Recruiting more male staff might feel like enough of a task in itself, but how can we create early years teams that really welcome and support men – and the boys in their care – to take on and excel in caregiving roles?
Examples of early years settings that have really grasped the nettle of building effective mixed-gender teams are few and far between – but in recent years awareness of the need to address this challenge has grown, and there is now an impressive range of support options available if you need some external help.
In this case study Glyn Hawke – deputy head and early years teacher at Rye Oak Primary School in south London, describes his school’s journey as he and his colleagues began to explore and unpick their role in challenging or reinforcing gender stereotypes.
This started with thinking about the ‘assumptions’ that had become ‘fact’ in the team’s daily work – many of them based on unevidenced beliefs about innate biological differences between boys and girls – and moved on to unpicking what it meant to be a ‘male role model’. What exactly are male staff supposed to be modelling and to whom – and why?
In Rye Oak’s case, this process of discovery included a trip to Sweden – where the National Curriculum includes a statement specifically requiring schools to challenge gender stereotypes – to look at gender neutral and LGBTQ+ inclusive practices. And it has led to wide-ranging changes in the everyday work of the setting, such as reviewing the gender content of children’s books, opening up discussions about different types of families, avoiding ‘pet’ names, and seeing practitioners as ‘gender flexible’ in their roles.
“Beginning to explore our own complicity in gender stereotyping challenges one’s own sense of self and one’s own practice,” says Mr Hawke. “This is a really uncomfortable reflexivity but, in our view, was and is critical to ensure that any changes we make aren’t superficial but are embedded in scientific research and good pedagogy.”
The good news is, it’s possible for organisations to embark on a similar journey, without anyone having to leave the country! Registering as a Gender Action Supporter organisation is a good first step to take: find out more here.
Gender Friendly Nursery
In Glasgow, nine nurseries took part in the Gender Friendly Nursery pilot, organised by Glasgow City Health & Social Care Partnership in 2016-18. They received staff training, were invited to audit their practice, access resources and develop an action plan. In the evaluation of the pilot, many participants highlighted changes they had made to systems and practice since the initial training. The team behind the pilot is now looking to roll the training out. Find out more here.
You Be You
You Be You helps teachers in areas of high deprivation to help break down gender stereotypes, by providing them with lesson plans. In its pilot in two London primary schools, the lessons achieved a 29% decrease in pupils believing that some jobs are only for men and some are only for women; a 32% decrease in pupils believing that girls are kinder than boys are; and a 46% increase in pupils believing it’s ok for boys to like ‘playing house’. Find out more here.
Lifting Limits takes a ‘whole school’ approach, supporting settings to examine how gendered stereotypes may be perpetuated and/or challenged and also to equip their pupils to tackle gendered inequities wherever they encounter them. This starts with a ‘gender audit’ and a combination of ‘gender lens’ training for staff, lesson plans and school wide resources. Its pilot year evaluation found a 60% increase in staff’s confidence in addressing sexism and stereotyping with pupils, colleagues and parents. Across key stages pupils endorsed a wider range of occupations for women and men at the end of the pilot; more than double the number of Early Years children (71% post-pilot compared to 35% at baseline) said nursing is ‘for everyone’ (rather than ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’). Among older children (Key Stage 2), 42% of boys said they could be a teacher post-pilot, compared to 24% at baseline. Find out more here.
MITEY training & consultancy
Our own MITEY training can be commissioned as a one-day course or mini-conference; bespoke consultancy is also available. Drawing on the latest research evidence from around the world, we can support early years leaders, managers and practitioners to recognise and start to unpick their unconscious bias, building multi-gender, gender-flexible, gender-sensitive staff teams. We will work with you to cover a range of topics including myths and stereotypes about men in early years education; male-inclusive recruitment and retention; creating a gender-confident team; gender-flexible practice; communicating with parents; and gender-sensitive pedagogy.
Later in 2020 the GenderEYE study will publish its findings and hold a training event which should help interested organisations devise more effective male recruitment and retention strategies – and again, the focus will be on creating gender-flexible, gender-flexible teams. Stay in touch with the study via its website.