Improve your early years practice
Every week, we'll send you expert early years insights, resources, tips and inspiration straight to your inbox
Within the Early Years sector, it’s not exactly raining men. It’s hardly even sprinkling, really.
This isn’t exactly breaking news, though — and that’s part of the problem.
These days, boosting gender equality in early education has more support from parents and practitioners than ever before. And with each generation, more and more men can see themselves working as educators and Early Years practitioners.
Despite this, the share of men working in the Early Years hasn’t moved all that much in the past two decades.
So maybe it’s time we try something new?
In this article, we’re going to talk about where this problem comes from, and where we go from here. And to help shape that perspective, we’ll talk to Dr. Jeremy Davies. He’s the Head of Communications at the UK-based Fatherhood Institute, and leader of the Men in the Early Years network.
As he’ll explain down below, it might be time that we rethink why we’re pushing for more men in the sector. Spoiler alert: It’s a lot bigger than whether or not men are better at messy play.
Let’s see how we can get more men in the mix.
Just to catch everybody up to speed, the Early Years has a serious shortage of dudes.
As of 2019, men made up just 3 percent of early years staff in England. Up in Scotland, it’s 4 percent. In Ireland, it’s less than one percent. Across the UK, more than three-quarters of surveyed Early Years settings say they don't have any male staff at all.
But this isn’t just a UK problem. The percentage of men working in early education is low around the globe, if we look at countries like Australia (1.6%), the United States (6.3%) or Austria (0.8%). Norway is one of the global leaders, with men making up about 10 percent of their early educators.
While we’ve seen some progress here and there, we haven’t seen great leaps and bounds in the last decade (or, in fact, the past two decades). But the cause is just as important as ever — so let’s look at what we can do about it.
To start tackling this problem, it’s important to make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons.
You might have heard arguments pushing for more men in the Early Years, because they bring practical benefits: They’re positive male role models for children who don’t have fathers at home, or they’re great for rough-and-tumble play.
But as Jeremy Davies points out, these arguments suggest that men are just better at certain things — as if there’s some special secret to playing in the mud that only a man could know. If we’re pushing for gender equality in the Early Years workforce, fixating on these ‘practical benefits’ of men probably isn’t too helpful in the long run.
“These arguments put unreasonable demands on male practitioners because they assume that all men fit into some idealised model of masculinity. But if that’s our focus, where does it leave the female practitioners?” Jeremy asks. “That risks bringing us back to square one in some way, where children see their male and female practitioners doing these stereotypical gendered activities.”
We would never debate the ‘practical benefits’ to hiring a disabled practitioner, a Black practitioner, or anyone else. In those cases, we just understand that diversity is, in itself, a worthwhile cause. It’s about making sure every child grows up in an environment that reflects their own background, culture and identity. That’s just too important to condense into a concrete benefit or a statistic.
So why treat the gender equality effort as a separate thing?
“When you encounter an Early Years group that’s good at gender in the workforce, you can bet they’re good at gender, full stop — and good at all forms of diversity and inclusion,” Jeremy says.
This article just isn’t long enough to do justice to such a big question.
Most every practitioner, politician and parent understands the importance of teaching (and demonstrating) gender equality in early childhood. But when it comes to actually doing that, some people tend to drop off.
We can point to a laundry list of reasons. Though maybe it’s more like a web, because a lot of these causes feed into one another, and reinforce the problem.
While this is far from an exhaustive list, let’s touch on some of the biggest reasons why we’re missing men in the Early Years:
But regardless of the cause, Jeremy says one thing’s for certain: Change needs to come from within the sector.
“Most everybody gets that gender equality is a good thing, but there’s a difference between understanding that, and actively engaging in changing things,” he says.
The good news is, making a difference is probably easier than you think.
With an issue like this, change won’t come overnight. But there are some simple things you can do today, tomorrow or next week to get the ball rolling.
To get started, look no further than Jeremy’s own guide to improve recruitment of men into early years education. You’ll find a couple of highlights down below, and you can download the whole guide right here, as presented by MITEY and the Fatherhood Institute.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.