A Department for Education-funded report published in November found that the early years sector has one of the lowest levels of male participation of any workforce in the UK.
The Men In The Early Years Guide to Recruiting Men into Early Years Education, published by the Fatherhood Institute, sets out practical measures on ways that childcare providers can recruit more men into the sector.
Encouraged by the obvious benefit of having male staff at LEYF, I have been a keen advocate for men in childcare.
I sought their views as to how we could do this as the norm and not a campaign. I asked the most basic question: why work in what can be an unusual and not always welcoming environment?
The overwhelming answer was that they were interested in child development and education, liked children and enjoyed the team spirit of working in a nursery.
The push to get more men into childcare is an international challenge, but it improves more quickly with government investment.
In 2018, the DfE formed a Task and Finish Group on Inclusivity which included men into childcare. This led to a more public conversation about how we recruit more men into early years.
Good advice – such as getting male staff to be school and college ambassadors – was shared and needs to be continued. We also need to establish a Men in Early Years Advisory Group to monitor progress so it stays on the agenda.
In the face of the sector’s funding and recruitment issues, it seems ridiculous to ignore half the population when seeking to attract, recruit, train and employ great staff.
Once we attract men, we need to welcome them to a safe workplace that recognises their specific position and includes another male colleague in the induction activities – having a male coach and going to training where there are other male staff and, if you are big enough, have a men in childcare group.
For male staff, we also need to reassure them that we will be brave if and when they face negative situations. Many female staff like the idea of a male staff member – sometimes it’s almost like a trophy prize. But when a parent complains that they don’t want him to change nappies, they capitulate and move him to preschool, put CCTV in place or change the routine so he is always with another staff member.
That defeats the purpose of having men in the nursery. They, like all other staff, need to feel that the managers will be fair and “have their back”.
The more parents see men as part of the nursery team, the less anxious they will be about having men in post. A good idea is for a setting to let parents know there are male staff by, for example, photos in the literature and introducing him during the settling-in period. Get dads on side early, as they can often need the most persuasion.
When asked, women are generally supportive of having male colleagues, recognising that disrupting the gender stereotypes by sharing the caring and teaching tasks between male and female staff will benefit children.
That does require us all to be more alert to our own unconscious gender bias, recognising how our behaviour influences children’s view of gender.
When we asked the children what mattered to them, they chose the staff with the highest level of expertise irrespective of their gender. As ever, children are very wise.
Former teacher says he has not been treated ‘any differently’ following his switch to a career in childcare
Lukas Parry-Norman was a secondary school teacher before joining the Brixton Community Nursery and Pre-School in south London as an early years teacher more than two years ago.
Parry-Norman had become disillusioned with teaching because of the focus on exams and the amount of paperwork, but a stint volunteering at the nursery where his sister worked opened his eyes to a career in early years that “I’d never really considered as an option”.
“I immediately found it rewarding,” says Parry-Norman. “It is more child-centred and not about ticking boxes.
“We are trying to build the person and helping children develop their social and emotional, communication and physical skills – 90 per cent of my day is interacting with children.”
Parry-Norman says he has always felt welcome at his nursery, which is part of London Early Years Foundation, but admits other men may not have had such positive experiences.
“We have a good pedagogy at LEYF and the leadership team influence those values,” he says. “I’ve worked in other LEYF nurseries and most have a male in the setting. I’ve not been treated any differently.”
He says his previous experience as a teacher helped him when switching career at the age of 28, but as long as there is “simple inclusivity” any man should be comfortable to work in childcare.
“People should be judged on the positive contribution they can make to a team,” he says. “A man in a childcare setting should be treated as just another member of staff and it not be made a big thing of.”