Gender diversification of the early years education workforce: Recruiting, supporting and retaining male practitioners

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Educational Research


This research aims to improve our understanding of the obstacles that stand in the way of more men taking up employment in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) workforce; to learn about possible solutions; and to harness this evidence-based knowledge in ways that can help the UK diversify the gender of its workforce in the most efficient and effective ways possible.

Currently only around 2% of the UK's ECE workforce are male; a figure that has remained stubbornly resistant to change for several decades. We will work with hubs of ECE professionals located in four English localities, who are interested and active in advocating for an increase of men in ECE and engaged in supportive MITEY (Men in the Early Years) regional networks and national conferences. We will work with a team of academics and practitioners from Norway who have been engaged, through Norway's gender equality action plan, in regional and national recruitment strategies to achieve a government target of 20% more men in kindergartens.
Four hub leaders will attend a knowledge exchange event in Norway and cascade their learning to ECE colleagues, engaging eight different settings (pre-schools and primary school Reception classes) who will then form a sample of case studies, two in each hub. The case study methodology will follow the model utilised by Warin in a pilot study, funded by Childbase Partnership, that explored impacts of a mixed-gender workforce in a nursery with five male practitioners. We will also administer a survey to the wider sector, seeking data on male recruitment and retention, and information about previous, ongoing and future approaches to increasing numbers. In addition we will conduct supporting interviews with key training providers, careers stakeholders and key ECE strategists. Findings will be translated into recommendations and training pathways for ECE providers and managers.

We will deliver a training event for a group of these stakeholders, who will then act as MITEY 'champions' and cascade their knowledge further to others in the ECE sector. We will also produce a training toolkit for free distribution to the sector, drawing on the best available evidence. We will hold a conference at the end of the project, to pull together and communicate all our learning.

A key aim is to harness our findings to develop a workable and explicit theory that rationalises the value of including men within the ECE workforce and can be taken up by ECE professionals and others to advocate for an increase in numbers of men. The study will apply an innovative theory drawn from Warin's longstanding research in gender and education which focuses on the concept of gender flexible pedagogy. The concept addresses possibilities and opportunities for the transformation of traditional gender norms and requires gender sensitive practitioners who are willing and able to traverse traditional gender boundaries, and encourage children to do the same. By enabling ECE providers to show young children (through actions rather than words) that caregiving is an activity for men as well as women, we will enhance efforts to help young children themselves to challenge gender stereotypes so that they may grow up to make less constrained choices about their own careers and gender roles within families.

This research is the first ever attempt in the UK to collate, collect and use research evidence in a systematic way, to support gender diversification of the ECE workforce. It will, for the first time, create a strong evidence base and substantial learning experiences to support ECE providers motivated to create a more gender-diverse workforce, along with resources to help them develop the most effective strategies and communicate key messages to potential recruits, ECE providers, parents, training providers, and careers services.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit?

Wider society. The project will create an evidence base and high quality resources to support ECE professionals, training bodies and careers advice services to plan, act and self-evaluate in ways that better support gender equality. By working towards a more gender-diverse, gender-sensitive ECE workforce, we will support greater gender awareness in children, contributing towards reduced gender discrimination in the future. Communication of findings could catalyze change in related caring professions, addressing current recruitment crises.

Children in ECE (including, but not limited to, those in case study settings). They will benefit from an increase in the pool of potential applicants to the ECE workforce; a more gender sensitive workforce, employing a gender-flexible approach, also has the potential to develop children's own gender awareness, enhancing their childhoods and leading to generational gender transformation and equality. Mothers and fathers may engage with the developing gender-sensitive practices of ECE staff, enhancing opportunities to challenge gender stereotypes and model caring masculinities.

ECE professionals. Managers will be enabled to engage with examples of replicable good practice in recruitment, support and retention of male staff; gain insight into recruitment barriers and drop-out of males; create support strategies; and engage with theory in a national discussion on the value of mixed gender workforces. Some will become MITEY Champions and cascade learning to others. Practitioners, including immediate participant beneficiaries in the four hubs and their wider networks, will benefit from collaboration with academic partners to establish a strong theoretical rationale for recruiting, retaining and supporting male colleagues.

ECE training providers. Programme directors of ITT and CPD in ECE, relevant degrees and CACHE level 3, will be enabled to adopt a theoretical framework and research evidence to support recruitment activities, and professional ECE training in gender sensitization. Students will be able to use findings to inform professional training, reflection and practice.

Providers of careers advice services. They will be able to: access recruitment opportunities and taster sessions for a range of job-seeking males; and acquire an evidence base with which to better inform jobseekers and dispel common myths.

Male recruits/potential recruits. They may discover aptitude and job satisfaction in a non-traditional career: young men (e.g. work experience students, school leavers and apprentices); older men and unemployed or career-change men.

How will they benefit?

A strategic communications plan has been built into the project, to maximise impact with relevant beneficiaries. An initial KE event in Norway pulls together the practitioner networks of Co-I Emilsen with pivotal UK MITEY advocates, and launches two parallel approaches for managing the project and creating impact pathways: a steering group and a project website. The former, comprising project leaders and strategically chosen advocates from national and international networks, will inform outputs and create a communication channel for rapid dissemination to wider audiences; the latter will host key project resources. The project will be promoted to the ECE sector and more widely via press coverage, blogs and social media. A closed Facebook group will support networking between hubs and other key participants. Warin and Marlow's drama expertise will transform selected findings into an engaging 'performed ethnography' play-script, following a model devised by Davies and Robinson (2016), to be performed at the EOP and MITEY 2020 conferences. We will also deliver two training resources, led by Co-I Davies: a session aimed at ECE providers who will become MITEY Champions, and a training toolkit incorporating a play-script and a library of commissioned photographs


10 25 50