Our Bradford Hub Manager Imran Hafeez travelled to Norway to learn about gender diversification in the early years workforce. Here he shares what he learnt….
I was recently lucky enough to be invited to travel to Norway to take part in a ‘knowledge exchange’, all about gender diversity in the early years workforce. This was a trip to share knowledge from our different experiences and achievements, with Norway positioned as the centre of excellence for the early years sector - a champion of equality, innovative practice with demonstrable gender diversification of the early years workforce.
Norway felt like just the ticket for perspective, reflection, learning and creation of new opportunities, building on the efforts of St Edmund’s Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Bradford to the Men in the Early Years (MITEY) movement across the UK. The UK delegation was made up of representatives from early years settings across the country including Bradford, Bristol, Southampton and London.
The range of experience represented was very diverse which made the discussions and knowledge sharing all the more fascinating. We spent a generous amount of our time with our Norwegian colleagues at the Queen Maud university, where we were guided through a range of topics and presentations to set the context and learn about each other’s experience. I learned about the consistency in Norwegian national policy, how political parties are closely aligned on key aspects and their focus on investment in the early years. The result was early years provision for all children aged 0-5 years, with public and private sector settings receiving funding to resource this.
The Norwegian contingent championing gender diversification of the workforce was made up of researchers, practitioners and campaigners, who shared the steps through which they introduced more men into early years settings, lobbied local government and created the evidence to support a gender diverse workforce.
We heard from the Kanvas group of early years settings who had achieved a 50% split of men and women, covering a range of skills and qualifications from basic to master degree level. They shared their struggle and fight to change perceptions around the profession and the challenges overcome throughout their journey. We learned of how this was supported initially through a national network (similar to our ambition for MITEY), and when the critical mass of 30% men in the workforce was reached, the system then began to sustain itself with the recruitment and retention of men.
The early years setting we went to visit on the morning of our last day in Norway looked like it could have been a high-end holiday retreat, nestled in the foothills of a sweeping pine forest with its own Olympic ski jump slope. A group of children were returning from a foraging trip in the woods, and in the open play area in front of the double-story wooden building wandered a two-year-old in outdoor kit and boots, content, smiling and returning a wave. In this moment, and from being shown the rest of the setup, it was pretty clear this was a really special place for children.
It was minimalistic with lots of space, where children had choices and could explore the world around them, where they were respected and where they looked to be flourishing – just completely content in their surroundings. We were filled with inspiration and ideas from what we saw.
So what did I learn? While Norway has had a favourable environment for increasing the amount of men in the early years workforce, with their political stability, government investment and significance given to the early years, it would be wrong to assume that the excellence in early years practice, equality and gender diversification has happened without concerted effort.
Going to Norway reinforced the need for our UK collaborative to lead and push for change. We’ve brought back with us renewed vigour and practical ideas to embark on the next phase of the journey.