Is there really a need to recruit more male teachers into primary schools or is it a case of substance over quality? In many developed countries (including Australia, Finland, New Zealand, United States and the United Kingdom) there has, for the past ten years, been growing concern in relation to the apparent need for more male teachers in primary schools (Lahelma, 2000; Ashley, 2002; Martin and Marsh, 2005; Cushman, 2008; Carrington et al, 2007 and Sternod, 2011). Although this anxiety surrounding the numerical supremacy of females in schools is not new, it was problematic in the nineteenth century (Cohen, 1998), the focus of that concern today would appear to have shifted. Predominantly, the disquiet then was the female dominance in the primary education system lowering its professional status, whereas it is evident from the recent popular media reports that the current ‘crisis’ is focussed upon both the perceived underachievement of boys in academic tests and boys apathy towards school in general. The cause of the problem is being attributed to the shortage of men teachers and, consequently, male role models in the classroom (Utley, 2002; Asthana, 2009 and BBC News, 2011). This has led the Education Secretary to call for more men in primary education: ‘We need more male teachers –especially in primary schools – to provide children who often lack male role models at home – with male authority figures who can display both strength and sensitivity. Michael Gove (2011 cited in Moran 2011)
The Training and Development Agency (TDA) annual monitoring report (TDA 2009, p20) together with the General Teaching Council’s Annual Digest of Statistics (GTC, 2011) have highlighted the existence of a broad gender inequality in the primary school workforce, with males being significantly under-represented (15% male and 85% female). Therefore, the TDA have refocused their enlisting efforts and adopted new recruiting and retention campaigns aimed specifically at attracting more men into the teaching profession, predominantly for primary education. This would appear to have had the effect of creating a popular perception that it is currently easier for men to enter the teaching profession than women. This prevalent notion was vocalized recently by a potential Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) student, undertaking classroom work experience in a local primary school, when he stated, ‘It’s going to be easier for me to get onto a PGCE course because I’m male.’ Having both listened to, and participated in, several very informal discussions recently between prospective trainee teachers at a local University, it has become apparent that a common assertion now exists that an applicant’s gender, rather than ability, is now taking precedence in the initial selection procedure for primary teaching training places. Perhaps not unexpectedly, this might be causing some angst for (some) female applicants and warrants further scrutiny.
Drawing upon the experience gained as a Year 6 Teaching Assistant working in a primary school that employs three male teachers amongst its fifteen members of the teaching staff (a ratio of 1: 5, higher than the national average), this assignment will examine critically the arguments behind the drive to recruit more male teachers, consider the issues involved in the debate for male role models in primary schools before deliberating the necessity to align teacher and pupil gender in order to improve attainment levels. Consideration will also be given to how the addition of male teachers might affect the primary school landscape and what qualities the children perceive are important in a teacher. Finally, it will reflect on current research to ascertain if the evidence exists to support the drive to recruit more male teachers or whether these recent initiatives are (perhaps) a ‘box-ticking’ exercise to achieve a numerical gender balance to satisfy the requirements of the TDA Gender Action Plan...
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