European Men in Early Years Conference, Krakow

Mic Conference Krakow Oct 2014

David & Joseph Wright from Paintpots nurseries in Southampton accepted an invitation from the Men in Childcare (MiC) Scotland organisation, to attend this international conference. Initially we were intending to travel on behalf of Southampton Area Men in Early Years, as well as our own small family run group of nurseries but since we were the only representatives from England, effectively we were the de facto English delegation.

We were interested to learn more about the European situation, initiatives, thinking and issues with regard to the involvement of men in the care and education of young children across Europe. David also submitted a presentation on the subject of “Changing Culture” which was accepted for inclusion.

We arrived 2 days prior to the conference in order to see something of Krakow and the surrounding area. We were not disappointed and can recommend it as a tourist destination. The city itself comprises historic buildings, the Jewish quarter, parks, the castle and the river. There is much to see and enjoy with some beautiful buildings, excellent cheap bars and restaurants and, if you are so disposed, a very full provision of evening and late night entertainment (so I am told!).

We elected for a full day tour of Auschwitz , Birkenau and the salt mines. Each quite different and fascinating in their own way. Whilst not exactly a “fun” day out, I think everyone should visit the former concentration camps at least once in their lifetime. The trip had a profound effect on both of us. The salt mines, by contrast, are magnificent and also highly recommended.

The conference itself took place on the Friday. There were 40 – 50 attendees from 7 different countries including Poland, England, Scotland, Holland, Norway, Iceland and the USA. The majority of delegates were Polish and female, primarily head teachers from kindergartens.

It was a full day of presentations. The theme of ‘New Horizons’ encompassed various strands. Our Polish hosts opened proceedings with a warm welcome then handed over to Kenny Spence from MiC Scotland who gave an overview of the rationale, policy and current situation in Scotland with regard to their organisation’s remit to promote and support careers for men in early years. MiC Scotland receive funding from their government to carry out their activities. Contrast this with the English government support – zero!

Anders Farstad gave an update from Norway. The ratio of male workers across the country is currently around 10% but dropping. In his community, owing to a local initiative, they have managed to get it up to 15%. They have a lot of young men “passing through” but lose them to higher paid jobs in primary education. Men primarily work with the over 4s.

There were 2 further presentations from Polish delegates discussing the way forward for Poland. The fact that so many female head teachers of kindergartens across the country had given up their time to support this event was an indicator of the recognition of the need to recruit men into their early years workforce – starting from virtually zero. There was agreement that Polish society has a need for more male involvement with its children.

In terms of influencing culture, this event was a significant one. It was unfortunate that it coincided with a conflicting educational conference in Warsaw otherwise there would have been representation from a government minister.

Lauk Woltring from the Netherlands promoted a new publication – Men who teach Young Children, An International Perspective by David Brody. Lauk recommended the book as an excellent profile of 6 practitioners, with insightful conclusions on practice, culture and issues.

I spoke on Changing Culture, with some observations from my own experience and some thoughts on the issues, challenges and initiatives that can change the status quo. The talk seemed to be well received, including some of my jokes (after a short delay for interpretation).

There followed a talk on the success of one Polish group who had started a “Daddy Club” as part of their work to engage fathers in their children’s care and development.

Finally, Jerry Parr from Boston gave us a light hearted but nonetheless insightful talk on the top 15 ways you know you are a male in early childhood, which ended with us all stood up for a group performance of a Polish version of heads, shoulders, knees and toes.

The following morning, we reconvened, after a very pleasant evening at one of Krakow’s pleasant restaurants, to discuss the European Men in Childcare group. We went around the table discussing the current situation in each country, the proposals for next year’s conference to be held in Norway with a focus on recruiting for education and ways in which we can work together going forward.

Headlines from each country –

Full qualification for teaching in Poland means Masters level and takes up to 10 years. This is a clear deterrent to new entrants, especially men who choose alternative careers with much faster payback in terms of salary. There is also a cultural belief that “childcare” is women’s work.

The situation in Iceland is similar. Since 2008, a Masters degree is needed in order to teach in all phases. Currently it is estimated that males represent 1% of the qualified childcare workforce. This rises to 5% if you count unqualified assistants. Salary is not a huge deterrent as there is parity between kindergarten and primary school teachers’ salaries.

A Danish film ‘Jagten’ (the hunter) was recommended as a good watch about a man being falsely accused of abuse.

The number of men working in early years in Sweden had fallen from 6 down to 2% because of a focus on equality issues more widely rather than on the specific issue of recruiting and retaining more men.

I have already addressed the situation in Norway and Scotland. I gave a summary of the situation in the UK which has not changed substantially. The introduction of EYE and EYT qualifications goes some way to professionalising the status of the workforce but I am not sure how this affects the desire of men to work in early years. Certainly, salaries are not changing as a consequence. There is a greatly heightened sensitivity to child protection matters in the light of the continuing fallout from the Jimmy Saville investigations and this could be a deterrent to men working in our sector.

Jerry spoke about the US situation and noted that it was qite regional, state by state but that the headstart programme had an $8 billion budget nationally and had lead to a raising of qualifications and more professionalism.

It was agreed that we should be focusing on the rights of the child to have men and women in their lives.

Belgium had some funding to recruit more men, with success but once the funding dried up and the recruitment drive completed, number s fell back again.

Denmark was up to 6% males in the workforce but this has fallen back down again to 4%

There was discussion on the critical mass needed to sustain an initiative. For minority issues to be addressed and projects to have a momentum, it is thought that this figure is around 20% before it stops becoming a minority issue and gains some stability. We have a long way to go!

There was a suggestion on conducting research into outcomes for children, eg more safe attachments for boys with men as early years workers? To produce a case for social investment and political backing, it is necessary to have facts and evidence.