The recent statistics released by the General Teaching Council for England on the number of male teachers in schools, particularly primary schools, are concerning. While there has been a small (0.6%) increase in the number of primary schools that have at least one male teacher, over a quarter (27.2%) still do not. Overall, only 12% of primary school teachers are male.
We desperately need more male teachers. Take my brother and myself as an example as to why. My younger brother wants to go into primary-level teaching. He credits this desire to his Year 3 maths teacher, a young New-Zealander who was able to make maths enjoyable for the first time, a teacher who was able to connect with the children and share his own interests. My brother found the same thing at Secondary School – his choice of subjects for A-level was based upon academic enjoyment rather than simply as a means of getting onto a specific University course. The subjects that he retained were the ones where the teachers (again, predominantly young and male) were passionate about their own subject and were able to share this passion with the class.
The reality is that there are families across the country where, for one reason or another, there is no strong male role model for young boys, meaning that they must look elsewhere for influence. This influence can come from many different places, perhaps sometimes via sport or media but having a male teacher as a positive influence is infinitely more powerful.
At Secondary School, I was fortunate to have some fantastic teachers, both male and female. I honestly believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today without their inspiration. The two that stand out above all others were teachers for Chemistry and Russian. Both of these teachers were young men – in their twenties – and both of them had a passion for their subject. They weren’t people who went into teaching because they had failed at everything else, they were people who taught because they wanted to share their enthusiasm and that enthusiasm was highly infectious.
I’m aware that this is a controversial topic, there are papers like this which vehemently disagree with my own experience of male role models, although the authors do still conclude that there should be more men in early-years teaching. Increasing the number of male teachers is not designed in any way to disadvantage girls or detract from the fantastic work that female teachers do – it is simply one of many things that ought to be done to try to improve both academic and social eduction here in the UK. A simple fact is the boys perform worse than their female counterparts in GCSE exams. The causes of this are likely numerous and complicated but that provides no excuse for doing nothing at all.
I’m not so naïve as to think that the imbalance can be solved instantly – as with a gender imbalance in any profession, change will be long and hard work but there are, I think, many more things that the Government can do to make primary level teaching more attractive to young men. I’m reminded of the second series of The West Wing where college tuition bursaries are proposed as a means of getting more teachers. Whatever your views on the increases in tuition fees and whatever the realities of the payment burden, raised fees have a psychological barrier associated with them (however much this may be due to misinformation). Removing this barrier for a select number of aspirational young men on the condition that they agree to teach in state primary schools for a minimum term is one straightforward way of starting to redress the imbalance.
Who knows, maybe each one of these new teachers will inspire someone like my brother to go into teaching themselves. What if they were to each inspire two or three?