Julian’s Early Years job fits with family life

If you’re a dad that knows the dash from work to nursery then why not think about combining the two?


If you’re a dad looking for a job that fits in with your children’s nursery day then why not actually work in a nursery? That’s what Julian Sandford did. The father of two took a circuitous route into it but he’s now an Early Years Educator level 3 and Forest School Leader at Brookehill nursery in Barnet. It’s a job that fits well with the father-of-two’s family life.

As part of the Fatherhood Institute’s Men in The Early Years (MITEY) campaign he spoke about being a working dad and why his unusual job really shouldn’t be unusual at all.

Did you always want to work in Early Years?

No. I left school at seventeen with five O levels not really too sure what I wanted to do. A career adviser pointed me in the direction of car mechanic! The irony of this is that I went to school with one of my current colleagues, who is female, and she was pointed towards childcare.

Car mechanic wasn’t for me and after that I worked for Our Price music, trained as a driving instructor – before realising that was too scary – then became a postman for Royal Mail in order to achieve some work life balance.

Did you always want work to fit around your family?

My daughter was born September 2007. I was very keen to be a big part of my child’s life so decided to go part time, sharing child care. I worked 5am-10am every morning, came home and took over child care from my wife who worked 10.30am(ish)-5pm(ish). I remember it as a magical time in my life but I must have been knackered!

The first week I went in for my part time role, which had taken some negotiating to come to fruition, I signed in and pointed out to my line manager I couldn’t do the duty she had assigned me as I was leaving at 10am. It’s fair to say she wasn’t very supportive. I do have to say after these initial teething problems, Royal Mail were pretty supportive and flexible.

After our son was born in 2009 I changed my hours, working Thursday, Friday and Saturday (my wife worked Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday).  Looking back on this I feel incredibly proud of my wife and I. At times it was tough and we didn’t always see enough of each other but I now have the most amazing relationship with both my children. They accidentally call me mum, and call their mum dad. I think having a dad who is around for school pick up or drop off, cooks the tea, cleans the house etc shows them that everyone has to pull together to make life work.

What was your route in to childcare?

When my daughter started at nursery, neither she or myself were easy settlers. I spent a long time in the setting, listening to her crying, trying not to cry myself and sometimes playing with my daughter. The head teacher came over to me and asked me if I had ever considered working in early years. I think that was the moment that started the ball rolling.

When my son also joined the nursery I wanted to give something back and got involved as a parent governor and then chair of governors.

When my son left the nursery I decided to retrain as a nursery nurse. I went to the nursery and asked all the how, why, where questions and they were really supportive. They were incredibly supportive, even helping to find a tutor for me who would visit both the nursery and my home. I completed my qualification within a year, volunteering three days in the nursery, working three days at Royal Mail and studying on most Sundays and evenings. Work, life balance was on the edge! It was a challenging but rewarding year.

Why should men be encouraged into Early Years? 

I really think it is a matter of balance for the staff and the children. People talk a lot about gender differences but surely this is an advantage. Different ideas and ways of doing things adding to the diversity of the work place. 

I’ve read lots about how a man cannot be as caring as a woman but I can assure you that is not true. As a man I think I show the children lots of empathy and I pride myself on my nurturing positive ethos. Of course, everyone is different and draw on different theories and experiences, regardless of gender, to populate their own personal ethos.

I have now met, encouraged (a man that worked in marketing retrained and kindly said I was his inspiration) and worked with a number of men.

What’s the best thing about the job? 

Watching children develop and blossom into amazing little people and really achieving the best possible outcome you can for every child. It sounds like a massive cliché but if you are doing this job for any other reason it probably isn’t the job for you.

I have a passion for Early Years and want children to be hungry to learn rather than conditioned to learn. Early Years is where this happens and then seems to get lost with the pressure of curriculum in school.

My other passion is Forest School, which sounds all Bear Grylls and survival, but is about nurture and positive reinforcement encouraging children to learn vital life skills for themselves in an outdoor environment. Watching the faces of three- and four-year olds as they watch you cut down (safely) a dead tree is amazing.

What’s been the reaction from parents?

I think some parents find it difficult to comprehend their child bonding with a man as their keyworker. This is the minority rather than the majority. I had one parent who told our lead teacher that they didn’t feel it was appropriate for their daughter to have a male key worker. The lead teacher was amazingly supportive of both myself and the parent and over time I won over the family. In fact, they told their neighbour that they recommended me!

I was given what I think was a compliment from a parent only last week. I have been working quite hard with her son to help him settle. Both mum and son were quite anxious so I was using different calming techniques to help and we had made massive steps forward. As she was leaving after a successful separation, she turned to the head teacher and said “It’s so nice to have men in the nursery” (yes, we have two men, a teacher and myself!) My head teacher agreed, and the parent then said “But Julian isn’t like a man, he’s like woman.” I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or worried. Is this how I am judged? I can assure you I am a man and I have the privilege of having a job I am passionate about.

Do you feel added pressure as one of a relatively few men in Early Years? 

No. I feel proud, I hope I’m making a difference, to the children I care for, for the families I work with, to the environment of the setting. But I’m no more important than the other members of the team, be they male or female.

Every adult within a setting is a role model. Yes, it is great that men are encouraged to work in early years but it is also important to remember they need to be there for the right reasons. Pay is often given as the reason men don’t work in early years. I’m earning about the same as when I was a postman (I do need a qualification which postmen don’t) but it doesn’t stop men working as postmen.

How does being a father impact your ability to do the job? 

Without my children I don’t think I would have found my place within the workforce, so for me, being a father had a massive impact. Again, this isn’t always the case.

I think being a father who had recently been through the system gave me an advantage to begin with, but working with children is a constant cycle of learning and self-improvement that never ends.

What would I say to another man thinking about going into early years? 

Make sure this is the job for you, don’t do it for the six weeks off in the summer, do it for the privilege of getting paid nine months a year, (yes, we only get paid for 9 months of the year!) working with children that will both amaze and surprise you. Make sure you test the water, find a setting you like and volunteer.

Be ready for challenges, both from colleagues (lots of early years practitioners, male and female, think their way is best) and parents. This is all part of working in a team within the community. Embrace it and be open and transparent. Share the passion with everyone.

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