Tackling Gender Stereotypes in Glasgow’s ELC Sector: Implementing The Gender Friendly Nursery
By Megan Birman
Research produced in collaboration with Susie Heywood and Barbara Adzajlic of the Glasgow City HSCP
As more children are attending Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) settings and for increasing amounts of time, there has been heightened attention to the potential of ELC practitioners to combat social inequities. Over the years, the Scottish Government has taken strides toward innovating its ELC sector to create more equitable outcomes through developments such as the Early Years Framework (2009), Pre-Birth to Three, Building the Ambition (2014) and most recently Realising the Ambition: Being Me (2020) As a result, many of Scotland’s nurseries have adopted some form of gender equity policy, however, provision is left to individual settings which has led to diversified forms of enactment.
To assist in cultivating a more gender equitable ELC sector, the Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) created the Gender Friendly Nursery (GFN) accreditation programme to act as a training resource and award system for nurseries striving to eliminate gender stereotyping. Interested nurseries send a staff representative to attend a training session which increases understanding of gender inequality and gender stereotyping. The programme assists practitioners to identify strategies for reducing gender stereotyping within their practice and setting. Following the training, the representative delivers cascaded training to the remainder of their nursery and completes an audit and one-year action plan to improve practice, before receiving official GFN accredited status. However, not all participating nurseries progress toward the full GFN award.
There are many factors that may contribute to the varied outcomes of the GFN programme. While several of these are institutional, another important consideration is how the GFN programme is being understood and implemented by nursery staff in their settings. Practitioners are key to the implementation process by the ways they interpret, replicate and transform programme aims in their practices. For instance, the belief systems held by practitioners will influence how they construct meanings around their roles as professionals, policy actors and proponents of social justice. The degree to which they identify and understand these roles will determine how they experience and implement programmes such as the GFN. For this reason, implementation will look different within and across settings as practitioners hold unique understandings, capabilities and experiences.
In addition, practitioners hold differing understandings of how the gendering process works (i.e. biological, psychological) which may impact how the GFN is incorporated into pedagogy and practice. For instance, some Scottish ELC practitioners have indicated beliefs that families are primarily responsible for the construction and reinforcement of gendered identities. Others report that nursery-aged children are not old enough to understand gender, therefore, it is not a worthwhile concept to incorporate into ELC curriculums. Additional ideas that inequity will be resolved naturally are reflected in the notion that treating all students the ‘same’ is enough to counteract gender disparities.
Such beliefs may support tendencies to diffuse responsibilities regarding issues of gender inequity and can justify a lack of action when implementing gender training programmes. This can be compounded by the popularity of ELC child-centred pedagogy in which children are encouraged to pursue their own interests without the intervention of the practitioner. All of these beliefs can feed into the identity formation and degree of dedication ELC educators may hold toward implementing particular training programmes.
In recent years, the ELC sector has experienced a ‘professionalisation’ in which government attempts have been made to upgrade the quality, standards and status of ELC practitioners, recognising the vital role they play. Professionalisation agendas, such as the Early Years Framework, have arguably changed what it means to be a professional ELC educator and the responsibilities that come with it. Such agendas can promote a technical-based pedagogy that focuses on student performance and primary school-readiness. However, articulating professionalism in this manner may reduce the capacity of practitioners to incorporate cultural and social responsibilities into the classroom. This may be the case when enacting equity training such as the GFN. Additional difficulties can arise if ELC practitioners internalise the belief that, because they are professionals, they are adequately trained to avoid stereotyping and bias. In this case, ELC practitioners that are asked to critically reflect on gendered practices may respond defensively as it can be mistaken as an attack on their professional identity; which may lead them to oppose a programme altogether.
However, articulating self-reflection and stereotype elimination as both a social and professional responsibility may hold the potential to bring equity to the forefront of ELC pedagogy. For this to occur, training programmes must encourage educators to question the system of values, beliefs, language and power which are dominant in themselves, a society or institution. Rather than following a prescribed curriculum, training should seek to provide educators with the skills to question their practices and seek out alternative perspectives, knowledge and understandings. This can be supported by a programme which incorporates theoretical knowledge, reflexivity and critical discussion along with ongoing institutional support. It is hoped that this form of training would empower educators to self-reflect on biases and understand this as part of their professional responsibilities.
In this era of professionalism, equity training that utilises accreditation systems and forms of public recognition may produce effective results. Developing an award for equitable practice may fulfill desires for an upgraded status and construct a new kind of professional identity for educators. At present, limited research on this kind of equity training system has been conducted. Such an approach has been demonstrated by the GFN programme in which nurseries receive a publicly recognised award for a gender sensitive practice. However, not all participating nurseries have achieved the full GFN award.
While there are many factors as to why this may be, one of those may be the contrasting identities of Glasgow’s nursery staff. It is still possible that those attending the GFN programme hold different ideas regarding their role as professionals, educators and proponents of gender equity. The unique identities of ELC practitioners may impact how they understand and experience the GFN training and its accreditation process. In addition, contrasting ideas of gender and practitioners’ role in the gendering process can also lead to a diversified enactment of the GFN curriculum.
The GFN has put in the work to create a more gender friendly nursery and the next step is to evaluate its implementation. Finding ways to amplify the voices of Glasgow’s nursery staff can allow for deeper engagement with their experiences of gender, the GFN programme and the context in which they experience enabling factors or resistance toward programme enactment. It is hoped that achieving such understanding would assist in creating a more gender equitable classroom, and ultimately, a more gender equitable Glasgow.
A proposal for an evaluation of the GFN programme can be found in our publications section. This proposal references research on professionalisation, identity construction and policy enactment to investigate how these concepts have impacted experiences with gender and the GFN programme. The proposed evaluation seeks to highlight the contexts in which the enactment of gender friendly practices is being hindered in order to learn how ELC practitioners can be better supported to adopt a gender sensitive pedagogy that will optimise the outcomes of the GFN programme.
Many thanks to our contributor this week, Megan Birman, who can be contacted via her member profile page. For those interested in exploring this topic further, Megan has provided some related reading below.
Harwood, D., Klopper, A., Osanyin, A. & Vanderlee, M. 2013, "‘It’s more than care’: early childhood educators’ concepts of professionalism", Early years (London, England), vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 4-17.
Kim, K. & Kim, J. 2017, ‘Going beyond the gap between theory and practice: Rethinking teacher reflection with poststructural insights’, Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education: Reflections on Practice, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 293-307.
Lombardo, E. & Mergaert, L. 2013, ‘Gender Mainstreaming and Resistance to Gender Training: A Framework for Studying Implementation’, NORA - Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research: Feminist Resistance-Resistance to Feminism, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 296-311.
Molla, T. & Nolan, A. 2019, ‘Identifying professional functionings of early childhood educators’, Professional Development in Education, vol. 45, no.4, pp. 551-566
Wingrave, M. 2018, ‘Perceptions of gender in early years’, Gender and Education, vol. 30, no. 5, pp. 587-606.