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Genesis of the male nanny?

There is still a long way to go as only 3 per cent of child carers are men. Andrew Mourant met one of them

Girl becomes plumber is getting to be a familiar story, but boy becoming nanny remains a collector's item.

There was a media jamboree when Peter Cummins became the first British male recruit at Norland, the country's most famous college for nannies. Better free publicity for role reversal would be hard to imagine. Yet although Peter is almost at the end of his two-year training, he is more of a one-off rather than a trend-setter.

Perhaps the very word nanny, as Norland principal Kay Crosse admits, creates difficulties. And society may still look askance at young men who choose to make working with small children their career.

Norland's failure to draw in more young men is not for want of effort.

Marketing manager Rebekah Yeomans (CHK SURNAME) tours co-ed schools and careers fairs, and some male students do express an interest. But usually that is where it stops.

Yet Norland leavers, unlike many graduates, never struggle to find work.

There are more vacancies than there are people to fill them. Norlanders become probationer nurses after two years - a national qualification - and fully qualified after a further year doing the job. Earnings can reach pound;400 a week net living in, or pound;500 living out. Some jobs abroad - living in - pay up to pound;800 net weekly.

Peter, 20, from Newcastle Emlyn, Wales, discovered his gift for looking after children when staying with relatives in France.

"There were six of them altogether, aged from two to 11 though mostly I looked after the three youngest," he said. "My parents knew I was good with children, but I didn't."

From this point he saw a future in childcare. He discovered Norland and never looked back. Nor, he says, was there any problem with disparaging peer-group reaction. Some regarded it "as a bit cool" while others merely shuddered at the idea of changing soiled nappies.

Softly spoken, sometimes hesitant, it is easy to imagine Peter working with young children. They buzz around him at his placement, a nursery in the Royal United Hospital, Bath, where he is a favourite. "I can get to their level very easily - I'm patient," he said.

Finding others like him is the problem. "We want to move with the times and attract more like Peter," said Ms Yeomans. "Children love him and he is completely at home here."

Norland now offers a diploma of higher education in early childhood studies and a foundation degree, both validated by Oxford Brookes university.

This, and the college's move to Bath from its previous isolated location near Hungerford, will, hopes Norland principal Mrs Crosse, attract all-comers.

"We're trying to promote ourselves as an early-years childcare training institute," she said. "It isn't just about nannying."

If Peter could travel to schools and careers fairs he might make a persuasive case for the male nanny. But although he has featured on open day, Mrs Crosse admits that men "haven't flooded in".

Meanwhile Norland continues trying to shed the old image of pram-pushing and domesticity. "We're looking at our marketing literature," said Ms Yeomans. "We don't have things in it with a particularly feminine appeal such as needlework - we try to make sure it's acceptable to everyone."

There is a long way to go - recent statistics show that less than 3 per cent of child carers are male. Last year the Daycare Trust ran a campaign to encourage more men but they admit progress is slow.

National Childcare Week 2003 included an art competition for children to paint or draw their male hero, a conference on male carers entitled "he who cares wins" and famous fathers talking about their role as carers. "There hasn't been a massive rise but we are creating greater media awareness," said Daycare Trust press officer Beth Reid.

A MORI poll suggests that society does seem to favour men in the nursery - 84 per cent of those surveyed thought it a good idea. "Our evidence is that most tend to think of child care as a second career after they've done something else," said Ms Reid.

"But many are quite awkward - they get teased by friends. It is about changing the culture and making it acceptable."

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines nanny as: 1 a child's nurse.

2 (Brit.) an unduly protective person, institution, etc. (the nanny state).

3 (in full nanny goat) a female goat.

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