The problem is that childcare is an under-rated occupation, judged by the pay and conditions it offers, and both students and tutors wished that it were seen more positively. One of the consequences of under-rating childcare is that the training is only a vocational two-year post-16 training which has little academic transferability, and contrasts sharply with the more rigorous academic training undertaken by teachers. Because the course is not academically rigorous, low achievers at school tend to be routed into it - but that is not to write it off. On the contrary some of the tutors argued that having had a poor educational start meant that nursery nurses might, with suitable support, become more sympathetic and alert to many of the young children they came across because they understood only too well what the difficulties are with schooling.
Men are less likely to work in childcare partly because they are aware that it is a low-status job, and partly because of fears about being seen as abusers. The men we spoke to had discovered childcare almost by accident, but, having begun to work in the area, were extremely enthusiastic about it. It opened new horizons for them.
DR HELEN PENN and SUSAN McQUAIL
Institute of Education University of London London WC1