Early Years Foundation Stage- No place for men? A critical life history investigation of the underrepresentation of men in the British Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC)


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The number of males employed in early childhood education and care (ECEC) is low, ranging between 2% and 3% both in the UK and several Western European countries (Brody, 2014, DfE, 2017, Warin, 2017). In recent years, both academics and policymakers have investigated the reasons for this low level of male engagement, to seek ways to attract more men into ECEC. The conference Men in Early Years, held in London in 2019 (MITEY, 2019), focused on men in a predominantly female workplace and argued that both children and practitioners would benefit immensely from a more balanced gender equitable workforce.
Men who enter the EY profession are the exceptions and buck the gendered trend. They are, therefore, of interest from a professional and practitioner perspective but also from a critical sociological angle. In this study I set out to investigate the experiences of men in early years through life history methodology to address the following questions:
1. Why do the men who become childcare practitioners choose this career path?
2. What are their reasons for entering a highly gendered profession with a predominantly female work force?
3. Is there a relationship between their masculine identity and their choice of career?
Using a life history methodology and a social-constructionist critical masculinities framework, drawing from Connell’s theories of hegemonic masculinity, qualitative data was collected through in-depth interviews with five male ECEC practitioners at different stages of their career and life trajectories. Life history methodology enabled the collection of rich data offering insights into the complexity of the men’s lives, and the intersecting influences of age, class, and gender. Data was transcribed and analysed thematically and revealed the following themes:
• ECEC as a ‘counter cultural’ alternative to the men’s experiences of what they perceived to be the prescriptive and demanding environment of the Primary and Secondary sectors.
• ECEC as a site of professional autonomy revealing the men’s personal pedagogical beliefs about the role of professional love, care, fun, and creativity.
• ECEC functioned as a site where the men could challenge gendered assumptions, but their narratives also demonstrate ways in which the possession of masculine gendered credentials still shaped their experience of ECEC and how they interpreted their positioning within the ECEC environment.
My data demonstrates that the construction of these men’s masculinities and their career choice is the product of the intersection of micro and macro societal structures. However, to see a change in the EY gender workforce, critical policy changes, and a nuanced understanding of gender should be introduced.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorFRANCIS FARRELL (Director of Studies) & CHRISTINE LEWIS (Supervisor)


  • early yers education
  • gender studies
  • critical masculinities
  • hegemonic masculinity
  • life history methodology

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