Book Review: Men in Early Years Settings

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David Wright is an experienced early years teacher and director of Paint Pots Nurseries. He is a seminal advocate for the engagement of more men into the early years profession and together with Simon Brownhill, Lecturer in Education at the University of Bristol and publisher of numerous books including Men, Masculinities and Teaching in Early Childhood Education, Men in Early Years Settings was published in 2018 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. You can purchase the book here.

In Men in Early Years Settings, Wright and Brownhill provide a clear and engaging argument for the inclusion of more men in early years settings. Given their diverse experience and backgrounds, it is telling that this book is relevant for everyone; from those already in the profession, through to policy makers and even parents and carers with an interest in this topic.

The books primary contributions consist in providing a clear and well-defined overview of where are now, and how we can get to where we want to be. Chapter one, for example, begins with some scene setting, if you are completely new to this area then the first thing you should know is that men make up just 2% of the profession. If you did know this, you might be interested to know that England is not unique in this problem – men are underrepresented in the early years across Europe, no country as achieved the much sought after ‘gender balance’.

A gender balance position infers aiming for identical numbers of individuals of the same gender in the workforce. Wright and Brownhill question whether this is ever achievable, if desirable. If we adopt a more radical position, that our gender identity is fluid, flexible and not fixed to our biological sex, we can begin to understand why aspiring for balance is doomed to fail. This is carefully addressed in several later chapters, where Brownhill outlines the benefits of a ‘mixed gender’ profession and calls for greater effort in the research community to undertake empirical research that large scale, long term, and critically analytical of any effect on the outcomes for children and settings. The ESRC funded project ‘Gender Diversification in Early Years Education: Recruitment, Support and Retention‘ should go some way to achieving this.

Throughout the book, you will find a number of activities, case studies and reflection points. These are considered and well thought out, I particularly like the group activities that facilitate discussion and pose questions on our own identities as practitioners. Equally as useful is a whole chapter dedicated to resources from across with world focusing on men in early years. I am pleased my former network, Bristol Men in Early Years, is mentioned here. Being part of such a group gave me invaluable networking time with like-minded people keen to discuss gender in the early years. I strongly suggest you get involved in your local network where possible.

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At some points, I believe some more clarification may have been helpful. Chapter five, for example, reflects on the parent/carer perspective of the benefits of a mixed-gender workforce, writing: “it is thus argued that male practitioners can a source of support for parents/carers, especially those who may struggle in the ‘effective management’ of their children”. This is not an untrue statement; many men will be brilliant at managing children’s behaviour. I, however, am not one of those men. Promoting positive behaviour is a role for all practitioners, women and men alike.

Nevertheless, this book provides plenty of good reasons why we should continue to encourage more men to work in the early years. A diverse profession can make a vital contribution to the ongoing development of a more gender egalitarian society. It is an important book not only for those within the early profession, but for all interested in breaking down gender barriers to employment.

Simon Brownhill presenting at the Bristol Men in Early Years Network Meeting

I know personally how hard both authors have worked to provide practical suggestions and proposals for positive action within this book. Well done to both!

Next Blog? January 2019 🙂 Please subscribe to stay updated.

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