As new research suggests parents want more men to work in nurseries, one man who runs a pre-school explains what it is like working in a profession dominated by women.
When Duncan Wise first went into childcare nearly 12 years ago, he came across some negative attitudes from parents.
“Being a male in a female environment was very difficult. At first it was an uphill struggle getting over people’s perceptions. Parents were a bit unsure about me.”
But he says once they got to know him and he had built up a good reputation as the manager of a morning pre-school group in Davyhulme, near Manchester, parents started coming from miles away to place their children there.
However, he still gets the odd comment, including those from his fellow rugby team-mates.
Call for more male nursery staff
“They look at me and say ‘I couldn’t do what you are doing. They are quite blunt with me and say: ‘It’s a girl’s job’.”
But Mr Wise, 43, has no regrets that he swapped his previous job as a transport manager for a haulage company to work in childcare.
The father-of-three made the switch at a time when his wife was working nights and they had childcare issues of their own, with a three-year-old son.
He was looking for something that fitted in better with family life and was considering childcare when he saw the local pre-school was up for sale.
“I knew nothing about what was involved,” he says.
After consulting social services, he took the NVQ course needed to run the pre-school and passed all the relevant police checks.
He still recognises it is largely a female working environment – his six nursery staff working with 55 children are all women.
But he believes many parents would like to see more men working in childcare and he has experience of families where a male role model was sought, including a couple who were single-sex parents and a single mother.
He does believe times have changed for the better in terms of attitudes to male childcare workers.
“People have become more aware of the needs of the child.”
He recognises there is sometimes “bad press” about men working with children, but he says: “You are put in a position of trust and you have to battle on. It has never been a concern for me.”
One parent Deborah Hoole, whose four-year-old daughter has been at Hartford Pre-school for nearly a year, has nothing but praise for Mr Wise.
“When children are younger they need a mix of male and female role models,” she says.
She believes that having Mr Wise at the pre-school has helped make her daughter a more confident child.
Mrs Hoole chose the place not only because of its location but also on the reputation of its male manager.
“He is on the same wavelength as the children,” she adds. “All the parents I have talked to are of the same opinion that having a male in the environment is good.”
Parent Stuart Brame freely admits he was a little sceptical of a male carer when he and his wife were looking for a place for his two-year-old daughter a decade ago.
But he said his daughter adored Mr Wise. “His personality is larger than life. I can’t speak for other male childcare workers but Duncan’s enthusiasm was extraordinary.”
Mr Wise believes men may still be put off the career because of low pay and that they may not even consider it as a profession.
“I’ll never be rich but I didn’t do it for the love of money.”
Twelve years on he still loves working with children and it has the added bonus that it has fitted in with his own family life.
“I have had quality time with my own children too,” he says.