Attracting men to the ECEC workforce

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This week we’ve been reflecting on a piece of news featured on the Victoria Derbyshire programme on 14th March 2018 about the difficulties of attracting men to work in ECEC. This is something we are both really passionate about. In 2015 we conducted a piece of research (awaiting publication) with Siobhan O’Connor that explored whether male early childhood studies students thought that a career working with young children was a viable career choice. We thought this would help us identify what measures might be taken to increase the number of men who choose to study ECS. We found that all our male student participants were planning on entering the teaching profession – thus still working with children, but perhaps not within the ECEC age-range. Our participants also shared their awareness about gender issues and the early years workforce, for instance acknowledging that there is an anxiety around men working with young children and/or wanting to study early childhood university programmes. This is something also highlighted by Robinson (2008, p.126) who has also found that male ECEC students have recognised an “uneasiness some parents have about having a male early childhood educator working with their children”, because of the moral panic around child abuse. It’s also echoed in research by Mistry and Sood (2013) who also found male ECEC students thought there were barriers to working in the early years settings because of stereotypical views of men. This might be one reason why men feel reluctant to enter the workforce.

So, what can we be doing to promote careers in ECEC to potential male practitioners? As the Victoria Derbyshire programme said, this is something that England’s Department of Education is keen to do. In March 2017 they published their Early Years Workforce Strategy, which outlines strategies to recruit more male practitioners. They talk about a campaign by the Fatherhood Institute which aims to attract more men to the ECEC workforce, who have recently published a fantastic report that makes some suggestions as to how this might be done. The DfE strategy also refers to the first Men in Early Years conference, held in Southampton in February 2016, which both of us were fortunate to attend. In 2017 we were invited to present at the second national conference (organised by the wonderful St Edmund’s Nursery School and Children’s Centre, which also features on the Victoria Derbyshire programme). Our workshop was called “Where shall we play? How shall we play?” and used a variety of Lego-men based activities to explore the idea of whether men may have a unique contribution to make to early years practice, for instance in relation to risky play. Sandseter (2014, p.434) suggests male practitioners “have a more liberal attitude towards children’s risky play, and allow children to engage in greater risky play than women”, which means it might be an area they may feel more comfortable leading on in ECEC settings. The third National Men in Early Years Conference is taking place in Bristol on 10th July 2018 and looks to be another positive step in tackling the gender imbalance in the ECEC workforce.

Now, we want to be clear here – we aren’t saying that we believe that men are necessary in ECEC settings because women aren’t doing a good enough job, or that they are needed to act as a role model for children. This is something echoed by Brownhill (2010, p.12) who argues “everyone, irrespective of their gender, can be defined as a role model depending on their ability to model both “natural” masculine and feminine traits; this challenges the idea of the role model as necessarily being “male”.” However, we do believe that if there are barriers to men entering the ECEC workforce, this is something it’s important to reduce.

What do you think? What strategies do you think might be useful in trying to attract men to the ECEC workforce? Or do you think it’s not important? Let us know your thoughts below.

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