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Redressing the balance: How to get more men working in your nursery

27-Apr-17
Article By: Sue Learner

Men make up a tiny two per cent of the early years workforce yet the benefits of children having a male nursery worker can be huge, especially to children of one parent families who may not have a good male role model. They can also help to eradicate gender stereotypes and encourage fathers to interact more with the nursery and engage with their children.

Pre-school Learning Alliance at Fox Hollies Nursery in Birmingham

This gender imbalance in the workforce permeates through to primary schools where according to Department for Education statistics, only 15 per cent of teachers in England are men.

There seems to be a number of reasons why the number of male nursery practitioners are so low. Research in the past has pointed to low pay, concerns about working in a female-dominated environment, fear of prejudice from parents as well as a failure by schools to present it as viable career option for boys.

David Wright, who owns the Paint Pots nursery group in Southampton, is a member of Southampton Area Men in Early Years and organized the first national Men in Early Years conference last year. He says: “We want to build a culture where it is normal to have both men and women working in early years and for men to realise it is very fulfilling to work with children of this age.”

Out of the conference came the National Men in Early Years Charter. Mr Wright would like this charter to be displayed in all nurseries, to spread the message that men are welcome and should be seen as an integral part of the workforce.

National Men in Early Years Charter

• This states that male carers, workers and volunteers are welcome

• It is normal for boys and girls of all ages to be cared for by men and women

• We recognise that children benefit from interactions with men and women and that both genders have complementary roles in caring for and developing them

• We are seeking a balanced workforce composed of both men and women

• We promote and support Early Years teaching as a career for both genders

• We encourage and welcome job applications from men as well as women

David Wright spoke at the recent Childcare Expo in London, praising the recent speech by childcare minister Caroline Dinenage where she acknowledged the paucity of men working in nurseries in the UK, saying “now for the first time I have hope”.

Targets

He is very keen to work with the Government on a national target of male nursery practitioners that nurseries can work towards.

David Wright, owner of Paint Pots Nurseries and founder of the first national Men in Early Years conference

Fortunately, nurseries are becoming increasingly aware of the problem and some are setting their own targets and doing their utmost to boost the number of men working in their settings.

Cooperative Childcare has set itself the target of having at least two male practitioners working in each of its nurseries, which would mean that one in 10 of its workforce would be male. Mike Abbott, general group manager at The Co-operative Childcare, said: “Gender stereotypes in childcare are holding some men back from what could be the perfect career path for them where they can positively influence our next generation. Children need to be around both male and female adults to develop their core skills, become well rounded young people and continue to flourish.”

Tops Day Nurseries currently has 70 male staff members working across their 16 settings, with a spokeswoman for the group saying: “We are extremely proud of all of our staff at Tops Day Nurseries, both male and female. We, along with other day nurseries, are addressing how we can overcome the stigma of males working in childcare seriously and are doing whatever possible to prove to men that childcare is not an all-female based industry and that it is a credible and rewarding career.”

In Bristol, seven per cent of the city’s nursery workers are men, which is partly due to The Bristol Men In Early Years Network, which has done a lot of work getting men into the sector.

Scotland has been particularly active in boosting the number of male workers in the early years workforce and has a Men in Childcare organization, which receives funding from the City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government so it can offer men only free training courses. But we have to look overseas to find a real difference, such as Norway which had only three per cent of male childcare workers in 1991, this figure rising to 10 per cent in 2011. This is because there is a legal responsibility for employers in Norway, who have a target to increase the amount of men in childcare to 20 per cent, to promote a gender equal society.

Parental attitudes

Fear of being labelled a paedophile has put men off in the past. However parental attitudes are changing in the UK with a survey by the major nursery groups back in 2011 showing 98 per cent of parents were in favour of men caring for children between the ages of three and five. However, comments like those made last year by Andrea Leadsom about it not being “sensible” to leave a child in the care of a male nanny as he could be a paedophile, show a lot still needs to be done to change people’s mindsets.

Similarly a trawl through mumsnet shows messages like 'AIBU (Am I Being Unreasonable) To be furious that a male nursery worker took DD (dear daughter) to the toilet today?'

As stereotypes are gradually eroded, the impact of male practitioners is now being explored. Interestingly a study last year by Gants Hill Partnership Teaching Alliance in Essex revealed that boys’ attainment improved when attending a nursery with a high proportion of male practitioners. Forty-four per cent of practitioners at the school nursery were male and after a year, it was found that the boys’ attainment was 16 per cent higher than the borough average. Boys’ attainment was eight per cent higher than girls in Personal Social Emotional development, three per cent higher than girls in Communication and Language and 17 per cent higher than girls in Physical Development.

Tips on redressing the balance

• Pressure the Government to set a national target for the percentage of men in the early years workforce

• Display the National Men in Early Years Charter in your nursery to spread awareness among staff and parents

• Set a target for your nursery group similar to Cooperative Childcare

• Visit schools to give talks to attract boys into the profession

• Make sure you challenge any preconceptions that female staff or parents may have about men working in the nursery

To download the National Men in Early Years Charter go to http://www.samey.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/National-Men-in-early-years-charter.pdf

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