Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things Podcast Series
For International Men’s Day on the 19th November 2012, I invited as many men as I could find who worked in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) to join us for a drink to discuss how we might build a London Men in Childcare Network.
We wanted to create a place where we could learn from the men who worked in Early Years about how they were experiencing the sector. The evening was sparked by a conversation with David Stevens, who persuaded me that we should do more about encouraging Men in Childcare (MiC) across the sector, not just at LEYF. At the time, David was a Nursery Manager of a nursery where four of the six staff were men. This had not been a planned staffing arrangement but happened because other men wanted to be in a setting where they felt welcomed.
That cold evening in November I expected about 15 MiC representatives and so I promised them all a drink. When I got to the Barley Mow on Horseferry Road with David in tow, I was shocked to find at least 50 men eager to connect around MiC. I had about 30 quid, enough for half a round! However, fortunately, they had all sorted themselves out, so we were saved any embarrassment. That joyful evening kicked off the next 10 years of activity to raise the importance of MiC.
Since then, we have conducted plenty of surveys which show that nearly 100% of female nursery staff were generally supportive of having male colleagues. They like the balance and think that it’s also good for children to see the gender stereotypes disrupted.
However, we found female staff were perhaps less aware of the impact of our unconscious gender bias can have on male staff which is why men tend to be attracted to nurseries where there are already male colleagues. Men, like women, do not fit one singular definition; operating along a continuum from very nurturing all the way to Ken.
We have since learned to be better at using more targeted advertising to attract MiC. Simple changes such as male only recruitment campaigns, adverts with male images, men teaching on the training programmes, male apprentices and a male colleague helping the induction process to welcome another male colleague into childcare have created a bigger impact. Furthermore, we’ve integrated better with schools and careers advisers and have provided ambassadors to go into colleges and talk to students.
There has also been lots of innovation including:
- The LEYF ‘Men-only apprentice cohort’ and Alice Sharp’s programme to encourage Dads into childcare
- We partnered with the University of Wolverhampton to research the views of MiC and how they believed they could make a difference to children’s lives
- We conducted research with the children to find out what they thought about having male teachers in practice – that was a fascinating piece of research! Watch this video too
- Books were published such as Well-being in the Early Years (Critical Approaches to the Early Years), 50 Fantastic Things to Do with Dads and The A to Z of Early Years.
- In 2018, the UK Department for Education formed a Task and Finish Group on Inclusivity which included MiC. This led to a more public conversation about how we recruit more men into Early Years which fed into a campaign slogan called MITEY (Men In The Early Years). David Wright also represented men at the World Forum Working Group on Men in ECE
- Articles were published, we did podcasts and the subject of MiC was a regular conference agenda.
- We watched with interest what our colleagues were doing overseas. For example in Norway, Denmark and Turkey, joined-up gender policies, longer paternity leave and public support for MiC has resulted in more men in the childcare sector – in some cases up to 18%! That’s 16% better than our 2% target!
We saw progress with a steady 8% at LEYF, but this was still not good enough. Given the efforts to encourage MiC, why has the sector begun to slip backwards again, given the obvious benefits for both children and staff? We are now back down to 2%, behind even the Government’s own target of 3%.
This is the question I often discuss with David Stevens (Nursery Teacher), Greg Lane (below, Manager of Soho Nursery and Arts & Cultural Partnerships Lead) and Konstantinos Skordas (Pedagogy Manager and Chair of the LEYF MiC Community of Practice group).