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Increasing the number of male teachers, particularly in primary schools, is important - but not for the reasons oft...
Increasing the number of male teachers, particularly in primary schools, is important - but not for the reasons often argued. It is only one part of the gender imbalance in teaching which needs attention, according to a book on the future of the profession out this month.

From victims of change to agents of change is the result of a year-long study by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a centre-left think tank.

In one chapter, Merryn Hutchings points out fewer than 12% of primary class teachers are men. In both primary and secondary schools the proportion of men has decreased by 12% over the past 10 years. And, as most male teachers are older, the situation is set to worsen.

There is no evidence to support the general assumption that children - particularly younger boys - need male role models in the classroom. There is also confusion about what kind of masculinity should be modelled. Indeed, research suggests pupils value good, fair teachers regardless of gender.

The other side of the coin is the relative preponderance of men in management positions. In primaries, 41% of heads are men while, in secondaries, 16% of experienced men are heads or deputies, compared to 9% of experienced women . Male teachers are more ambitious and appear less concerned by work/life balance issues, while a career break proves a distinct disadvantage for women.

The third prong of the problem is the persistence of gendered subjects in the secondary curriculum. 'Male subjects' - such as maths and science - have more male teachers and higher status. Since these tend to be the shortage subjects, it is difficult to prioritise recruitment according to gender.

These three prongs are linked and all very resistant to change, despite the best efforts of the Teacher Training Agency and others. They contribute to a structure of gender relations in schools which reflect those in society, where working with young children is still perceived as 'women's work'.

Mr Hutchings makes a number of recommendations, many requiring councils to provide advisory or support services. The discourse surrounding 'women's work' must be tackled head-on, for example, with secondary schools giving boys the opportunity to help young children. While training to be primary teachers, men may need particular support, especially on the issue of touching children.

Training for school governors needs to include gender issues, such as flexible working patterns for school managers.

Dealing with gendered subjects must work both ways. Boys must be encouraged to take 'female subjects' and efforts should focus as much on getting men to teach female subjects as on recruiting women to teach male subjects.

Mr Hutchings concludes the shortage of male teachers is just one factor within a school culture which must be changed.

-- 'From victims of change to agents of change' is available from Central Books on 0845 4589911

Martin Johnson

Education research fellow

Institute of Public Policy Research

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