Children need male role models in the classroom

by Jasper Hamill - Herald Scotland

Scottish men are beings urged to take on key jobs with young children, such as nursery and primary school teachers - roles they avoid for fear of being suspected as paedophiles.

The Scottish Government wants more men to get involved in early years education in order to provide male role models, which are lacking in children's lives.

Only 3%, or 920, of all early years teachers in Scotland are male, according to official statistics from the Scottish Government.

Dominic D'Onofrio, 23, a student teacher in Edinburgh, said there are still lingering suspicions about the motives of men who want to teach young children.

"There is no reason for it because men are just as capable as women of giving love and care to children," he said. "It's quite backwards that people think like that."

While on work placement, D'Onofrio was astonished at the gender ratio. Out of a class of 85, only five were men and this imbalance continues in the workplace.

He said: "At the first placement, I found it a bit intimidating. But it's something you have to get over if it's a job you want to do. You have just got to hope there are some men out there. It's good to work alongside other males, but they are few and far between."

Experts say that as more and more children are being brought up by women in single-parent families, the presence of a strong male role model is vital in steering them away from a future of crime, poor health and low achievement.

Adam Ingram, Minister for Children and Early Years, is backing the push to get more men into the classroom, and will raise the issue at the Scottish Government's Children's Summit on Wednesday.

He said: "The early years set a large part of the pattern of an individual's future life and development and improving children's early years experience is the key to enabling us to address some of our most entrenched problems in Scotland - poverty, poor health, poor attainment and anti-social behaviour.

"Having a balance of male and female role models for young children during this crucial phase can only help children develop in the way they should. Some children have few male role models in their lives and therefore having more men working in nurseries and family centres can help us achieve this balance."

One group credited with getting more men into early years education is Men In Childcare. Kenny Spence, director of the group, also runs Gilmerton Family Centre in Edinburgh, which employs six men out of a total of 29 employees, a ratio that he claimed was "well above the national average".

Spence claims that recent paedophile cases involving women prove that it isn't just men who pose a danger to children.

His own research showed that 95% of people would not mind their young child being taught by a man. Spence has trained more than 1300 men since 2000, when his organisation started.

He says: "We know from speaking with dads in the past that many have felt the nursery is a place run by women for women. Where there was a male worker in a nursery the dads automatically bonded with him."

Spence said that fathers engage more with their child's development if men are in teaching roles. Women teachers also thrive more if men are in the workplace.

Sue Robertson, director of One Parent Families Scotland, stressed the importance of men in the lives of children, especially as families try to cope with the changing economic climate.

She said: "We do considerable work with lone and contact fathers and are very keen to see fathers more actively involved with their children and to see professionals working with families focusing on helping dads as well as mothers. The more adults who can be constructively involved in raising children, the better in these difficult times."

June 20, 2010

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