by Linda Summerhayes - Edinburgh, Scotland

It’s a woman’s world, to misquote the famous song. While gender barriers are being broken down in almost all walks of life, attitudes about childcare have not been so quick to follow.

All too often eyebrows are still raised when men choose to make a career working with and nurturing children, but there are signs that things are beginning to change, especially in the Capital.

Across the UK as a whole, just two per cent of childcare professionals are men – a situation that has raised recent concern among MPs at Westminster.

In Edinburgh, the proportion is far higher – 12 per cent.

With so many of them delighted by their career choice, hopes are high that the trend will continue.

The work of the city-based Men In Childcare campaign has been credited with spurring a significant shift in the Capital – an increase of 11 per cent in men choosing such a career in seven years.

Its men-only foundation courses are aimed at getting over the fears of those disconcerted by large classes of women, and, since its launch in 2000, MIC has helped around 1000 men from all over the UK into childcare training.

It has been so successful, it is about to expand its services to Glasgow, and its representatives are invited to speak at childcare conferences all over the world.

Meet three men who defied convention to take up jobs in childcare.

TO the children who attend the after school club he manages, Simon Flockhart is known as the BFG, or Big Friendly Giant. And no wonder – at 6ft 9in, the good natured Edinburgh man towers above the kids he cares for.

It’s a label he clearly enjoys. “When I tell people what I do for a living, it can be a real icebreaker,” he smiles. “Sometimes it’s met with shock but I think people are intrigued because they don’t expect a male, especially a young male, to be working with children.”

It’s also a job that can also be a winner with the ladies, with many cooing the word “ah” when they hear what the 28-year-old does for a living.

But there is very much a serious side to the work he does as it is Simon’s aim to help the children who regularly attend the club at St John Vianney RC Primary School in Gilmerton to try new skills. Given his height, it’s perhaps no surprise to find that Simon is a renowned basketball player who competes for national champions The Kings. He also plays for Scotland and will take part in a European competition in June.

A graduate with a diploma in sports coaching, he uses that experience at the after school club, and runs an under-14s basketball team at Portobello High School.

But while his career in childcare has gone from strength to strength, it is one that emerged almost by accident after he was unable to secure work as a coach. Instead he answered an advert for the after school club manager.

“When I decided to give it a go, I thought it would just be until I could get a job on a sports field but it’s just so much fun,” he says.

“The children can be challenging and certainly keep you on your toes but it’s so rewarding working with them and seeing how they progress when they are introduced to new experiences. It helps them socially as well – the interaction with other children and adults at the club.”

Simon’s alter ego is DJ Stretch, and he holds a residency at Club Massa on Market Street. His work at the after school club fits in with this as it means he often starts work later in the day.

His employers, Childcare Connection, paid for Simon’s training and he is now studying for his PDA in Early Education and Childcare at the Jewel and Esk Valley College where tutors have reported an unprecedented rise in the numbers of men studying childcare.

While he welcomes the rising numbers of men who are entering into the profession, he admits it is still a woman’s world – his only male colleagues are the headteacher and the janitor.

He adds: As it’s such a female-dominated job, it doesn’t occur to men to make childcare their first choice, but I think most people would find it rewarding.”

WHEN Nick Timotheou was invited into a classroom as a volunteer, the last thing he expected was to discover his vocation.

The talented musician had endured a string of day jobs that he had no interest in, so when his teacher friend said she thought he might enjoy volunteering as an assistant in her classroom, he thought he had nothing to lose.

“From the start, I just loved it,” he recalls. “It’s a hectic and demanding job, both mentally and physically, but it’s a lovely environment to work in and it’s really rewarding.”

After working at two mainstream schools in London, Nick and his wife Susan decided to move north and three and a half years ago he started work at the Kingsinch Special Needs School in Edinburgh.

“I’d never worked with special needs children before but now I prefer it to working in a mainstream school,” says Nick, of Dalkeith.

“It’s more rewarding and, although at the end of the day you will be tired, you feel as though you’ve done something worthwhile. These are vulnerable children and you form a strong bond with them.”

While Nick, who is studying part time for a HNC in Early Education and Childcare, often works on a one-to-one basis with an autistic child at the school, he also has the opportunity to put his talent for music to good use and he organises special music classes.

While everyone he has met has been positive about his career choice, he’s aware of the stigma surrounding men in childcare.

“It’s very much in the back of my mind when I do meet parents – I feel like I have to show them that I am responsible,” he says.

“While it’s not really fair, it is just the way society is and I do understand.

“I do have to take more care and make sure I am careful not to be left in the room on my own with certain pupils. You do have to keep your wits about you so you are not put in a vulnerable position.”

He adds: “I have worked with some children who have only had a bad male role model or who have had no male role models at all and so it’s at the forefront of your mind that you could have a positive impact on them.

“When you first come across these children, they are suspicious but when you break that barrier down, it’s a really rewarding job.”

STEVEN Wilson’s decision to take up a full-time NC course in Early Education and Childcare at Jewel and Esk Valley College raised a few eyebrows among his friends.

Yet having always looked out for his neighbour’s children, taking up a career in childcare was a natural move for him.

Since taking up the course, the 18-year-old has completed a four month placement at the nursery school at Liberton Primary, and he is currently working with youngsters at Towerbank Primary.

“I love interacting with the kids and I really enjoy it when they’ve learned something,” says Steven. “Of course, I really want them to have a laugh and enjoy the experience too.”

Steven says he was initially daunted about being the only male in a class of more than 20 girls but now he’s become accustomed to their banter he’s more than happy with the situation. He says: “At first I was really nervous but now we just have a laugh.”

Steven’s most challenging situation so far has been learning how to cope with a child who has suspected autism.

“One minute she was really enjoying the activities and the next minute she was telling me she hates me,” he recalls.

“But now I know not to take it personally because eventually she goes back into a good mood.”