How can an increase in male practitioners benefit childcare settings?
There are currently many local and national concerns regarding boys’ levels of academic achievement in comparison to the achievement of girls across the education system. In a bid to narrow, and eventually close, the ‘gender attainment gap’ many local authorities are calling for more men to work within the early years sector.
In recent years, it has become widely more recognised and accepted that male practitioners and Early Years Teachers are present in nurseries and pre-schools across the UK, yet with 98% of the childcare workforce occupied by female practitioners, there is still a way to go in changing the gender balance of this career path.
Careers in early years are often considered to be a ‘care job’, where staff play with and look after children – a role socially viewed as ideal for a female staff member due to their caring nature and maternal instinct. Educational careers considered socially acceptable for men are more focused on teaching (particularly secondary), with a drive to develop to become a head teacher.
With an increasing focus on the quality of teaching within the early years, how can an increase in male practitioners support this, and ultimately the closing of the ‘gender gap’?
- Children can benefit from the different experiences and caring styles men bring to the profession – this can impact on reducing the levels of challenging behaviour.
- A diverse workforce provides children with a more accurate reflection of the gender mix of their community and the world around them.
- Men bring more play, active movement, entertainment and ‘rough and tumble’ play to the way they interact with their own children and this can be brought into the way they interact with children within their time in early years.
- Nurseries and pre-schools, in many cases, are accustomed to working with mothers over fathers. Many women feel more comfortable working and communicating with other women and as such fathers may often miss out on information or feeling included in their child’s time in early years. A male figure within the nursery or pre-school will support fathers in their involvement and understanding.
- In a society where there are increasing numbers of single parent households, many children may not have a male figure in their lives, male early years practitioners can provide the experience of a positive male role model.
- There is a possibility of gender issues within a workplace, as such, male practitioners can challenge the stereotype in relation to toys and activities.
A career in early years can be just as rewarding for males as it can for their female counterparts. Higher levels of qualification and progression opportunities are elements that are attractive to both genders, but what is it that brings male practitioners to the early years?
Nursery Manager Andrew Baker discusses how he came to his early years career almost by chance and the reactions he received from the children, staff and parents as he began his early years journey:
“I come from a very large family where my mum is youngest of 6 and my dad oldest of 6 so there is a lot of families and at the time when I left school there was a lot of children within my family and I was always the older cousin that was as my mother said you’re good with children’… My next door neighbour was a tutor at a training centre, and with the support from my family, I went along to see what it was like
The children’s response to seeing a male within nursery was unbelievable, they loved to see a father like figure you had preschool wanting to play football only with me, ‘daddy’s girls’ settling with myself and nobody else, but still to this day some of the younger babies will cry if they see me as they are so used to spending time with females.
With staff, I think being a male within a group of women certainly had its benefits, I would get treated differently as I would be let off if I didn’t do something or, when I was younger, I would play on the fact (he’s male he can’t do two things at once). One of the strangest instances I had was recently at a conference where I was talking to two managers who really could not believe that I was male and a manager of as nursery. The one thing that stuck in my mind was when they said to me “what do your staff do if you tell them to do something?” They couldn’t believe that a team of females would take any direction from a male manager.
Some parents now are still amazed to see a male in childcare and will openly ask me why I work with children, but they love to see that father figure within the setting they are sometimes amazed but welcome it with open arms. But back again when I first started some parents asked for me not to be left alone with their child. For me not to do their nappy, asked if they could change keyworker. It was rare but it happened to me on more than a couple of occasions. In these matters, careful support and sensitivity are essential, both for the parent and the practitioner.”
Rob Gilbert, a Qualified Early Years Educator began his early years career working in the kitchen of a nursery but identifies how he ‘hasn’t looked back’ since he made the switch to working directly with the children:
“I was looking for more sociable working hours e.g. Monday to Friday daytime, which is rare in catering and the nursery seemed like an interesting environment to work in after having already worked in a school kitchen. I surprised myself how much I enjoyed working with the under 5s and even taking the food around the rooms. I began to engage with the children and found myself enjoying it. I then started doing some cover work in the rooms when staffing was tight and I wasn’t needed in the kitchen and found that I enjoyed it more than my kitchen job and found it much more rewarding, so I made the switch and haven’t looked back since.
Parents, children and staff responded positively. I was a face they recognised and we had other male practitioners working at the setting so it wasn’t too unusual. Comments from the parents were along the lines of that they were glad of having a male influence on their child’s care and development.”
When asked what keeps them going to their nursery every day, both Andrew and Rob reference the children and how much of a privilege it is to be a part of the learning and development and setting their foundations for future learning.
It is clear to see that both men and women working in education at all levels share the same invested interest in ensuring that the children in their care make the best possible progress and have the best start in life, whilst their approaches, qualities and methodologies may have differences, their priority remains the same.
The views of parents and other staff members within the sector have developed over the years and it can be seen from the views of both Andrew and Rob that they are not only accepted by their colleagues, the children and their parents, but they are seen as a rare benefit to the setting.
A workforce that promotes a balance of male and female practitioners will provide children with the widest range of experiences, skills and opportunities that will only benefit their learning and development during their time in early years and see the gaps in children’s attainment begin to narrow and rapidly close.
“Rob and Andrew are just some of the male practitioners Busy Bees are proud to have within their staff teams. Featured in the pictures are Rob from Busy Bees at Leeds Guiseley and Andrew from Tunbridge Wells Nursery and Montessori Pre-School.”
My name is Danny Lydon, I am a Childcare and Curriculum Advisor for Busy Bees Day Nurseries, and have worked for the company for over 8 years.
My role is to support Nursery Managers and their teams in developing their teaching practices to secure the best learning and development outcomes for the children in their care. I have progressed within Busy Bees where I commenced my career as an Early Years Practitioner working within a nursery team securing Outstanding Ofsted status while I was in my role as Room Manager. I progressed into the Childcare Team in 2012 and this is just one example of the career development opportunities afforded to me through working within a large Childcare organisation committed to offering children the very best start in life.
As a man in Childcare, this article is of particular relevance to me and to the sector at this time. During my professional career I have experienced similar challenges to those raised by Andrew and Rob, however, such a rewarding profession ensures that the benefits of working within Early years Education far outweigh the challenges presented. Busy Bees are fully committed to supporting and developing their practitioners, male or female, and here everyone is nurtured to achieve their potential and lead the sector to create the best learning environment for all involved. The future is bright for Early years Education and we should be proud to be men working in the sector.