A MAJOR conference looking at how to get more men involved in early years education was held in Bradford today.

The Men in the Early Years conference saw 142 heads, governors and education professionals descend on the National Science and Media Museum from around the country.

In Bradford just 2 per cent of staff in nurseries and early years providers are men - a trend repeated across the country.

During the conference attendees heard from speakers discussing the importance of giving children strong male role models in schools, something especially important to children from families without a father figure.

They also heard some of the issues that held men back from early years teaching, including the suspicion some people still have of men who want to work with children.

The conference was a collaboration between the National Literacy Trust, the Fatherhood Institute, and the Bradford Birth to 19 Teaching School Alliance with support from Bradford Council.

St. Edmund’s Nursery School and Children’s Centre also played a big role in bringing the conference together. The centre in Girlington has been praised for how it engages fathers, and for the fact it has 17 per cent male staff, much higher than other providers.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said: “It is the first time Bradford has hosted a national conference like this. One of the reasons we had it here is the work St Edmund’s does and the partnerships it has created. Male engagement is key to raising school performance.”

Sue Easterbrook, from St Edmunds, said: “We have done a lot of work on how fathers and male guardians can be welcomed into early years settings. We always work to try and make sure we have male staff and trainees. If we increase male engagement across Bradford it will make a big difference.”

A Men In Early Years network was set up to help plan the conference, and will continue to look at the issue now the event has finished.

Dr. Anette Hellman, Senior Lecturer in Early Education at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, was one speaker at the event, and said: “Some men I’ve spoken to have raised concerns that they might be accused of sexual abuse by parents who see caring for young children as something that is unnatural for a man to do.”