of children who come here say they are delighted that there are men in the team.”
Men have an important role in the childcare industry as they can play a lasting, inspirational and positive role in children’s lives. Men in childcare have the pressure of not only doing their job well, but justifying why they have chosen to work in the industry and this is something that needs to be addressed.
Strong characters can laugh off the innuendo or jokes that seem to sadly come with the territory, but consider how many good childcare workers have fallen by the wayside because they don’t want to and shouldn’t have to deal with this unnecessary pressure.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance and the major day nurseries think it’s important that school pupils considering their career choices know that there is career progression within childcare and early years, up to early years professional status and beyond into nursery management.
The Alliance would like older men in their fifties who have brought up their own families and are looking to use this experience in a new way, to consider working in childcare. It should also be promoted as a worthwhile occupation for those men who want a career change.
The Daycare Trust is the national childcare charity that campaigns for quality, accessible, affordable childcare for all. In 2003 Daycare Trust estimated in its report ‘Men's work? Changing the gender mix of the childcare and early years workforce’ that the percentage of men working in early years was between 1 per cent and 3 per cent.
The Trust says that The Department for Children Schools and Families’ childcare and early years providers’ surveys from 2003 to 2008 suggest this figure has not increased over the last five years.
Daycare Trust chief executive, Anand Shukla said: “Addressing the gender balance amongst the childcare workforce is an important issue.
“At present just three per cent of the early years workforce is comprised of men. There is evidence that taking steps to increase the presence of males in the childcare sector will bring tangible benefits to children, families and to society as a whole.”
It seems like the media, society, parents who use day nurseries and children’s centres, as well as the childcare workers’ own parents need to take responsibility in promoting the childcare industry as a workplace for both men and women.
Pre-school children spend a large amount of time in an early years environment and it is important for both girls and boys to have access to both male and female staff, even more importantly if they don’t have a male role model at home.
Men in childcare can and do bring out a different side of children’s personalities and this should be encouraged and nurtured, but the only way to do this is with encouragement, support and acceptance.