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Manpower is needed to bridge childcare's gender gap

CHILDREN'S campaigners have called for more efforts to encourage men to take up jobs in childcare, after new figures showed they account for just a tiny proportion of the early years workforce in Scotland.

Thomas Lynch, above, with son Lewis, co-founded fathers-only playgroup Dads Rock to fill a gap in the market
Thomas Lynch, above, with son Lewis, co-founded fathers-only playgroup Dads Rock to fill a gap in the market

Only 3% of carers in places such as nurseries, crèches and after-school clubs are male, according to the latest survey of the social services sector. The proportion of men working for childcare agencies – such as nanny services or home-based childcare services – is just 6%.

Meanwhile, the number of male childminders is so low that it does not even register in the statistics, which record a 100% female workforce in this area.

Male teachers account for just 4% of staff in pre-school years, and 8% in primary school. However, in secondary school the role of men leaps dramatically with males making up 38% of teachers.

While much of the equality debate in recent years has focused on areas such as getting more women into company boardrooms, the issue of tackling the gender imbalance among carers and teachers of young children is coming under increasing scrutiny.

The subject will be raised at a major conference in Glasgow on Tuesday called "A Man's Place", which will debate how to better include fathers and male carers in children's lives.

Other topics which will be discussed at the event, which has been organised by the charity Children in Scotland, will range from balancing work and family life to the setting up of "dads-only" playgroups.

Tam Baillie, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, said tackling the gender imbalance in the early years workforce was a "key issue" which had to be addressed.

"Children and young people need positive male role models as well as female ones, in terms of caring relationships," he said.

"Many men would, I believe, like to play a bigger part in child rearing, but work with children and young people continues to be seen as the domain of women and is not sufficiently valued or remunerated, perpetuating the imbalance that already exists.

"In Africa they have a saying that it takes a village to raise a child – in Scotland that should include men."

Jill Rutter, spokeswoman for The Daycare Trust, a childcare charity, said it was important to attract more men into this area of the workforce.

However, she added that it would require a change in cultural attitudes towards traditional divisions between "male and female" work, and in child protection issues.

"Regrettably there is still suspicion of men working in early years, so those cultural attitudes have to be shifted," she said.

"I think the very poor salary levels in the early years sector deter men as well, and I don't think we are going to get any real shift until all the countries of the UK recognise the importance of a professional, highly qualified and decently paid workforce."

Dr Katrina Allen, research and policy officer at Children in Scotland, said: "There are issues around what kind of society we actually want to live in and what kind of world we are building for our children in the future.

"Children are going through early years settings and they are seen as places where women are very much in control and in charge and that is affecting perceptions as they are growing up."

The latest figures on the social services workforce, published by the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), show the overall percentage of men working in the sector is 16%.

However, there are vast differences between the areas of work chosen, with the percentage of men doubling to around a third in criminal justice and residential children's services.

Anna Fowlie, chief executive of the SSSC, said: "Traditionally, where they are in the social service workforce, men have chosen to go into residential childcare or criminal justice services and we want to encourage more men to consider a career working with children in their early years.

"The positive impact they can have and the contribution they can make towards inspiring and developing Scotland's future generations is massive."

The Scottish Government's national parenting strategy, which was launched last month, states as one of its aims to make policies and services more "dad-friendly".

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "We are working to make sure all parents, dads included, get the support they need, when they need it, to do the best for their children. In addition, we are funding organisations such as Men in Childcare, to encourage more men to qualify and take employment in early years education."

Men have a vital role to play

Speakers from across Scotland and Europe will debate issues around the changing role of men and fathers in modern society at a conference named A Man's Place in Glasgow this week. Here, we examine some of the topics that will be on the agenda

WHAT DADS WANT

When Thomas Lynch became a dad four years ago, he became frustrated with taking his son Lewis along to playgroups which were dominated by mothers. After chatting with his friend David Marshall about it, they decided to set up a playgroup aimed at dads only.

There are now two groups based in Edinburgh which have attracted around 100 dads through the door since opening in February this year.

Plans are now underway to expand the Dads Rock playgroups across the country.

Lynch, 38, from Edinburgh, who works in human resources at a bank, said: "We had been to traditional playgroups mostly full of mums. I think what we wanted was somewhere where dads could come along and talk about being dads. When my son was born, none of my friends were dads. I tried to look for dads and all I could find was men talking about football.

"I didn't want to talk about football, I wanted to talk about the anxieties and the excitement and all of the stuff that goes along with it."

Lynch said they also hoped to set up ante-natal classes for men next year, after finding the NHS provision was "not geared" towards fathers.

"What dads want is not much different from what mums want," he said. "But it is perhaps just about recognition and being considered.

"Personally, I did feel ignored by the NHS – I wasn't really expected or needed there. I think there just needs to be a wee bit of a shift in attitudes – it is small steps."

EMPLOYMENT

RECENT changes mean new dads are no longer confined to taking only two weeks off after the birth of their child.

Since last year, fathers have been able to share some of the mother's 52 weeks existing leave. After 20 weeks, dads can take up to six months of their partner's leave in one block, some of which will be unpaid – that's in addition to their existing two weeks.

From 2015, it is planned that a fully flexible system of parental leave will be in place, with parents able to take time off in turns and a legal right to request flexible working.

Sam Pringle, left, a trustee for Fathers Network Scotland, who is also a family work consultant, said: "Fathers can already take paternity leave from 20 weeks, but how many fathers have used that since it has been available? When dads are asked about why they don't take it, one of the main reasons they will say is because they can't afford to."

Pringle pointed to the example of Norway, which has had equal access to paternity and maternity leave – with 46 weeks on full pay – but still has to encourage fathers to take the leave.

In the mid-1990s, a special 10-week "use it or lose it" quota of parental leave was introduced for fathers, which has resulted in the number of dads taking longer paternity leave in Norway rising from 3% to 90%.

Pringle said she hoped the UK Government would consider looking at introducing a similar system.

"If it is still going to be a choice, I think we know who is going to continue to take that time off," she said.

CHILDCARE

THE number of male employees in services which care for young children remains low, but efforts have been going on for more than a decade to correct the gender imbalance in this area.

Men in Childcare, a group supported by the Scottish Government and Edinburgh City Council, commissions colleges to run men-only courses which provide an introduction to childcare training.

Manager Kenny Spence, left, said around 1800 men have participated since the organisation started.

He said: "It is like a fast-track course and they can then go onto the HNC qualification, when the course will obviously be mixed. It has really been very successful in terms of the number of guys who have gone on the training."

Spence argued that it was similar to any other profession where there was a gender imbalance, such as the fire service.

"Unless you proactively invite the under-represented gender, then that gender will not come," he said.

"They could enrol in the college anyway if they wanted to, but unless they knew that was a place for them then that wasn't happening."

He also said there was benefit for children in having a balanced staff team, such as the presence of male role models.

"I've often given the analogy that it is like being a little girl and your world was surrounded by men," he said. "Yet we expect little boys to have that as their world (with women). Nobody ever questions that, which is strange in my view."

SEPARATED FATHERS

EACH week, Ian Maxwell, left, receives around 20 calls from fathers seeking advice on how to keep in touch with their children after a relationship breaks down. The national development manager with Families Need Fathers Scotland believes new legislation is needed to help change attitudes towards divorced or separated dads.

He said: "When the father is no longer in the family home, his status changes. Fathers have become a lot more involved with children over the past few decades and that is what makes it even more difficult when a family splits up."

Maxwell said Scotland should follow Westminster, which is considering legislation to ensure shared care is the norm after the breakdown of relationships.

"Legislation is not going to change everything, but putting something like that in Scottish legislation we think would help," he said. "For instance people come to us with problems with schools, such as the mother saying to the school 'don't let him go to the parents evening' or 'you can't have school photographs of your children'.

"We would want schools to take an even-handed attitude and not favour either mother or father."

However, Maxwell stressed the aim was to have children spend half their time with each parent.

He added: "What we are talking about is significant involvement with your children and involvement with key decisions.

"Two hours on a Sunday once a fortnight is not parenting, it is visiting your children – and that is not what is going to help build a healthy relationship."

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