The Invisible Cape Crusaders

The Invisible Cape Crusaders

‘The Invisible Cape Crusaders’ By Simon Batchelor.

I have been meaning to write about my experience as a male practitioner in schools for a while, so now I have time to put pen to paper.

I am a freelance arts practitioner and visit different schools on a daily basis. The majority of my work is with Early Years and KS1 children as well as working alongside teachers. I am passionate about championing creativity in the classroom and finding ways to make learning accessible and creative for all. I believe in a playful approach to learning and turning classrooms into safe spaces that build creative worlds, inspire curiosity and create powerful learners.

In the 10 years of my practise and of all the schools I have visited, I can’t help but notice there is still a distinct lack of male teachers and male practitioners working in primary schools. The majority of schools I visit have all female staff with the caretaker being the only male. I remember visiting one school a few years ago that only had a female staff toilet, where was I shown to go…the disabled toilet.

The Department for Education statistics show that only 2% of Early Years teachers are male and in Primary only 15% are male. In the world of freelance arts practitioners working in schools, I believe there is still more females than males working in the sector.

In being a male arts practitioner, there are many moments which really make me think about the positive impact we have on children. There are many times where I will have led a one hour drama storytelling session and the children at the end come up and hug me, say thank you, ask me when am I coming back? I also recently delivered some drama sessions with a colleague, also a male. The excitement and amazement on the children’s faces will stay with me for a while. We were 2 adult men arriving to deliver some drama, it was as if batman and superman had just flown in. Now this happens for visiting female practitioners too, yes, but I feel it’s different for males. I am not superman, I am just a man. Children at school are not used to seeing men be playful, reading stories, laughing, being silly etc. For some children they don’t have this at home either so having a positive male role model in school is vital.

In my work with children I tell stories, make music and create art. I can’t help but think that subconsciously, me being in a school is subverting the status-quo for children and challenging their expectations of “how an adult male should be viewed” in a school. It’s got me thinking that play can be a very political act, and in its simplest form, children seeing men “play” can allow them to rethink how they perceive males and maleness in their own lives.

In the story telling work I do children act out stories, each child taking on a different role within the story. A girl will play a footballer and a boy will be a princess. There are no gender stereotypes. I am always worried that maybe one day when it comes to a boy playing a teacher, he says ‘No that’s just for women!’

There are great male practitioners and teachers out there and we need more. We need to break down that stereotype and focus on the positive impact for children in having both female and male role models in school.

So the question I ask myself is “what made me want to work with young children?” I am one of those 15% of men working with primary school children across the UK. The answer is because I have a passion for it and I never questioned that I shouldn’t do it because I am a male. I wanted to improve children’s lives, give them a love of learning, a chance to explore their creativity and develop their skills so they can become successful young people. I always think back to my primary school experience and I was lucky enough to have a male teacher for two years. I will always remember Mr Sharpe. He obviously had an impact on me and has inspired me. He was friendly, kind and had a fun playful approach to his teaching. Maybe, that’s why I think the way I do because in having a male teacher made me realise it could be a career. Let’s hope that I and the 15% of males can be influential like Mr Sharpe now and those young boys we work with can make it 50% in the future.

However, I can see why men don’t take it up as a profession. There is sadly a stigma of working with young children and lots of men I know didn’t even like school themselves so why work in one. Maybe if they had a positive male role model in their primary school, their views and opinions may be different?

I spoke to other male colleagues and teachers recently, lots of positive experiences however a few negative experiences and its sad to say I have experienced this too. Some said they have faced criticism, are they just there to climb the ladder to leadership? Some have been looked at and treated differently by parents. I visited a school once that were suspicious of me because I was a male and they made a member of staff walk around the building with me, even though I have an Enhanced DBS…I always wonder if the same was done for a female visiting practitioner?

The reason I wanted to be a part of the Channel 4 documentary ‘The Secret Life of 4 & 5 Year Olds’ was to breakdown that stereotype on national TV, to show that men can work with young children and the positive impact it makes. It has been incredible to have people tweet and email me with positive comments and thanks. One tweet said: ‘It’s so good to know I am not the only male practitioner with the same passion out there’.

Yes, there is a stereotype of male practitioners, but it is our job as influential professionals to lay this to rest, to show the huge impact in having more males in the classroom and what a rewarding and challenging career it is. If you are a male practitioner or teacher currently training or working with young people, stick at it.

It is also not just about balancing out gender but it’s also about diversifying the sector with practitioners from BAME backgrounds and those with physical/learning disabilities. We want children to have a broad and balanced education so we need children to have a chance to meet and learn from a range of adults, adults that represent the communities they live in. Children at these early stages in their lives begin to form opinions and beliefs and this lack of a diverse sector just aids the belief that working in schools is not the profession for them.

So what can we do? How do we get more males into the sector? It’s a big question and it’s not something that will change overnight. We need to break down the stereotype that it is just a female profession and show that it is a hugely rewarding profession for all. To get the culture change, we need to talk about it more. We need to raise awareness of the benefits in having a diverse range of adults teaching our children so that children have a diverse view on the world of teaching and dream of working with young people themselves one day.

Children may see male teachers as superheroes but together with female teachers, we can make them the superheroes of the future.