What can Australia learn from the UK push to bring more men into ECEC?

by Freya Lucas

October 12, 2020

Much like Australia, the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector in the UK is dominated by female employees and facing “a longstanding recruitment crisis”, driving the need to create a radical new strategy to gender-diversify its workforce, according to a new report, published last week by Lancaster University

 

The GenderEYE (Gender Diversification in Early Years Education) study by Lancaster University and the Fatherhood Institute, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council found that despite early years education’s continuing status as Britain’s least gender-diverse caring profession, the Government and most early years employers have done “very little” to recruit and retain male staff.

 

The study reveals that less than a fifth (14 per cent) of early years settings have pursued specific strategies aimed at recruiting men, such as enacting positive action strategies, suggesting the early years as a career path to boys and men, and promoting vacancies in a way which makes them more appealing to men. 

 

Positive action strategies, such as inviting male applicants for interview even if they are not a perfect fit for the job ‘on paper’, and specifically inviting men to open days and making clear in adverts that men are welcome to apply – are extremely rare, researchers found. 

 

While such approaches have been found to be successful in other countries – including in Norway, which has the most gender-diverse (9 per cent male) early education workforce in the world, they are largely absent in the UK. 

 

When they have been employed within local pockets of good practice uncovered in the UK, such as the London Early Years Foundation, the workforce has been found to be well above the national average when it comes to employing men. 

 

The drive to include more men in the sector, researchers stressed, arises from the fact that gender diversity in the workforce “matters because when caregiving is publicly recognised, valued and rewarded as an activity for men as well as women, young children are more likely to grow up making less constrained choices about their own careers and gender roles in families.”

 

Strategies recommended by researchers to improve male recruitment and retention include:

 

  • Reaching out to fathers who have spent more time than ever at home looking after their children during the COVID-19 lockdown – and who may now be interested in a career in early years;

 

  • Better support for male staff, who are more transient in early years jobs (55 per cent of managers said men stay less time in post than female staff) – and may face objections to their involvement in intimate care (51 per cent of male practitioners said they had contemplated leaving the profession due to concerns around allegations of sexual abuse); and, 

 

  • Gender awareness training for all early years staff, which is currently offered to less than a fifth (16 per cent) of practitioners but could help reduce gender stereotyping within early years teams and in interactions with children.

 

“We need to capitalise on the shift that we have seen in many homes during the pandemic, with men adopting more prominent, care-giving roles. This could open up a window of opportunity – but men need to know that early years education is an option open to them. It is a crucial time to act when so many ‘traditional’ jobs are at risk and career changes are likely,” Principal investigator Professor Jo Warin said.

 

Co-investigator Dr Jeremy Davies from the Fatherhood Institute – who will lead a training course based on the GenderEYE findings for early years managers in October, added: “Very few organisations in the sector are actively and systematically changing the way they do things, in order to pull men in. We’re looking forward to supporting the sector to see that getting this right is important for everyone – for female staff, and the children we look after, as well as for men themselves.”

 

The report, launched 9 October by the research team during an online conference, is the culmination of a 26-month-long study which saw the research team work with academics and practitioners in Norway, to share experiences of recruiting and supporting early years professionals.

 

The team also set up research hubs in Bradford, Bristol, London and Southampton, where they visited early years settings which employed mixed gender workforces to conduct interviews and observations. 

 

Key figures from the early years sector were interviewed, along with representatives from training and careers providers. An online survey which attracted 482 responses from male and female practitioners and managers of early years settings, also helped identify how many men were employed in early years settings, and provided broader insight into roles, support and training.  

 

To access the report in full, please see here

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