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Men in Early Years – The election campaign starts here

On Wednesday 19th November 2014 we celebrate International Men’s Day. With this in mind it gives me great pleasure to welcome David Wright, owner of Paint Pots Nurseries, as my guest blogger.

Together with his wife, Anna, and their son, Joseph, David owns Paint Pots Nurseries in Southampton, a small group of nurseries and preschools whose motto is ‘Love, Laughter and Learning’. David is an advocate and campaigner for Men in Early Years, speaking at conferences and in the media. He set up and coordinates the local Southampton Area Men in Early Years (SAMEY) network.

 David writes:

 ‘If you are male and working in any capacity with young children, the chances are that you will have been approached to take a survey, to complete a questionnaire or to be the subject of research. Let’s face it, we are a rare breed, less than 2% of the UK Early Years workforce. It sometimes seems as though one of our roles is to justify and explain our roles! We are known as ‘the man in childcare’.

All the evidence suggests that we believe it is a good thing to have more gender-balanced staff teams in our settings. We – the government, the general public, schools, nurseries, preschools, child minders and parents – generally accept the argument that it is beneficial for children to experience the richness of diversity represented by the continuum of human gender characteristics across a team comprising males and females. We haven’t quantified what these benefits are but intuitively we have a sense of ‘role modelling’, sedentary versus ‘rough and tumble’ activities and a healthy and robust approach to risk taking and the development of independence skills, all of which may vary depending on the mix of genders.

Image supplied by David Wright

Via David Wright

 

It seems to me that where 98% of the workforce is made up of a single gender, there is less chance of meeting all children’s needs. Judging from polls, comments and responses, we are all convinced. So why don’t we do anything about it? I asked the new Minister for Childcare and Education, Sam Gyimah, this very question on the #EYtalking thread that he was hosting on Twitter last week: I asked the government to fund an initiative. He tweeted that he is highly supportive and that he is male, adding one more to the tally! (Job done then?)

Is it that we still believe this is primarily a caring, nurturing profession – “women’s work” as distinct from proper teaching with qualifications, status and accompanying salary? And what’s wrong with caring and nurturing, by the way? Aren’t men capable of giving? Shouldn’t we want them to give too? Is it OK to be a father in the down-time from your proper job, but not to look after other people’s children?

For me, it’s a question of rights, both children’s and men’s.  Children have a right to be cared for and educated by both women and men, while men have the right to work with children.

In a post-Saville world, it is even more important that we get this right. How do we get the good guys in and how do we keep the bad ones out? We have to avoid demonising men and questioning their motives, whilst keeping children safe. It’s not easy but we have to find a way otherwise our children will continue to miss out.

I recently attended a European Men in Childcare conference in Poland with representatives from seven different countries. Unsurprisingly, the issues and the statistics are similar internationally. In the UK there are pockets of support and activity with active groups in London, York, Southampton, Edinburgh and Northern Ireland; networking and campaigning on a shoestring with goodwill and volunteer resource. It is a struggle to find the time.

So how are we going to achieve any change? How do we get this higher up the agenda? Should we call it a diversity issue? A minority group issue? Or does it come under equality? Call it what you will, everyone thinks it’s a good idea but nothing changes.

So, in the run up to the next election, here are my vision, manifesto and campaign action points, free to any interested politician:

  • Boys and Girls from 0 – 19 years need both men and women as carers
  • Create a culture where it’s normal for children to be cared for by men and women.
  • Pay and status are not gender issues; it is a question of how society values the Early Years workforce.
  • Safeguarding is not a gender issue.
  • We need to challenge culture, attitudes and stereotypes.
  • Promote Early Years as a viable career path for men – start young.
  • Support men where they are training / working now – it can be lonely and worrying: you are being watched and discussed!
  • Attract and retain good male workers, but only the best person for the job.
  • Individual stories are powerful, promote the benefits for men.
  • We need a coordinated national approach.”

In celebration of International Men’s Day, the popular international weekly Twitter chat #EYTalking will discuss  ‘How have things changed for Men in Childcare’. It will be co-hosted by David and by Conor Bathgate, who is co-vice chair of Men In Childcare London. On Tuesday 18th November 2014.

Follow David and Conor on Twitter:

@Mr_PaintPots          @ConorBathgate

Further reading:

Men in Early Childhood, via World Forum On Early Care and Education:

http://www.worldforumfoundation.org/working-groups/men/

Men working in Childcare-Does it matter to children? What do they say? via LEYF

Follow the conversation on:

Twitter: @IamLauraHenry

Facebook: @LauraHenryConsultancy

Instagram: @LauraHenryConsultancy

 

 

17 Comments

  • Joss cambridge simmons

    I would love to be part of this I am a nursery nurse and have been 2working withing nurseries for around 8 – 8 years .. how can I help

    • Laura Henry

      Thanks, Joss. As you are in London, please contact LEYF for the London Men In Childcare group. Look forward to your tweets on Tuesday evening for the #EYTalking chat.

  • Kim Benham

    I had a lovely young man working in one of my pre-schools, and one of the Mums reported me to Ofsted and social services! Fortunately other parents were in full support of his employment and commented how it had helped build their children’s self confidence and communication and language as they wer always talking about Jack! I never heard anything from Ofsted or social services.

  • Sarah Howard

    What a great blog- have shared with my colleagues on our EYC course. Let’s hope politicians take note of those those points. Exciting times ahead for Early Years!

  • June O Sullivan

    David

    As ever you make a powerful case for MIC. I, like you , also asked the first male Childcare Minister @SamGyimah to say something publically about why girls and boys need to have men in their nurseries. Interestingly, at LEYF we are reviewing our initial research ( see link above) to see if attitudes are changing and we there remains consistent support for MIC at LEYF but then we have 5% of men in the organisation so its part of the culture. Barriers remain, encouragement, societal anxiety and fear of lack of support from colleagues. So as founder of the London Men in Childcare Network, I would say to all women of the Early Years sector “Be more proactive and back our male colleagues”.

  • Charlie Rice

    I love the blogg David especially the manifesto – I am backing you all the way. we have recently received funding from Trust for London to run a programme in Tower Hamlets in partnership with City Gateway to train young men in Childcare at Level 1 and 2 and to then get them into employment. we have the support of the wonderful LEYF (thank you June and Conor) and I am gathering more support from male workers in the borough an neighbouring boroughs of which there are quite a few. our biggest challenge will be to recruit the young men on to the training for all the societal reasons you talk about and this will also mean working closely with the female students to be supportive as well. So any ideas and guidance on recruitment and support for placements will be gratefully received. I will try to keep you all posted on progress.

    Happy International Men’s day and hope to see you all at the London MIC second anniversary celebration. so lets keep the foot on the pedal.

    Charlie

  • Priscilla Dotse

    Hiya,

    Good Afternoon, I would love to be part of this program as i am neew here.

    Many thanks.

  • Joss cambridge simmons

    Yes i forever stress that men in childcare are a small minority and many don’t last… We need to find ways to promote it in a more positive light and show the benefits it has. I wouldn’t change what I do … but it does get difficult being a man in a woman’s world so to speak when everyone other staff member down to bank stuff upto regional and nursery managers are mostly female. .. it can look off putting to most young boys .. I think the key is to how we portray this field of work it shouldn’t be a gender thing at all .. if I knew how to make a change on a wider scale I would but hopefully blogs like this plus the upcoming talks show society that us men in childcare are hear to stay with open arms to many other like minded males.

  • Laura Henry

    Hi Joss,

    Honest reflections.

    Would love for you to be part of London Men In Childcare group?

    Looking forward to your tweets tonight during #EYtalking.

    Best wishes
    Laura

  • Andy Ross

    I’ve worked in the primary and early years phases and know full well that the spotlight shines more brightly on you (as a male) the younger the children are in your care. However, this is very much modulated by community attitudes – in a leafy suburban setting your presence is never openly questioned, whereas in some less outwardly looking areas the predictable labels are applied (initially, at least). It’s a minority who judge and make men feel uncomfortable, and a tiny minority who give us a bad name. So frustrating.

    However, the reason I feel compelled to add to this discussion is in response to reading the cliched ‘male role model’ phrase. I find this an immensely handwaving tag to attach to men. We all had differing adults we admired or respected in our early years – and it was not their gender, I suggest, that made these people seem important and worthy of some form of imitation. We looked up to these ‘role models’ for a huge range of reasons – from their empathy, humour, non-verbal communication with us, through to their clothes, car, job or way they got on with the rest of our family and friends. The point being that gender has nothing to do with being a ‘role model’. My grandmother was a role model to me in my early years because she was a fantastic cook, played parlour games with me and never lost her temper.

    When do we read of female early years professionals being classified as ‘role models’? Only in award ceremonies! David, I loved your blog entry but it would be great if you could challenge anyone who ever calls us ‘roll models’, and refer to us a ‘men who get kids and want to help them’.

    toodle pip

    Andy

    http://primary-ed.blogspot.co.uk/?view=magazine

  • Laura Henry

    Thanks for adding, Andy.

  • David Wright

    Andy, I’m with you on the Role Model issue, which is why I put it in quotes in my original posting. I completely agree with you – what is a ‘male (or female) role model’? It is a phrase that gets used all the time without any thought, as I state above, we each have our own intuitive sense of what it means. There is a spectrum of character types encompassing both male and female characteristics. (See ‘The Essential Difference’ by Simon Baron-Cohen) I think it is helpful to seek a diverse workforce, in general terms. My take on this is that ‘boys and girls need men and women’. This says nothing about role models or gendered stereotypes. I am very happy to join you (and frequently do so) in challenging such views.

    David

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