The children in Year 5 at St Elizabeth’s, in Litherland, are in a lucky minority. Their teacher, Thomas Cox, is male and their teaching assistant is a man, too.
With soaring numbers of family break-ups, for some of these children these are the only adult males they’ll have regular contact with.
But, despite the demand for men in early years childcare, the proportion of men to women is tiny.
There are no figures available for the number working in nurseries in Merseyside, but, of 1,869 primary school teachers employed across the Liverpool Education Authority area, just 239 are male.
At just 13% it’s slightly lower than the national average of 16%.
A new survey, by the Children’s Workforce Development Council, has revealed just how vital they are in childcare.
It found that 55% of parents, and 66% of single parents, want a male childcare worker for their nursery-aged child, yet the reality is that only 2% of childcare workers are men, and it’s a similar story for children when they move on to primary school.
The nursery childcare survey, carried out by the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC), found that parents want men to work in nurseries with the under-fives so the youngsters have access to male role models.
Contact with male role models is a vital part of growing up, it found, and, outside their own family, the best places for young children to meet such role models are nurseries and schools.
Many of those questioned for the survey said they believed boys behaved better for a male teacher, adding that it was important for boys to have a role model to look up to.
Thom Crabbe, the CWDC’s development manager, wants more men to consider working in under-fives childcare, and the region’s colleges are echoing the plea.
“Parents are right to want to see 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.”
Irish-born Thomas Cox, 27, switched from production engineering to primary school teaching precisely so he could set an example to young children in a deprived area.
“I went to Africa for six months and came back, with an engineering job to come back to, but I wanted to save the world and become a teacher.
“I have high expectations for them (the children).
“I want them to learn, enjoy themselves and succeed, and I can see all of them going to university.
“I had plenty of teaching job opportunities in Ireland, but to come to a community like this definitely makes a difference. If they don’t get a proper education, they’ll be deprived of so many opportunities.
“I could have said, ‘I’ll never get a degree, I’ll never go to Africa’, but I did and I try to nurture that in the kids.”
Based in Litherland, Thomas says he sees first-hand the special contribution male teachers can make.
“It’s very true that there aren’t many men in primary schools,” he says. “I could see it when I started teaching, and you can see the impact on boys having a male role model, especially in an area where there a lot of one-parent families.
“Some of the boys won’t have contact with a male adults, it’s only in school with male teachers. So, it definitely does have an impact, especially in the way they behave and speak to people and what’s expected of them.”
Boys especially benefit.
“A few of them will come to me and talk to me about personal things,” he says. “Some will come to talk to me about things because they don’t have anyone else to talk to. I do football after school and a couple of the children will come to watch. It’s like a social thing they can come and do, and I’ll always give them my time.”
Boys behave differently with a male teacher.
A survey by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) found that 35% of men felt that having a male primary teacher challenged them to work harder at school, and 22% believed that male primary teachers helped build their confidence while they were young.
“Children warm to male childcare workers in different ways than they do to female workers,” says Crabbe.
Thomas Cox agrees that male teachers have skills that complement those of their female counterparts.
“The way I work would be different to how females work,” he says. “We (men) may be a little bit firmer, and I think sometimes the pupils will behave better with me. I think maybe I’m more into the practical element of teaching. My attitude is that, if the children are busy, there will be fewer behavioural problems. Female teachers may be more interested in having an open conversation with the children. I think the male teachers, from my experience, have the attitude ‘this is what you are doing’.”
Thomas’s 19-year-old teaching assistant, Daniel Lewis, tries to make subjects, which the boys sometimes regard as girly, “cool”.
“For children who don’t have a perspective on where they are going, him being a past pupil is inspiring.”
“Some of the boys might find literacy uncool, but if Daniel is taking an interest, they do,” he says. “He is not only a guy but a young guy. All the children consider him to be cool. They totally follow his example. He has a very positive effect from that perspective.
“Some of the girls might dislike PE, and for some of the boys it might be art. They’d sooner be running around being more boyish. Daniel brought his own artwork in and showed it off, and they were going, ‘Wow, you did that, Mr Lewis’, and he says ‘Yes, but you can do it, too’. They see it as cool and something they can achieve, too. ”
At Hugh Baird College, in Bootle, Daniel is doing his Level 3 CACHE Teaching Assistant certificate and preparing to go to university to train as a teacher. He’s one of only two men in a class of 23 women.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), says a major hurdle for male child carers are the stereotypes in the caring professions.
“While parents do say they’d like to see more men in childcare, some men are made to feel uncomfortable about being in a caring profession, despite the vast rewards it offers to both men and children,” she says. While Daniel has found there is still a stereotype to get past, it hasn’t held him back.
“The stereotype of a primary school teacher is of a woman, although working with women has never been a problem for me.
“I do think the female stereotype may come into why more men don’t go into early years teaching and nursery work – that it might not be thought of as a macho enough profession. But what people think doesn’t come into it for me.
“Being seen as a male role model gives me more responsibility, but life’s a challenge. I find it really good for me as well as the children, watching them progress into being young adults. It’s helping them learn new things and opening new doors for them.”
Hugh Baird is actively trying to support men going into childcare and early years teaching, putting men together for study placements, for example.
“Some people think it’s not the right role for them because of the dominance of females in that area,” says early years education lecturer Delith Coles. “But the opportunities are plentiful.
“There’s still a perception of parents about someone who looks after young children. It’s still a barrier to get over, the idea of males looking after children, but it’s changing.”
“For anyone who’s put off, I’d say don’t be, because it’s very rewarding,” adds Daniel. “I’ve no problem with training with so many women. I love the attention, so it’s great”
* FOR information on Hugh Baird’s health and social care department open evening, on February 23, go to www.hughbaird.ac.uk