Speaking to coincide with the launch of the London Network for Men in Childcare, the chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) said high-profile child abuse cases, such as the Jimmy Savile scandal, were affecting public attitudes to male childcarers.
June O’Sullivan made the comments in light of a survey by her organisation that found more than half of nursery workers believe that men are discouraged from pursuing a career in the early years sector.
“The biggest reasons why staff thought men don’t go into childcare was because of society’s attitude and the concern of being perceived as a paedophile,” said O’Sullivan.
“Staff and parents like to have men in childcare, but it’s actually a broader societal attitude against men which we’re seeing getting larger at the moment, to the state of almost a modern mentality.”
LEYF hopes to encourage more men into the sector by establishing a network to help male practitioners share experiences and promote their roles.
“What we picked up in the survey is that men in childcare often feel a combination of isolation and being treated like a trophy,” said O’Sullivan.
“What men really want to do is get on with the job and be part of the team like anyone else, they don’t want to be seen as something special because of their gender.”
As well as providing a forum for male childcare practitioners, O’Sullivan hopes that the network will prompt more male-led research into men in childcare. “There is a real need to develop action-led research about men, by men, in the childcare field,” she said.
LEYF’s research, which questioned more than 50 professionals, also gathered the views of 23 three- to five-year-olds. Asked about the roles of male and female practitioners within nurseries, none of the children associated activities involving stories and songs with men.
“That’s fascinating because we have issues with boys and literacy when they get older, and with trying to encourage dads to do more reading as an activity,” said O’Sullivan.
“The worry is that when boys leave the nursery they’re less likely to get sucked into literacy and reading.”
O’Sullivan said investigating how to present reading and literacy in a gender-balanced way was one piece of work the network might undertake in the future.
According to the Department for Education’s most recent data collected on staff genders in childcare, only two per cent of the full daycare and childminders’ workforce was male in 2010.