Why I will continue to advocate for more Men in Early Years

My social media timelines yesterday contained a link to an opinion piece written back in February 2018 by Australian, Liam McNicholas entitled, ‘It’s time for men in early childhood to advocate for women’.Liam writes that he has decided to no longer advocate for more men in the Early Years education sector. He says that he can no longer do so while ‘women experience overwhelmingly more prejudice, harassment and outright violence in their lives in every other part of community.’ He states that ‘being a male immediately places us in a privileged position. For a straight, white male like myself and others, the privilege increases exponentially.’ Liam presents the evidence of under-representation of women in leadership in the sector as evidence of this.

Liam writes that ‘the fundamental reason that there are so few men in the sector is precisely because it’s viewed as women’s work – and is therefore paid poorly and given no value….. men don’t see it as a high-status job and aren’t joining the sector.’ Given these findings, he asserts that ‘discrimination against men in early childhood is a part of a wider discrimination against women, all through our society.’ And therefore concludes that ‘it becomes very difficult to continue to have a narrow focus on advocacy for men in early childhood.’

Liam reflects how he has gained a position of influence to advocate for more men in Early Years which he puts down to his male privilege. He feels he is no longer comfortable to do so.

It is blindingly obvious that there is an issue with the general perception of the Early Years sector and workforce and that there continue to be issues regarding the way some men treat women. Whilst I agree that the relatively low levels of pay and status accruing to the Early Years workforce are to do with our culture’s view of the profession as ‘women’s work’, my conclusions differ from those of Liam. Firstly, I find the call to abandon any further attempt at creating gender diversity in the Early Years workforce to be fatalistic and defeatist. It is not an either-or situation and I don’t believe we need to wait to fix the whole of society’s ills before taking individual action. Secondly, I reject the notion that all of us men are part of a masterplan to perpetuate hegemonic masculinity. To infer this is surely as much of an unhelpful generalisation as to imply that all men are potential paedophiles and therefore should never be involved with the care and education of young children? I reject the all-encompassing label of ‘toxic masculinity’ as a generalisation. I also reject the deterministic labelling of ‘white, straight, male’ as innately privileged and programmed to exploit women. The vast majority of the people I work with and come into contact with in the sector are female, including managers, owners and policy makers. (Maybe it’s different in Australia?) I don’t see evidence for men inside the sector looking to recruit more men to promote them into positions of privilege in order to suppress / exploit women. Unless someone tells me differently? I also don’t understand why deciding to blog about issues is a mark of privilege. I thought that was one of the democratising benefits of social media?    

I am a very nearly 60 year old white, straight male who together with my wife and son, employs 160 Early Years staff of whom currently 4 are male, all of who are employed as practitioners. I recruit and employ men, women, black, white, gay and straight people based purely on their aptitude. Some of these individuals are promoted, again based solely on their demonstrable abilities. Currently all of our senior and managerial staff are female. Myself and my son regularly work in our after schools clubs and other settings engaging with the wonderful children we care for. I suppose that is privilege, but one that is open to all of our teams regardless of gender.

In discussing this issue, we need to remember the most important people, our children. My case has always been that boys and girls need men and women to build relationships with them during their formative years. In my opinion, children should have the opportunity to build relationships and interact with both men and women. In a society where children are increasingly raised in single parent families and mostly by women, they may not be coming into daily contact with men. I believe this is a problem for all of us. This does not attribute any particular character traits to men or women – e.g. we don’t need men in order to play football with children but we are limiting the diversity of our workforce. Through ignorance, suspicion and cultural attitudes, we are also denying men the opportunity to engage in a fulfilling career.      

In my case, a call to create a more mixed-gender Early Years workforce is definitely not a call to perpetuate male hegemony.  Our principles are to attract, recruit, retain and develop the best people regardless of characteristics – sex, race, sexuality, anything else. If I have a manifesto, it is to establish a professional identity which is common across sexes, sexualities, race and which bestows status, trust and decent pay to the men and women who perform this role. I recognise that we have to start from where we are but if we do nothing, we will see no change. That is why I support the campaigns that advocate for improved status and pay now whilst 98% of the workforce is female. We also have significant work to do outside the sector to change attitudes.  

I don’t believe that my position represents a ‘narrow focus on advocacy for men in early childhood.’ If Liam is saying that because I continue to advocate for a more mixed-gender Early Years workforce, I am part of the problem, I don’t follow his logic. If I have misunderstood his position, I apologise.       

   

Another Men in Early Years Conference

The date has now been confirmed for the North’s first men in early years conference, which will take place on Tuesday 18th July 2017 in Bradford, at the Media Museum and follows on from the first UK men in early years conference, held in Southampton in 2016.

The national conference will be a flagship event showcasing a multi-agency focus on engaging men in the early years, and how it can help improve outcomes for children. It will feature prominent speakers and workshop leaders from around the world who all share an interest and passion in men working in the early years and the importance of engaging with fathers. It aims to further raise the policy questions around gender imbalance in the early year’s workplace and a growing need for the positive modelling of men as care-givers for boys and girls. The conference will be a significant step forward in supporting the development of national and international networks for men in early years.

Delivery partners include the National Literacy Trust Hub Bradford, St Edmund’s Nursery School and Children’s Centre, the West Bradford Children’s Centre Cluster, Bradford Birth to 19 Teaching School Alliance, and with input from the Fatherhood Institute.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/men-in-the-early-years-north-conference-tickets-31253596348

You can also follow MITEY on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MITEY-North-Conference-394851360880219/

From Disappointment to Anger

The comments attributed to Andrea Leadsom last week regarding her thoughts on the risk associated with having a male nanny, during her interview with the Times, may or may not have been reported verbatim. They may or may not have been taken out of context but the fact is that the views reported do represent a widely held public opinion.

I know this because I have experienced almost identical phraseology in a recent local authority presentation where a picture of the child murderer Ian Huntley was displayed as part of a “dispassionate” discourse on safe recruitment in which we (a room of 40 female childcare workers and myself – the only male in the room) were told, ‘We have done all this work to recruit more men into childcare and this (pointing to the picture on the screen) is what we have achieved – well not on my watch!”

I know this because of the stories I have heard from male practitioners of the false allegations made against them. I received a phone call from a man last week who was almost too upset to talk but felt the need to share his harrowing account of being hounded from a job he loved. He is now too afraid to work with children any longer.

I know this because of the stories I have been told of complaints from parents and members of the public that a man should even be inside a nursery. A setting recently received a complaint from a passer-by because they had a male worker in their garden, interacting with and photographing the children on a tablet – part of his duties. He was referred to as a pervert by the complainant who had observed him. Another nursery was reported to Ofsted for having a man working there.

I know this because I attended a training session last week for those interested in short-term fostering. Various scenarios relating to children being foster cared in a home setting were discussed and we were asked to assess each one for risk and possible misinterpretation. One of these was ‘a man baths a child’ and another was ‘ a child sits on a man’s knee.’ Opinions were expressed that there was indeed an element of risk associated with both cases and that both were open to misinterpretation.

…and I know this because our media also believes and promotes it. –

In a depressingly irresponsible piece of journalism, even by its own standards, the Telegraph today approved the publication of an opinion piece by Ben Kelly ow.ly/Bn0T302mRuU in which he tells his readership that Andrea Leadsom does not trust male nannies and neither do we “ordinary people”.

A mark of poor argument is trashing any opposing view through belittlement. Thus Ben accuses critics of “faux outrage”, “rank hypocrisy”, being “virtue signallers” and of “self-righteous outrage”. With admirable front he claims the moral high ground as someone who is “emotionally devastated and had his soul poisoned” as a child by a female abuser. Whilst I do not wish to make light of this appalling experience, I do not believe this makes him an objective commentator on this issue particularly as he confesses that “My instincts have rendered me something of a hypocrite myself.” Justification for his position is based on his “unpleasant involuntary twinge” in the presence of a male childcarer and various “facts”, unsubstantiated statistics, instinct and feelings –

“most ordinary people will know exactly what she (Andrea Leadsom) means”

“there is clearly, demonstrably, more of a risk involved than in hiring a woman.”

“I will instinctively trust a woman more than a man. I feel very confident that most parents feel exactly the same”

“It’s an instinctive protectiveness that is naturally heightened around men.”

Well there’s a proven set of facts, right there. Case won, we’re all with you, Ben. Thank goodness we have you as a custodian of our children’s welfare!

Having made his “case”, Ben then rather comes unstuck by admitting, completely without irony  –

“I know that obviously very, very few men are actually paedophiles and I deplore the hysteria that is whipped up about this.”

Apparently, he feels very conflicted about the whole thing and he “feels strongly, for example, that we desperately need more male teachers, especially in schools.”

Well, what are we to make of this nonsense? I was rather sceptical of the reportage of Andrea Leadsom’s comments and willing to consider that this was possibly not what was said or intended but Ben’s piece comes right out and says it – All men are potential paedophiles and should not be working with children.

I was disappointed but not surprised to read the comments attributed to Andrea Leadsom but I am now very angry indeed at this piece by Ben Kelly and the editor who allowed this to be published.

This is a principle of human rights. Boys and girls have a right to be cared for by men and women and men have the right to work with young children. It is not for jumped up hacks to dictate to our society how we should think and act. Nor is it the place of the tabloid press to print such inflammatory and prejudiced propaganda.

Is it not possible to sue someone under equal opportunities legislation? I cannot just let this one go. It is immoral.

See, there you go again, David with all the faux and self-righteous outrage, the rank hypocrisy and virtue signalling. Just fall in behind Ben, be honest with yourself and admit that men are not to be trusted.

Having worked in childcare full time for over 12 years and colluded in the employment of many other men in the early years sector perhaps I should just hand myself in now and give it all up…..

Unsurprisingly but Depressingly Familiar?

Not a week passes without another facebook post describing reactions to men working in early years settings, from parents, prospective parents or members of the public. Here is yesterday’s latest entry –

“Lots of new parents in at the moment for September, all good. One today going through paper work talking through student consent, to be asked ‘are there any male students?’ To which I reply no, but there may well be, is this an issue ? To be told, ‘no but I would not want a male changing my daughters nappy!’ I asked her – if you had a little boy would you like a male practitioner changing him? She said yes and then realised her thinking was a bit off.”

I read another post a couple of weeks back where a member of the public had alerted the manager of a nursery to the fact that there was a male pervert in her nursery garden taking photographs of the children. The manager pointed out that he actually worked there and that it was part of his duties, to which the lady responded, ‘don’t give me that, I know what his sort are like!’ Another setting was reported to Ofsted anonymously because they had a man working for them.

“The great British public’s” attitudes aren’t improving much, are they? Rather than wringing our hands in despair, we need to be realistic about the situation, to understand the issues and look at positive means of changing the culture. We need to promote positive images and testimonials in the media.  Listen to the inspiring podcasts on our conference page. I have been so encouraged by the individual stories. Join the many settings across the country who have made visible their commitment to the national charter on our home page by downloading, printing, signing and displaying it.

I am thankful for our female colleagues who stand up to support us in the face of bigotry and uninformed, media influenced paranoia about all men and their questionable motives. We are not going to change public opinion overnight but we are determined to continue our campaign to slowly influence our collective thinking. Today Southampton, tomorrow the World!

Following the success of the first national Men in Early Years conference in February 2016, we have convened a national Men in Early Years summit meeting to be hosted by London Early Years Foundation in October.  Get in touch if you would like an invitation. We’d love you to be part of the movement.

UK National Conference

Details confirmed

As a man working in early years for over 12 years, I continue to campaign to try and redress the gender imbalance in our workforce to ensure we are providing the widest range of opportunities and experiences possible through men and women working together to meet the needs of boys and girls.

Many years of campaigning and advocacy have failed to improve the less than 2% male proportion, nationally. There is wide support for more men to enter the sector, from practitioners, parents and academics and the arguments for more men working to care for and teach our youngest children are compelling. The last 12 months has seen the development of a loose network of support groups across the country and renewed interest and initiatives from various organisations.

As Early Years providers and practitioners, we understand the profound effect of the reciprocal relationship and interactions we have with our children; the responsibility for shaping development during their formative years and the joy and fulfilment of making a difference in their lives. I speak to many men working in Early Years who have powerful testimonials to just such experiences.

Now, more than ever, we need committed individuals to help close the attainment gap for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In this respect, almost 50% of the population is currently an untapped resource.

We would love to see the United Kingdom lead the World in the gender balance of our Early Years workforce.

‘Early Years, a Career for Everyone’, a UK national Men in Early Years conference, is to be held in Southampton, Saturday 13th February 2016. It will be a very positive, inspiring and purposeful day at which both a national network and a charter for Men in Early Years will be launched. Men and women are welcome.

Bookings can be made here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/national-men-in-early-years-conference-tickets-18605529640

Conference Poster

The Election Campaign Starts Here

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 –

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, Sam Gyimah, this question directly on the #eytalking thread which 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 a qualified status and accompanying salary? And what’s wrong with caring and nurturing by the way? Aren’t men capable of giving care and shouldn’t we be wanting them to give this 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 and men have the right to work with children.

In a post-Saville world, it is even more important that we get this right. How to get the good guys in and how to 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 7 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 see 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 need Men and Women – from 0 – 19 years.

• Create a culture where it’s normal here 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.