Why childcare is no longer a female-only domain

Professional childcare has traditionally been viewed as a job for women, yet an increasing number of men are now interested in carving out a career in nursery schools, playgroups and after-school clubs.

According to research by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), which last year examined sex-role stereotyping in five occupational groups, including plumbing and childcare, the skills-starved pre-school care sector could benefit enormously by tapping into the latent skills of men. It claims that current careers advice is out of step with changing attitudes towards male and female occupations and fears that training opportunities in childcare tend not to be offered to men.

The staffing figures for the pre-school and out-of-school sector are stark. With the Government firmly set on expanding childcare in the coming decade - in part by the introduction of extended school hours to benefit working parents - the Department for Education and Skills estimates it will need a further 163,000 workers in the sector over the coming few years. This will effectively increase the size of the current labour force by more than 50 per cent.

Far from assuming that men are unwilling to broach the largely female-only world of nappy-changing, finger painting and nursery rhymes, the EOC believes that with positive support from careers advisers, more men would be willing to consider childcare as a long-term career.

According to Anne Madden, the Commission's project director for occupational segregation: "Our research shows that nine out of 10 new fathers are as confident as their partner in looking after a baby and four in five say they would be happy to stay at home as full-time parents.

"This new confidence in child-rearing is reflected in the numbers of men who are now willing to look after other people's children as a job and to study for appropriate qualifications."

She adds: "Male attitudes towards caring for young children have changed, but in some ways, the careers advice sector - which tends to label jobs such as childcare as women's work - perhaps hasn't. In our research, it is teachers and careers advisers who appear to be the most negative."

The EOC's study finds that as many as 25 per cent of teenage boys are "interested" or "very interested" in entering the caring profession as a whole, while 27 per cent of older men would consider working in childcare; perhaps as a "second-chance" career. Despite their enthusiasm though, men comprise just two to three per cent of the childcare workforce at present.

Aside from meeting chronic skill shortages, the recruitment of more men into nursery schools and playgroups would also bring valuable new skills into the whole sector, says the EOC.

"Children would benefit from a more diverse and representative workforce and would benefit too from more male role models in the caring professions," Madden argues, adding that the increased opportunities in privately run childcare that are likely to come with the Government's expansion plans will help attract more entrepreneurs of both sexes into the sector.

What of parents' attitudes to men working in nurseries though? "There is no resistance from parents that we have detected," says Madden, "and in fact, three quarters of them say they would actively like to see more men working in nurseries, play centres and after school clubs."

She adds that most parents and childcare employers believe that an influx of men in the workforce would raise the profile of childcare and help improve its overall standing. "We have not encountered any fears about sex abuse," she says.

In the view of Beth Reid, campaigns officer for the Daycare Trust, a national children's charity, it is often men themselves who fear that a job in childcare will prompt charges of abuse.

"Although research from a couple of years back indicates that only one man has ever been charged with sex abuse in a British nursery, many men are very wary of how others will perceive their career choice.

"We need to offer positive images of men working in childcare and comprehensive support and even mentoring for men who do enter the sector," she adds.

With the average full-time pay in childcare a very modest £12,000, the EOC recognises that poor salaries will have to be re-examined if childcare is to become an attractive option for the number of recruits now required.

The EOC's recent research into five different sectors where gender stereotypes still hold sway - construction, engineering, IT, plumbing and childcare - has revealed that the average wage in the other four, male dominated sectors is at least double that received by predominantly female childcare workers.

"Given that the average gardener gets paid more than the average nursery school worker, it is clear that the long-term devaluing of childcare as a career must be addressed," says Madden.

"With better pay, a more even mix of men and women and a firm trend towards upskilling, professional childcare could become a very attractive option for both sexes," she adds.

'To me the job is second nature'

Tariq Mahmood, 35, is a Pakistan-born manager at the Sheffield Children's Centre, which looks after around 130 children. Before joining in 1991, he worked in a UK-based refugee centre, where he looked after Pakistani child abuse victims. He has achieved qualifications in primary education, food and hygiene, and life saving as well as NVQ Levels 3 and 4.

I have worked with children for 14 years and although other people sometimes think it a strange job for a man, to me it's second nature.

In Pakistan, I looked after my niece and nephew while my sister was at work and I enjoyed it. There was no organised childcare in the country and it was common for other family members to help out.

I was scared of the women at the Sheffield Centre at first, but they were very supportive. Nowadays, we have a 50:50 ratio of men to women so I don't feel so uncomfortable.

At the beginning, there were problems with some parents, particularly the Muslim ones, who objected to men changing their daughters' nappies and even picking them up when they fell over. These same parents are my friends now.

Nappy-changing and potty-training are part and parcel of the job - not nasty, just something that you would do for any child. I see my work here as a great training ground for when I become a father.

Some of my male colleagues have left to set up their own nurseries, but I'm not sure I would want that responsibility. If I hadn't gone into childcare, I'd have chosen economics. Better pay perhaps, but not nearly as rewarding. My colleagues and the children here are like my family and I feel very settled and happy.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Year 2 Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Bognor Regis!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Year 2 Teacher currently need...

Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

£24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world