Contact with male role models is a vital part of growing up. Outside their own family, the best places for young children to meet such role models are nurseries and schools.

But while a new survey has found that 55 per cent of parents, and 66 per cent of single parents, want a male childcare worker for their nursery-aged child, the reality is that only 2 per cent of childcare workers are men.

It’s a similar story for children when they move on to primary school. Recent research by the Training and Development Agency for Schools found male primary school teachers were vital role models for young boys, yet just 16 per cent of primary teachers are men, compared with 44 per cent of secondary school teachers.

The nursery childcare survey, carried out by the Children’s Workforce Development Council, found parents want men to work with the under-fives so they have access to male role models.

Many of those questioned said they believed boys behaved better for a male teacher, adding it was important for boys to have a role model to look up to.

Thom Crabbe, the group’s development manager, wants more men to consider working in under-fives childcare.

“Parents are right to want more men working in early years education,” he says.

“It’s important that during the crucial first five years of a child’s life they have quality contact with both male and female role models.”

He acknowledges childcare isn’t traditionally seen as a man’s role, but points out society has changed. Men are more involved with their own children these days, and thus a man working in childcare is more socially acceptable.

Mr Crabbe says: “We need male and female childcarers, but there’s been a history of there not being many men working with children.

“There are also not many men in primary teaching, but early years is probably the lowest in terms of the percentage of men involved.”

He stresses men who work in nurseries don’t conform to gender stereotypes and simply play football with children or supervise boisterous play. They take part in the usual nursery activities like sticking, drawing and changing nappies, just like their female counterparts.

Mr Crabbe says: “Children warm to male childcare workers in different ways than they do to female workers.

“Men report high levels of job satisfaction. They find it very rewarding.”

Part of the reason for the lack of men in childcare is low pay, but Mr Crabbe points out there are moves afoot to tackle the pay issue, although currently only at graduate level.

“There’s a long way to go, and we need to be able to get childcare workers on something above the minimum wage, as they’re not much above it.

“Pay is an issue, and there’s no magic wand around money.

“We ought to do better than just 2 per cent of men in early years childcare.”

It’s not just nurseries that can be enriched by men. The Training and Development Agency for Schools survey found nearly half of men questioned thought male primary school teachers had acted as “fundamental role models”.

The survey, which was commissioned as part of a campaign to recruit more male primary teachers, also found that 35 per cent of men felt having a male primary teacher challenged them to work harder at school, and 22 per cent believed male primary teachers helped build their confidence.

Graham Holley, chief executive of the agency, says: “We know parents want to see more male primary teachers, and we agree with them.

“Both male and female authority figures play an important role in the development of young people, and we want the teaching workforce to reflect the strengths of our diverse society.”

The agency launched a “man hunt” for male teachers in 2005, and Mr Holley says the number of men applying for primary school training courses is now increasing, but “not quickly enough”.

The percentage of male teacher trainees has been around 14 per cent for the past five years, and for 2008/09 it’s 14.6 per cent, that’s 2,341 male teacher trainees, and 13,656 females.

He advises men interested in a teaching career to get work experience, and apply for courses as early as possible, stressing that entry to primary training courses is very competitive.

“This reflects the rewards the job offers. It’s an incredibly diverse role, with competitive pay and benefits, excellent progression opportunities, and the most valuable reward of helping young people grow and flourish.”