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GUEST BLOG: The Missing Men in Early Years And The Myth Of Manliness

Gender neutrality, equality, diversity and identity are all hot topics of current debate with pink toys, the role of men within parenting and the gaps in pay between men and women in the news on a daily basis. The idea of ‘revolution’ is still very much present for many people who would argue that we still have a long way to go before genuine parity and balance is achieved.

The case for equality is often presented as a woman-led movement yet away from the media spotlight it might just be time for men to have their own revolution, one that involves rethinking the role of men in education and more importantly of men in Early Years.

Being a man is tough work. Our lives seem constricted by stereotypes handed down from preceding generations of men: the breadwinner, the keeper of ‘No’, the disciplinarian, unemotional sitting behind his newspaper or in front of Sky Sports. Arguably, as is the case for women, men exist within the parameters set by men of what is expected, what we ‘should’ do, not what we ‘could’ do.

And so it is with education.

We seem to live in an educational landscape that sees real teaching as happening from KS1 onwards only, that seems to expect men to teach every age range other than Early Years. In 2016 the percentage of men in the Early Years workforce was a paltry 2%.

The reasons are many: the stereotype of ‘childcare’, the traditional view of men’s role in schools (the Head, the Year 6 teacher) or even the myth that Early Years is somehow a female-only domain. All seem to dissuade men from considering Early Years as viable or worthwhile.

It’s time to address this imbalance.

We don’t need more men in Early Years because they are better than women. We don’t need more men just to serve the purpose of the rough-and-tumble role model and nor do we need them because they have more ‘value’ per se. We need more men in Early Years if we truly want to bring about a change in society by breaking the cycle that has been historically created for men by men – we need to change the way that our young boys see themselves and their future role as men.

According to the Office of National Statistics in 2015, there were around 2 million lone parents with women accounting for 90% and men the remaining 10%. This huge paucity of parental male-connectedness demonstrates that there is a highly significant need for male teachers and indeed parent-helpers to involve themselves at an earlier age because these children need to experience what it means for men and women to work together as equals, as mentors and as carers. If boys in particular don’t see men working in Early Years then the cycle of misperception continues.

We can’t just wave a wand to make male teachers appear but we can arguably work harder to engage our male parents to play a more active role in our settings. Can we find at least five men across each week to volunteer time to share books, chat, make snack, clear up, play and ultimately model being an equal alongside women? The sooner we start this process the better because in doing so we can begin to make subtle changes to the attitudes of the next generation of men. Perhaps it’s time to turn a revelation into a revolution…

Written by Greg Bottrill
Greg is an EY consultant and Foundation Unit leader in a school in Devon with a passion for embracing the magic of children within education www.canigoandplaynow.com

Further reading:‘Manhood’ by Steve Biddulph

Illustration by Esther Connon  www.estherconnon.co.uk