When I started Nipperbout in the early 90s, it was pretty rare to have a qualified male nursery nurse. My Early Years manager and I, became used to fielding negative comments, and sometimes point-blank refusals to leave a baby in his care.
But that was in the 90s, so I was very surprised recently, talking to someone who runs a childcare agency, to learn that male Early Years staff struggle to find placements because “nurseries and schools won’t take them”. He even told me of one male EY professional on his books who gave up and went back to his original career as a policeman!
I decided to investigate further and spoke to some of my own male staff who work as supply staff in nurseries and primary schools.
They told me parents frequently don’t want them to be a key worker, or to change their child’s nappies. Some settings are very supportive, but at others the staff say they think children may be ‘uneasy’ around a male and don’t think men can be ‘as nurturing as females’.
Often they are the only male in the building. They feel under pressure to get everything right, to be on top of paperwork, so there is no avenue for criticism and to be extra cautious about not instigating cuddles with children.
Frequently they are used as a DIY person, and given all the fixing, carrying, moving and lifting. They tell me that the female staff sometimes talk about them behind their back, so there is an added anxiety about personal hygiene and appearance .
I felt really sad listening to this, as my own experience is that men are a huge asset to our team, bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge to share.
Young children are constantly surrounded by female energy in their early years. From a ‘knowledge and understanding of the world around us’ point of view, they are only getting half the picture.
Men bring different skills and qualities to childcare which some children will respond better to. In my experience, babies in particular, respond well to men and settle far more swiftly.
Often children who are excluded from school have a single female parent, so a positive male role model is an asset. If a child has had a bad experience with their father, male EY staff offer a vital opportunity to build trust and a positive relationship with men, in a safe setting.
An equal balance of male and female energy is the ideal I aim for.
Key for me, it is the importance of changing attitudes from within. Only by experience, will children grow up accepting that a career in childcare is open to all.
I’m proud that several of the boys who have grown up in Nipperbout have come back to work with us and trained to be Early Years professionals or primary teachers. Just as the learning opportunities we offer in Early Years should be non-gender specific, so, in my opinion, should be the gender of those who provide them.