Men make up just 16% of primary school teachers, and nearly a tenth of boys have never had a male teacher, new research reveals. Does it matter?
Jack Charles, eight, from Southfields in south-west London, is looking forward to going back to school in September. He is excited about having a male teacher for the first time since starting Sheringdale primary school. "I feel good about it," he says. "I will work harder and behave better with a male teacher, 'cos they're stricter. Sometimes I am naughty and I get distracted."
Jack's situation is widely shared by primary school boys, according to research published today by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA). A poll, carried out by Yougov for the TDA, of 600 eight- to 11-year-old boys across England has found that 39% of boys currently have no lessons, including sports and music, with a male teacher. And 8% have never been taught by a man. The survey found that, on average, English primary schools have only three male teachers, and one in 10 do not have any men on the teaching staff at all. Yet the majority of boys surveyed said the presence of a male teacher makes them behave better and 42% said they worked harder with men.
Shyam Patel, aged nine, has not had a male teacher since year 1 at his school, Woodfield junior in Wolverhampton. He is looking forward to having a male teacher next year. "I am a boy and I think I bond better with a man," he says. "My friends say they like male teachers better, too."
And 11-year-old Ben Park, who goes to All Saints primary school in Childs Hill in north London, agrees boys find it easier to work with men. Last year, his class had a male teacher for the first time. "I had been looking forward to having a boy teacher all year. He was more boyish." Although Ben says he did well with his female teachers, he noticed that some of the other boys in class preferred having a male teacher. "They seemed to work much harder," he says. "Mr Taylor made literacy subjects fun and he always did really exciting stuff."
Ben, Jack and Shyam would all like there to be more male teachers – as would 49% of the boys in the TDA's survey and 83% of parents. "Jack's class is 75% boys," says Sue Charles, his mother. "It's quite rowdy and I think they will benefit from having a male teacher." It is a view shared by the government. Jim Knight, the schools minister, says: "We would like to see more male teachers, particularly in primary and nursery settings. While we have seen an increase in the number of men training to be primary school teachers, we want to further improve the diversity of the workforce."
But the numbers of male primary teachers are not growing enough. Applications by men for teacher training courses are increasing – from 14% to around 19% of candidates – but most men still choose to go into secondary teaching.
Primary v secondary
According to the most recent figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, men make up just 16% of all primary school teachers, compared with 44% of all secondary school teachers. While two-thirds of secondary headteachers are men, only one-third of primary school head teachers are. But although everyone seems to agree that more male teachers would be a good idea, would this necessarily mean boys' educational attainment would improve?
Girls outperform boys, particularly in literacy. In reading, 87% of girls, compared with 79% of boys, achieved level 4 or above at key stage 2; while for writing, three-quarters of girls reached the required standard, compared with 59% of boys.
Graham Holley, chief executive at the TDA, is quick to point out that the lack of male teachers is not a direct cause of boys' lower scores in literacy. "The attainment gap is not due to having male or female teachers," he says, "but to the way education is delivered, which plays to girls' strengths." Statistical analysis, by Durham University in 2005, of around 9,000 pupils' reading, maths, science, non-verbal ability and English vocabulary tests at age 11 found the teacher's gender was unrelated to educational attainment.
Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, says: "While diversity in education is important, the disparity in boys' and girls' achievement is caused by a great number of factors. One of our key concerns is to change the cultural assumption that reading is more of a feminine activity. Male teachers can be really effective in championing reading and learning to young men, but other male role models in the family and popular culture also have a crucial role to play." The consensus, then, is that gender does not determine attainment, but that men can be a beneficial influence for some pupils. "Where gender matters is for children from single-parent families where there aren't any warm, caring male role models," says Andy Graham, a supply teacher in the Bristol area.
Lee Winstanley, a teacher at Halsnead primary school in Knowsley, agrees. "Children who do not have a male role model do enjoy having contact with a male," he says. "I am a positive role model, but I am not a surrogate father." This is borne out by the survey, which found that a sizeable minority of boys believed male teachers understand them better and can be relied upon for good advice. Some of this is about confidence: 44% of those questioned said male teachers helped them enjoy school more, and well over a third felt more confident with male teachers. And 13% said they wished they were more like the male teachers at school.
"A good teacher is a good teacher," says Trevelyan May, a year 6 teacher at Sholing junior school in Southampton. "Maybe seeing a male teacher with a love of learning helps motivate boys more. A male teacher will probably find it easier to unlock some boys' brains than a female of the same ability." Colin Rowling, who has just retired as headteacher of Halsnead primary, says schools need to be more representative in all sorts of ways. "Primary schools must be more diverse, otherwise they do not project a balanced view of society to the child."
In fact, better progress has been made in attracting disabled and black and minority ethnic minority people to teaching than has been made in attracting men: 12% of new trainees are BME and 5% declared a disability, broadly in line with general population trends. It is only men who are under-represented in primary education – and the dominance of female classroom assistants and other support staff exacerbates the problem.
This makes it hard to recruit men into primary school teaching, says Graham. "At the school I was teaching at most recently, there were no male teachers," he says. "That isn't particularly attractive to men."
"The perception is that primary teaching is a more pastoral role," adds May. The stereotype of primary teachers – that they do little else other than help children make potato-print paintings – is still a widely held view, he believes. Others are put off by the prospect of teaching younger children. "I think the emotional requirement of being a teacher is astonishingly draining. A lot of men recoil in horror when I tell them I have been teaching 30 five-year-olds," says Graham.
There is also the misconception that primary teachers earn a lot less than other teachers. "A lot of people tend to think primary teachers are on a lower pay scale and ask when I will be promoted to secondary school," says Winstanley. In fact, pay scales for all teachers are the same. The TDA says a lot is being done to address this false impression and to encourage more men to become primary teachers. TV advertising campaigns are being geared to appeal to men more, emphasising the financial rewards and good prospects for progression that they say primary school teaching offers. But, in the end, men also have to up their game, says Holley. "Men do not apply as well. They tend to leave it later and don't make such good applications." Many men underestimate how competitive primary training is: most places will be filled well before Christmas, he says. They need to get work experience in a school, or volunteer with young people, for instance – and get their application in early.
And schools themselves need to seek male teachers and support staff more actively. Jack's school has tried hard to increase the diversity of staff. Although Sheringdale is a small school, in addition to two full-time and one part-time classroom teachers, music lessons and individual support for children with special educational needs are provided by men and there are three male support staff. Something that Jack, for one, is very pleased about.