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Gender diversification of the early years education workforce: Recruiting, supporting and retaining male practitioners

Project: Research


This research aims to improve our understanding of the obstacles that stand in the way of more men taking up employment in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) workforce; to learn about possible solutions; and to harness this evidence-based knowledge in ways that can help the UK diversify the gender of its workforce in the most efficient and effective ways possible.  

Currently only around 2% of the UK's ECE workforce are male; a figure that has remained stubbornly resistant to change for several decades. We will work with hubs of ECE professionals located in four English localities, who are interested and active in advocating for an increase of men in ECE and engaged in supportive MITEY (Men in the Early Years) regional networks and national conferences. We will work with a team of academics and practitioners from Norway who have been engaged, through Norway's gender equality action plan, in regional and national recruitment strategies to achieve a government target of 20% more men in kindergartens.  

Four hub leaders will attend a knowledge exchange event in Norway and cascade their learning to ECE colleagues, engaging eight different settings (pre-schools and primary school Reception classes) who will then form a sample of case studies, two in each hub. The case study methodology will follow the model utilised by Warin in a pilot study, funded by Childbase Partnership, that explored impacts of a mixed-gender workforce in a nursery with five male practitioners. We will also administer a survey to the wider sector, seeking data on male recruitment and retention, and information about previous, ongoing and future approaches to increasing numbers. In addition we will conduct supporting interviews with key training providers, careers stakeholders and key ECE strategists. Findings will be translated into recommendations and training pathways for ECE providers and managers.  

We will deliver a training event for a group of these stakeholders, who will then act as MITEY 'champions' and cascade their knowledge further to others in the ECE sector. We will also produce a training toolkit for free distribution to the sector, drawing on the best available evidence. We will hold a conference at the end of the project, to pull together and communicate all our learning.
A key aim is to harness our findings to develop a workable and explicit theory that rationalises the value of including men within the ECE workforce and can be taken up by ECE professionals and others to advocate for an increase in numbers of men. The study will apply an innovative theory drawn from Warin's longstanding research in gender and education which focuses on the concept of gender flexible pedagogy. The concept addresses possibilities and opportunities for the transformation of traditional gender norms and requires gender sensitive practitioners who are willing and able to traverse traditional gender boundaries, and encourage children to do the same. By enabling ECE providers to show young children (through actions rather than words) that caregiving is an activity for men as well as women, we will enhance efforts to help young children themselves to challenge gender stereotypes so that they may grow up to make less constrained choices about their own careers and gender roles within families.  

This research is the first ever attempt in the UK to collate, collect and use research evidence in a systematic way, to support gender diversification of the ECE workforce. It will, for the first time, create a strong evidence base and substantial learning experiences to support ECE providers motivated to create a more gender-diverse workforce, along with resources to help them develop the most effective strategies and communicate key messages to potential recruits, ECE providers, parents, training providers, and careers services.  
Short titleGender diversification in Early Years Education
Effective start/end date1/09/1831/01/21


  • ESRC: £288,346.40

Research outputs