A group of highly motivated male teachers, practitioners and professionals from Bristol have joined forces to encourage more men to consider a career in early years and challenge common stereotypes about males in the profession.
The Bristol Men in Early Years Network is designed to provide support for men working in any capacity with children up to the age of seven. It acts as a professional forum and works to unpick common misperceptions. Across the country around 98% of the early years workforce are female and only around 2% are male.
The network meets quarterly at St. Werburgh's Park Nursery School and is chaired by Jay Ramsey. He said: “Despite research showing that children can benefit from having positive male role models in their lives, there’s still a lack of understanding about what early years teaching involves. The common perception is that working with young children is a job for women. Male members of staff can often face prejudice and people think they’re strange for wanting to work with young children. So the Early Years Network is there to tackle these issues and support teachers throughout their careers.
“In recent years more men have gone into primary school teaching, which is great, but we need to look at the whole education picture in the city as children’s first years are the most important in terms of development. If you can get things right when children are small then often the rest will follow.”
The Bristol Men in Early Years Network was established a year ago and has already amassed over 50 members. The group has brought about positive change for young children in the city by sharing best practice between nurseries and children’s centres on a variety of subjects including; involving Fathers; Child Protection; Rough Play; Beach School; Changing Policies; Forest School; Back Care; Cultural perceptions and Parental perceptions.
Recently the network received funding from Bristol City Council to ensure the network can continue working with schools and training providers, aiming to engage those starting to consider their careers options.
George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, said: “I have named 2016 as Bristol’s Year of Learning, and hope that by raising the profile of education and skills we will be able to encourage people to learn new things and develop to make this city a fairer place to live with greater equality of opportunity.
“A key part of making this happen is to ensure we have inspiring and dynamic teachers working across Bristol – from nursery through to higher education. I hope to see more men and women choose to teach in Bristol and am pleased to see the Men in Early Years Network offering this support to men in the sector.”
The lack of men in the early years workforce is an issue that has gained national attention with the UK’s first ever men in early years conference set to take place this week (13 February). The conference will aim to address the issues of diversity within early years, set the case for continuing to address the gender imbalance and create a national charter for men in early years. The Bristol Men in Early Years Network will be attending to present the work done so far across the city and represent the united male workforce within Bristol.
Councillor Brenda Massey, Assistant Mayor for People with responsibility for education and skills, said: “I want to see Bristol leading the way in addressing the gender inequality in the early years workforce. Having inspiring, positive and motivated professional men teaching our young children can have huge benefits and we should be doing all we can to encourage more men to consider a career in early years.”
Bristol Men in Early Years is always looking for new teachers, practitioners and professionals to join the network. If you are interested in being part of a cohesive, committed campaign to engage more males into children’s live, please email BMIEY@bristol.gov.uk to get in touch with Jay Ramsey.
Jay Ramsey, chair of Bristol’s Men in Early Years Network, has worked for seven years at St. Werburgh's Park Nursery School, one of twelve Local Authority maintained nursery schools in the city.
Talking about his experience, Jay said: “Working in early years is one of the most rewarding things I could be doing with my life and I’m determined to encourage more men to join the profession. I came to teaching a little later in life after travelling a lot in my 20s, which has helped me to bring a whole host of life experiences to my role, and can genuinely say that I haven’t looked back since.
“When I started out in Bristol I was the only male teacher in the nursery and it’s a familiar picture across the whole of the country. Often there are many barriers stopping men from pursuing a career in early years – whether it’s the perceived lower status of nursery teachers than their counterparts who work with older children – or the reaction of friends and family who think there’s something strange about men working with young children.
“The Men in Early Years Network is working to break down these obstacles, redress the balance and support male practitioners with some of the wider issues they may face.
“Working in early years is a very challenging and rewarding career – one which gives you the rare opportunity to give children a better start in life. Girls and boys need women and men to nurture, educate and guide them through their early years. It is not that men are better than women, far from it: I have learnt so much from incredibly talented, experienced and committed female colleagues, it is just that at the moment we are denying children access to almost 50% of their potential workforce. Positive male role models can have a hugely beneficial influence so ultimately we’d be doing our children a disservice by not encouraging more men to join the profession.”