Hot Take: DfE recruitment campaign is a missed opportunity
NMT features editor Charlotte Goddard wonders whether the DfE’s early years apprenticeship campaign is missing a trick when it comes to targeting men.
You wait years for an early years recruitment campaign and then three come along at once. Not only has the Department for Education launched a digital and social media campaign promoting Early Years Educator apprenticeships, but Essex County Council last week kicked off its own campaign to fill early years vacancies in the county. That’s on top of the National Day Nurseries Association campaign #Firstfiveyearscount which launched last year.
The sector has long been crying out for a national recruitment campaign, similar to social work’s Made With Care, or Every Lesson Shapes a Life, the DfE’s teacher recruitment drive. Even back in 2016, nursery leaders were telling me that recruitment issues were becoming “critical” and I think it is safe to say that since then things have got much worse. The early years workforce must expand by 8% if the sector is to have any chance of delivering the extended funded entitlement – the government needs this apprenticeships campaign to be successful.
The DfE campaign is targeted at young people (“with a bias towards 16 to 24 year old females”) and mothers of school-aged children, as these have been identified as being more likely to consider a role in the sector. But this does seem a missed opportunity to target a potentially even larger pool – male early years educators.
The proportion of men in childcare stubbornly hovers at around 2% to 5%. Research from Lancaster University and the Fatherhood Institute in 2020 found that only 14% of managers had pursued specific strategies aimed at recruiting men.
Back in 2017, the DfE recognised the importance of attracting men into the sector in its Early Years Workforce Strategy, which said: “Encouraging increased gender diversity amongst those joining the early years sector would have two main benefits; an increased pool of applicants for the sector to recruit from and male role models for young children.” The “task and finish group” set up to look at this issue made a number of recommendations, including the launch of a national recruitment campaign with an emphasis on diversity, but this didn’t happen.
When you need to fill spaces quickly, it might make sense to fish in the pool where the fish already are, rather than try to persuade people who aren’t interested. But we can’t assume that men aren’t joining the workforce because they’re not interested: in many cases they will either not know what early years jobs are available, or will feel that they are not welcome in the early years space.
It's true that despite its female “bias”, one of the DfE campaign creatives does include a young man. However, Essex County Council’s campaign is more gender diverse, with at least four different creatives showing a male practitioner – one of whom is a childminder.
Settings will of course welcome any support with recruitment, and getting the word out there about early years apprenticeships is a good thing. It’s just a shame this opportunity was not taken to promote an early years career to the untapped pool of talent that is potential male early educators.
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