Nursery staff’s biggest challenge 

Background image of an adult reading to a child. A toy is in the foreground. Text reads "Blog post: Nursery Staff's greatest challenge. Practitioners cannot achieve what the system makes unachievable."What we learned at #BuildingBlocks23 — Children in Scotland’s Early Years Conference 

There was a buzz at Children in Scotland’s national early years conference, #BuildingBlocks23, but attendees made it clear that the early years sector faces significant challenges.  

Staffing squeezes, inadequate funding, slow recruitment, low staff retention, undervalued, and underpaid — nursery staff feel that they are the least respected and “most interfered with profession in the world.” 

Attendees’ engagement with workshops on trauma, visual impairment, working with families and play, showed their commitment to giving every child they work with the best possible start. 

However, the need for proper support and resource from the government permeated all the conversations. Practitioners cannot achieve what the system makes unachievable.  

It is nursery staff who are on the frontline trying to provide what the system fails to, all while dealing with parents’ frustrations and anxieties. They don’t feel appreciated.  

That’s why we’re calling on the Scottish Government to support childcare settings by delivering a well-resourced, holistic approach to embedding gender equality in the early years. 

We hosted a stall at the conference and got to spend the day talking to early years staff across Scotland. They loved our ‘You Can Be’ book and posters about counter-acting gender stereotypes in early years settings. Many read our Gender Equal Play resource and our new briefing for setting managers.  

Practitioners agree with us about the importance of stereotype-free, child-led play. They told us how difficult it is to avoid the ubiquitous gender stereotypes in children’s lives: from the clothes they are dressed in, to the toys they are given, to how they see adults around them behaving. They asked us if there is training available — practitioners are clear that they want support, resource, and capacity to create gender equality in their setting.  

We agree. We want the Scottish Government to: 

  • Fund and resource the early years workforce. 

  • Encourage men to become early years practitioners.  

  • Mainstream gender, racial, LGBTQ+, class, and disability equality as core topics throughout nursery staff’s pre-qualification training and continuous professional development.  

  • Mainstream gender transformative approaches in all early years’ toolkits, by creating guidance and strategies that provide gender equality by challenging gender norms and distributing power equally. 

  • Support early learning and childcare settings to develop a ‘Challenging Gender Stereotypes’ policy.

  • Provide counter-stereotypical books and toys. 

Despite the challenges the sector is facing, the appetite for change is clear. Together we can end gender stereotyping and prevent men’s violence against women and girls.  

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