The 3rd National Men in Early Years Conference represents a highlight in my career working with young children. Back in 2014 with the support/pressure of my Head Teacher I somewhat reluctantly (did I really want to add to my workload? Wouldn’t this be a distraction from my daily teaching?) formed and chaired the Bristol Men in Early Years Network.
It was in direct response to the lack of support in the profession and personal isolation that men face after a false allegation has been made against them. Why are men so frequently and disproportionately accused? How can we challenge the deep seated cultural narrative of men as sexual predators and augment it with one of men as nurturing, caring, capable, supportive members of society?
These questions soon expanded: Why does the Early Years workforce have such a low status when it is looking after and educating children at such an important and pivotal point in their development? Is it because we as a society don’t value childhood or could it be that we don’t value women who care for children? How could we, as a small network, challenge stereotypes, change perceptions, affect policy and raise the status of the profession?
We started by creating the space and support for these often difficult and very personal discussions to take place. Then in 2015 we started inviting top of their field experts to guest speak at our quarterly meetings on subjects ranging from child protection through to brain development. In 2016 we started delivering assemblies and lessons at our local secondary school and began to speak and lead workshops at other conferences. In 2017 we started to run sessions for training providers.
Today, as one of the largest active networks in the country, we represent men who work with young children in the Task and Finish group set up by the Department for Education to increase gender diversity in the Early Years workforce. It was with a sense of hope that I watched Shad earlier this month discussing, as part of a panel on national TV, topics that we have been campaigning about for years.
As the network matured we realised that the divisive, harmful and restrictive gender stereotypes that result in (amongst many other things) men being perceived as sexual predators and women being undervalued/underpaid are constructed in early childhood. We realised that we, as Early Years educators, are in a prime position to change how children’s understanding of gender is formed.
By reflecting on our practice, by challenging our expectations and changing how we relate to children, by altering the environment and resources that they engage with and the role models we expose them to, there is a chance that we can begin to shift our cultural values towards a healthier balance.
This is why I am so excited about the conference, because it brings together professionals and experts from across the field to link up these threads into a cohesive narrative throughout the day, showcasing research and presenting practical ways forward. There will be a wealth of knowledge and experience accessible to all delivered by accomplished people who care deeply about the choices, opportunities and future that we offer to children.
BMIEY are a city wide network of men and women who work with children aged from birth to seven. Consisting of Early Years Practitioners, Teachers, Head Teachers, Governors, Childminders and Family Support Workers.They meet four times a year to share experiences and ideas as well as talk about current research and issues. Get involved with our next network meeting here.
The Third National Men in Early Years Conference, will take place Tuesday 10th July 2018 at City Hall, Bristol. Tickets here.