More than a quarter of England’s primary schools do not have a male teacher. This is the conclusion of a – for once – interesting and worthwhile Government survey.
Our son, who started school last September, is the only boy in his year. Most of the time he’s happy enough but, every so often, declares himself “fed up of girls”.
Like the schools highlighted in the survey, the staffroom at his village primary is all-women. It’s important to make clear that you couldn’t wish for a more talented or pleasant group of professionals. Their teaching skills are always ranked at the highest – outstanding – level. They know everybody’s name and always find time to talk.
But, oh how this particular five year-old loves it when young male sports teachers come in to give football coaching. Likewise, he counts down the days to his weekly swimming lesson at the local pool because, as he explains, it’s a “man teacher”.
It’s just the same with his fortnightly half-hour riding lesson. His face lights up if it’s “Mr Pimlott”. It’s not that they’re soft with him. In fact, he probably gets away with more – having curly blond hair and blue eyes – with the women. It must be something in the way men talk to him. If it’s swimming he kicks his legs harder and if it’s riding he sits up straighter. Would it be the same in the classroom? Would he try harder if he was reading to a man?
And all this when, unlike many in today’s fractured society, he has (unless it’s rugby) a father at home. He also has uncles, a grandfather and plenty of other men in his life away from the classroom. But what about those who, because of absentee fathers and the lack of male teachers in primary schools, do not have regular contact with an adult man until they move up to secondary school?
Does it matter? Seemingly yes. Some 600 eight to 11-year-olds were quizzed for the Training and Development Agency for Schools research. More than half, 51 per cent, said the presence of a male teacher made them behave better. My two primary schools both had male headteachers – political correctness hadn’t been invented then and they were, in fact, “headmasters” – and respected as pillars of the local community. One lived in the schoolhouse next to the playground. How times have changed in the last 25 years or so.
A multi-million pound campaign is to be launched to encourage men back into teaching, urging that it’s not solely a feminine career. Let’s hope that, like so many of these initiatives, all the focus isn’t on large towns and cities. We need to keep men in the countryside too. Single friends would agree, but that’s a different story.