Fast-track childcare course targeted at men to start at Inverness College UHI

The University of the Highlands and Islands partnership will pilot a fast-track childcare course targeted at men in a bid to tackle gender stereotypes and encourage more people into the profession.

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Fraser Polworth

University partners led by Inverness College UHI have been successful in their bid to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) for a £23,600 grant from the Men in Early Years Challenge Fund. Launched by the Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd, the aim of the fun is to help reduce the gender imbalance in childcare settings. Currently only 4 per cent of the workforce in Scotland is male.

The early years and childcare profession is facing a skills shortage, with Scotland needing around 11,000 new childcare workers by 2020 to meet the Scottish Government’s commitment to provide 30 hours of free childcare to eligible 2-year-olds and 3-4-year-olds by 2020.

The demand for skilled workers means there’s never been a better time to find employment as a childcare worker and Inverness College UHI has been positively discriminating in favour of men in a bid to increase gender equality in this fun, rewarding and challenge sector.

University partners including Inverness will use the grant to pilot a 12-week Men and Childhood Practice twilight course to encourage more men into early years and childcare. It will be delivered at the same level as a Higher and run in the early evening to allow men already in employment to re-train. The course will focus on child development, well-being and safeguarding and will be accessible across the University partnership, either face-to-face at partner colleges or via video-conferencing and the university’s virtual learning environment.

People who successfully complete the course will be guaranteed an interview to the university’s HNC Childhood Practice course, which starts in August.

Heather Keyes, head of the care practice curriculum at Inverness College UHI, said: “We have seen an increase in the number of males choosing to study early years or childcare, and we know from surveys we’ve carried out that perceptions are changing. However, we recognise there’s much more work to be done to ensure Scotland’s nurseries and schools are diverse and gender balanced. This isn’t just about meeting a government target. There’s a huge amount of research that shows role models of both genders are critical in early years, and that men bring different skills and approaches to learning, which is important for child development. Men working in early years also report high levels of job satisfaction – not only is it a career full of variety, with indoor and outdoor working, it offers flexible hours and lots of opportunities for progression. We are delighted to receive this grant and look forward to continuing the work we’re doing to encourage men into the profession.”

Fraser Polworth (19), from Inverness, initially studied business at Inverness College UHI after performing well in the subject at secondary school. But, he knew it wasn’t the career path for him and decided to volunteer at a nursery. He loved it so much he’s now studying HNC Childhood Practice.

He said: “What I love about childcare is the balance between challenge and reward. You are a role model for the children you look after and have an important job in terms of influencing their development - from showing them how to respect others, to encouraging their confidence and helping them overcome barriers. We need to move away from the idea it’s just like babysitting, the career deserves so much more respect. It takes patience and understanding but it is one of the most rewarding and meaningful jobs you could choose. Gender isn’t a defining characteristic in the workplace and for every person that stereotypes you, there will be others who respect, encourage and support you for the admirable work you do.”

Michael Cross, SFC’s Interim Director, Access, Skills, & Outcome Agreements, said: “Congratulations to Inverness College UHI for its successful bid for the Men in Early Years Challenge Fund. We had seven submissions from colleges around Scotland, and we’re really grateful to all those that took the time to submit proposals. The range of submissions highlighted a strong appetite from the sector to work in new ways to address the stubborn under-representation of men in childcare, and diversify the workforce by bringing a greater range of passionate, dedicated people on to early learning and childcare courses in Scotland’s colleges. This work supports SFC’s Gender Action Plan to reduce gender imbalances at the subject level in Scotland’s colleges and universities, and we look forward to seeing the results of the innovative approaches outlined in Inverness College UHI’s bid.”

In addition to a twilight course, university partners will use the grant to develop a marketing campaign targeted at men, particularly career changers - focussing on men in rural, inner city and deprived areas, as well as minority language groups including Gaelic speakers.

A digital toolkit will also be created to provide an interactive learning resource promoting best practice. This will focus on encouraging gender balance, breaking down perceptions and challenging attitudes to men in childcare.  It will be available to staff across the university network, but also teachers and childcare managers in schools and nurseries.

An ERASMUS funded exchange programme with Denmark, where the number of male childcare workers is significantly higher, is also in the process of being established. This would be available to students progressing from the NC to HNC.

Inverness College UHI currently runs a Foundation Apprenticeship (Social Services, Children and Young People) for S5 and S6 pupils, a Modern Apprenticeship in Children and Young People, an NC in Early Education and Childcare and an HNC in Childhood Practice, which qualifies students to work as a childcare support worker and childhood practitioner respectively. Students can also choose to progress from the HNC in Childhood Practice to the BA (Hons) Childhood Practice.

The twilight course will start in the New Year. Details will be published on the Inverness College UHI website soon. In the meantime, anyone wishing to know more should contact heather.keyes.ic@uhi.ac.uk.