Mencare Too

Experiences of Scotland and Norway in recruiting men to work in Early years

The Scottish Experience that has successfully interested men in early years work

kenny spence mencare2

Having more men working in early years services encourages more men to use the service. Men are very clear, that the services seem to them to be provided for women by women. Research into the care and upbringing of children shows that men can be just as effective as women.

Work with young children can be both stimulating and exciting. Caring is not just womens work, but this myth is self perpetuating because childcare services have 98% women workers. Most of us realise that men are role models for boys, but the presence of a positive male role model in a childs life is equally important for boys and girls. Children need contact with both women and men.

All these are good reasons for having more men in early years work. Until there are more men, we will continue to face an environment which can provide more opportunities for children, but is limited by gender imbalance. Over the years there have seen a lot of changes especially in the area of equality legislation, equal pay for example, is now a legal requirement. One of the areas that has been slowest to change has been the recruitment into childcare.

It was due to the availability of Childcare Partnership funding and additional European funding that Men in Childcare was set up in 2000, the first project of its kind to target men for childcare training. Men in Childcare started in Edinburgh and, on the basis of its success there, was funded by the Scottish government to roll out training across Scotland we have also been invited to work in two local authorities in England.

The success of Men in Childcare has been due largely to the introduction of a male only introductory course, much of the recruitment coming via word of mouth and adverts in local newspapers. Instead of a man arriving at a traditional college course and finding himself alone with 20 women as classmates, the Men in Childcare course is organised initially to be an all men class. The training is organised in partership with local colleges and it is all accredited. If you only undertake two modules, then the credits can still be banked. Some men leave at this stage having gained better parenting skills and a better understanding of child development.

A significant change, which has encouraged more men to consider childcare as a career, is the qualification now allowing people to work in a wider range of settings, which in turn creates greater career prospects.The qualification now covers the development of children from 0-18 and enable men to work in and out of school care and with older aged children.

What has Men in Childcare achieved since 2000?

Men in Childcare to date has supported over 1000 men to undertake some childcare training. This includes an introductory course a fast track to full qualification and the full childcare qualification.

Pre-conceptions about the suitability of men to work with young children contribute to the shortage of trained male childcare workers, as well as making it very difficult to attract male applicants. Men in Childcare has managed to counter these assumptions through their positive publicity and media coverage, both in the UK and overseas including New Zealand, Poland, Hungary and the USA.

Kenny Spence manages a Childrens Centre in Edinburgh and is the founder of Men in Childcare.

Focus on Men in the nursery and kindergarten in Norway

Erik Haugland

Back in 1970 the first two Norwegian men were educated to be preschool teachers. I was one of them. Some attempts were made in the 1980's to get more men into barnehage (kindergartens for children from 1 to 6 years), then interest fell away. But in the 1990's, interest renewed. A number of actions were taken culminating in a new plan. Barnehage is a gender equality programme which ran from 2004 to 2007 with two main goals, more men and a gendered understanding of the work.

Why has Norway given high priority to getting more men working in kindergarten?
We are concerned about most children only meeting women during their first 10 to 12 years first in barnehage, then in school and school-age child care. What will be the long term effects, including for gender equality. What signal does that give young girls and boys about gender roles.

What conclusions have we drawn from our work?
First,to get more men in this field, you have to build up machinery that can do the job: this means funding,local structures, project development, monitoring results. Second, you need more than one man in a barnehage or school if you are on your own, almost anyone will give up and retention of male staff matters as much as recruitment. A Third, you need to work with women that find the issue important some have been in mixed gender work groups for many years and laugh when told there are no men who really want to work in this field. Finally, you have to have male workers talking with young men, to convince them the barnehage is a place for young men to work.

Most young man think of a barnehage as a womens place, never as a possibility for work. Ask anyone to describe a barnehage, and I guarantee that nearly all will say its a place where women care for children. The cultural picture of a barnehage is about female care, not about learning and varied experiences. This picture has to be changed, and only other young men can do it. But you need tools, too. One of our counties, in cooperation with a childcare centre and a municipality, has made a DVD that is disseminated through schools. It is all music and pictures of men and women and children in varied situations, and it shown by young men working in barnehager themselves, who then take part in the subsequent discussions.

Last but not least, have we succeeded?
I would say yes. The numbers of male preschool teachers are increasing each year. We have still to reach our immediate goal of 20% men, but have increased from 3% in 1991 to 10% in 2008. A large increase in services during this time means more men working has not been at the cost of jobs for women. Several municipalities, working seriously in this field, have up to 25% male workers, while in open air barnehager, men make up a third of the staff. We also have a lot more male students, some colleges having more than 20% and one with more than 30%. We used to say that the goal is when a male bus driver says to his colleagues that he is very pleased if his son plans to be a preschool teacher. We are not there yet, far from it. But we are moving, and in the right direction.

And for the record!
Another action plan has just been launched for 2008-2012, now for schools as well, with the same two main goals.

The work continues.