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Men and Teaching; The perfect match, surely?

The employment gap between men and women at Primary and Secondary level continues to widen. In this blog, I ask why this is happening, how we can address it and why I believe it’s crucial we do so in the long term.

First, some food for thought.

Currently, 84.8 per cent of full time primary school teachers are female and 62.4 per cent of secondary school teachers. 91.5 per cent of teaching assistants and 82.0 per cent of support staff are female. Overall, 80.1 per cent of all school staff are female.

Not only that, this is part of a downward trend in male numbers, with the female teacher proportion going up from 72.9% in 2010 to 73.8% in 2015.

But it doesn’t have to be like this, does it? Back in post war Britain, the teaching profession was, in fact, 3-1 male dominated. Former soldiers, like my own grandfather, went into the classroom. He was a veteran of France, North Africa and Greece and certainly didn’t see anything unusual about wanting to teach the young men and women of tomorrow. He went on to become a successful Primary Head teacher.

Back in 1945, Males outnumbered women in the classroom 3-1

So, what’s to stop us getting more of an equilibrium back, and why does this even matter anyway?

I spoke to a male Primary teacher, Colin, a teacher at a large primary school in the North West of England, and asked him what he believes is keeping men away.

“I do think a small minority attach a stereotype to a male primary school teacher, particularly if they are a key stage 1 teacher. There is a stereotype that they are gay or camp.” He says. “I've worked with two straight male teachers who loved working in key stage 1 and reception, but I think just from hearing lads in the pub chatting that there's a bit of a stereotype there.”

Darren, a Key Stage 1 teacher from near London, mirrored those sentiments.

“I think being a Primary teacher is seen as quite a nurturing and motherly role and naturally, this attracts more women than men” he said. “Men may also be put off by the fact that image wise, their friends may view it as a bit of a sissy thing to work with young children”.

This surprised me, as I thought this idea of men not wanting to appear too feminine was dead. But I got the same response from others too. Tim, a male KS1 primary school teacher, now teaching abroad, said that he believed there was a perception that “to be an effective primary school teacher you had to be somehow more feminine in manner and outlook”.

Colin went onto highlight how the absence of men in his school has led him on a certain career path.

“I'm now at a large school and out of 25 teachers, i'm one of only three men. I think the female teachers would like more males. My current class have 18 boys and 9 girls, they are massively into football, like me, which I use to my advantage and I think they like the fact I can relate to them. I've also found, being male, I've been automatically given a PE or sports club and ICT to lead - which luckily I like. I think because I'm a young sporty male they see me as someone the challenging year 6 boys can maybe relate to and look up to. My last head warned me that I need to be careful I don't get stuck in year 6 because I'm a bloke.”

This seems a shame to me, because teachers like Colin are surely needed even more at reception and Key Stage 1, where the percentage of male teachers depletes further still. We need young, male, teacher role models. That’s not to say that gender is a key driver in whether a teacher is an effective role model or mentor. It’s only to say that many men have the perfect characteristics for teaching, but are rejecting the path. TeachFirst agree with me. They have recently launched a campaign to get more men into the classroom. Brett Wigdortz, founder and chief executive of Teach First, said: "It is a real loss that the profession is missing out on talented classroom leaders because huge pools of people are being put off by misconceptions about teaching.”

Britain has the fourth highest number of single parent households in the EU, with 1.8 million of them as of 2015. The vast majority are single mum households. Father figures are sadly lacking for many of our nation’s children at home. And yet, many children are without positive male relationships in the sphere where they spend most of their young lives; school.

The solution to this may be complex. A drive to dispel myths about what a Primary school teacher is and isn’t would be a good start. Seeing and hearing more from successful male teachers, particularly at early years, would be a step forward too. In wider society, it’s important that the media and others provide a truly positive perception of men who work with children, in all settings. I can’t see an equilibrium happening over night, but in time, you never know.

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