While we want our children to grow up in a world where there is equality of opportunity for all, many roles in the early years and childcare sector are still generally viewed as 'women's work'. This can lead to men being discriminated against within the sector and feelings of isolation. The London Network of Men in Childcare, the first official network in England, is striving to redress this imbalance.
The voluntary network has 70 members from across London. They share the belief that in order to create an inclusive and gender- balanced approach in the early years, we need to support our male colleagues to access, enjoy and remain in the profession.
The network, originated by chief executive of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) June O'Sullivan, is designed to help staff cope with negative societal attitudes that discourage men from entering childcare. These are evident through limited career guidance, inadequate recruitment, exclusive attitudes from female colleagues, and ineffective support from management.
June guided LEYF to be proactive in its support of male colleagues, including backing a predominately male nursery team at a LEYF nursery for more than two years. She also developed action research on the issue of men in childcare that culminated in a significant report, Men in Childcare: Does it Matter to Children?. The consequence was that male LEYF staff felt buoyed by such support and asked to extend it across the sector.
The network gives male practitioners a place to develop their collective voice and lead research and campaigns from a male perspective. It also encourages men and women to come together to achieve much more gender-balanced nurseries. Supporting male staff members leads to better motivated staff and a more positive learning environment for all.
Tim Neville, parenting services manager of the Pre-school Learning Alliance Lewisham branch, says, 'I believe that the work that the Men in Childcare group is doing is not only essential but needs to be highlighted, as it has been something that has been overlooked for so long.
Embedding Inclusive Practice, Kiddlywinks Day Nursery, Penrith, Cumbria
Open to services or projects that promote equality of opportunity and the best outcomes for children, regardless of ethnic origins, special needs, background or disadvantage.