A MEN-only course in childcare aims to tackle the sector’s gender gap as the Scottish Government prepares to roll out more nursery provision for youngsters.

The 12-week fast-track pilot at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) includes evening sessions to cater for those already in work.

It is hoped that some students will go on to complete a HNC in childcare and increase the level of men working in the sector from its current level of 4%.

Delivered by Inverness College UHI, the course is the latest attempt to encourage parity in gender amongst the workforce, with another programme advertised at Edinburgh College.

Heather Keyes, of Inverness College UHI, told the BBC there is “much more work to be done” to address the dearth of qualified males working in early years education.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that around 11,000 new staff will have to join this workforce by 2020 in order to deliver the Scottish Government’s pledge to give 30 hours of free care per week to eligible children aged between two and four.

The UHI course is backed by a grant from the Scottish Funding Council.

Keyes said: “This isn’t just about meeting a government target. There’s a huge amount of research that shows role models of both genders are critical in early years, and that men bring different skills and approaches to learning, which is important for child development.

“Men working in early years also report high levels of job satisfaction. Not only is it a career full of variety, with indoor and outdoor working, it offers flexible hours and lots of opportunities for progression. We are delighted to receive this grant and look forward to continuing the work we’re doing to encourage men into the profession.”