When you suggest that a baby attend a professional conference, you will often be overwhelmed with a polarised set of responses.
Some will insist that there is no space for babies and children, that they would cry through keynotes, and be distracting for their parents and other delegates.
Others argue that they should have pride of place at CPD events, righteously rebuffing criticisms with the reminder that adults, too, cough through seminars or have their attention diverted by their phones.
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Many who champion family-friendly conference spaces remind their audiences that the core business of the education system is children.
Discouraging their presence at events aimed at improving the quality of teaching and learning or leadership is ironic, to say the least.
Often, the larger question of Saturday conferences is raised: should we be expecting teachers to attend, or even offering professional events on a Saturday when teacher parents would otherwise be at home with their families?
The key here is choice: the ability to make professional and personal decisions that suit an individual’s circumstance. But the reality is that choice is often removed by social constructs – for women, single and solo parents, and parents who do not have extended family nearby in particular.
Division of labour
ONS data from 2016 found that women across the UK take on 60 per cent more unpaid domestic labour, including childcare, than men.
When it comes to taking time out of their parenting duties to pursue potentially career-progressing opportunities at the weekend or in the evening, therefore, women are more likely to face barriers presented by childcare than men.
What’s more, in the early days of motherhood and on maternity leave, teachers may want to stay connected with their professional identity. For those who are breastfeeding, barring them from professional conferences is also denying them entry purely based on their status as mothers, which treads dangerously into discrimination territory.
We know that professional development and networking opportunities are key to career progression, but if we refuse to acknowledge that children might need to accompany their parents to weekend or evening events, then we will never make the much-needed practical steps towards addressing gender inequality in school leadership.
For conference childcare to be feasible, however, it’s important for event organisers to consider their context and capacity.
The following options provide a sliding scale of solutions to consider:
Where babies or children simply cannot be accommodated (yet), live-streaming or filming all or part of your event can provide a simple remote-access alternative.
Including the international breastfeeding icon on your event marketing will allow you to gauge the interest of your parent-audience. Invite delegates to discuss their individual childcare needs with you and keep an open, solutions-focused mindset.
Offering childcare expenses in the same way you offer travel expenses can reduce the financial strain of attending your event and allow teachers to organise babysitters for the day or evening.
Where your event is likely to attract a number of parents with children, use local knowledge and social media platforms to source DBS-checked babysitters. Ask that delegates book their childcare in advance and adhere to standard guidelines around ratios.
Think creatively about allocating a room and providing activities for the children attending, and ensure that parents sign a form agreeing to any risk assessment or safeguarding procedures.
If you anticipate a large crowd of children, or want to take the hassle out of childcare completely, contact an events crèche that provides the pop-up-shop equivalent of childcare, with toys, fully trained practitioners, a sign-up website and years of experience.
Emma Sheppard is founder of the MaternityTeacher/PaternityTeacher Project and a lead practitioner for English