Naomi Blackwood is Co-Chair of the London Men in Childcare Network and Manager at the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) Holcroft Nursery. She recently went on a study tour of Norway to explore approaches to gender diversification in early years education. These are her thoughts.
As one of the four English hubs central to championing the retention and recruitment of men in the Early Years sector, I was very excited to be invited to attend a trip to Norway this November and explore further gender diversification in the workforce.
Norway is a long way ahead of the UK (and Europe) when it comes to having more male teachers in early years settings. Our mission was to find what they were doing differently and hear more about achieving good practice.
The London hub spent two days with the Norwegian Hub led by Kari Emilsen, Professor in Social Science at the Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education which has an onsite nursery with a forest school!
We shared our time with six other Norwegian professors and early years managers. Our first day was spent understanding the Norwegian story. Here, children attend nursery from the age of 10 months to six years old – with the government paying a subsidy for each child. This means parents pay a maximum of £250 a month for their child to attend either 4 or 5 days (which is the norm in Norway).
Not only do they have nearly 100% of children attending nursery, children stay there until the age of six which I’m sure makes for more confident, buoyant and self-developed children.
One thing that was great to see is LEYF aligned with the Norwegians when it comes to pedagogy and being at the forefront of what we do. We currently run the EYFS alongside our pedagogy. As I saw in Norway, the use of just the pedagogy really does work – focusing on the children’s needs, circumstances and interest to influence their care and learning.
Norway is considered to be one of the most gender equal countries in the world – the official government strategy is to achieve equality between men and women including both gender mainstreaming and gender specific actions.
Both men and women are considered for all roles and all roles are seen as gender neutral to who can do them. Through conversation with the Norwegian hub I soon discovered that this is where it starts with men seeing Early Years as a viable career route.
Teachers study for three years to gain their early years bachelor degree and work alongside unqualified staff. There are no in between qualifications – another reason why they have more male teachers.
The degree is seen as a stand-up qualification for those who choose to study while the unqualified staff are able to be teaching assistants and still play a big role within the nursery team.
Although Norway has a growing 9% of men in childcare compared to 2% in the UK, they still faced some struggles within the nursery among parents. Mostly mothers have questioned whether a male teacher could really care for the children? Yes, they could teach but could they nurture children?
Norway is making efforts to recruit more men into early years and they work through these issues with parents through practice and conversation.
Most parents now see it as the norm to find male teachers running a class or being part of the class team. I met two managers who had a high percentage of male teachers; one had six male staff and no females (as yet) and another had 50% of the workforce male. It is only a small drop in the ocean of nurseries in Norway but I think we would be hard pressed to find this in the UK.
I was able to share all the great things LEYF has done (and will be doing) on our journey to encourage more men into childcare.
Day two saw us visit the Granasen nursery – a forest nursery up in the mountains overlooking tall Aspen trees and a ski jump. The chills and excitement I got from this forest school where something I will never forget! The children (aged 2 years+) spend whole days out in the forest learning, cooking and even sleeping! Oh, sorry and learning to ski!
They have snow in their garden and indoor / outdoor classrooms which is an extended way in which we do free flow. It is very child led and includes their own pedagogy covering communication, language & text, body movement, food & health, art, culture & creativity, nature, environment & technology, quantities, space & shape, ethics, religion & philosophy, local community and society.
Although some of these areas may seem like our EYFS framework, the working methods in which their pedagogy is based means they meet the needs of the children through care, play and enabling children to contribute.
I got to see male teachers in practice down on the floor interacting and caring for the children. To them, there was no difference in how they were looked after. They set up the tables for snacks, different cutlery for the array of cheeses and meats on the table, porcelain plates and mugs and their food served on a swivel plate for the sharing experience. I loved the use of wood (collected from the forest) as resources, sculptures and furniture within the rooms. The children all had lockers slightly taller than them for their snow suits, hiking boots and back packs for their forest adventure days. They spent half their week outside and half inside which gave them a great balance of outdoor development within nature and real resilience to life.
The indoors they call home as their cosy enriching environment. It’s fair to say I could have stayed there all day and would happily got stuck inside and out… I wonder when LEYF will acquire their first forest nursery with a mountain overview!
Overall this was a very inspiring trip and I know LEYF is doing a great job at working towards being better together and having male and female teachers providing children with an enriching environment where gender doesn’t define us but make us stronger.
I look forward to continuing my passion for this project and, in a year’s time, will be right with Norway as leaders for Men in Childcare.
To read about LEYF’s most recent research on Men in Childcare, from the Child’s perspective, and to see the Men in Childcare film “The Tea Party”, read my blog “DO MEN IN CHILDCARE MATTER”? WHAT DO THE CHILDREN SAY? “