by Anushka Asthana - The Observer

A major push to increase the number of male teachers in primary schools is being launched this week in an attempt to overcome a serious shortage which experts say is affecting boys.

Hundreds of men will attend events in schools, where heads, deputies and teachers will try to persuade them to join the profession. The sessions are being organised by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDAS), which hopes to capitalise on a recent surge in interest.

New figures reveal that inquiries by men about teaching in primary schools have risen by 30.4% in the past year. The number of male applicants has risen to one in five, while the proportion of those being accepted on courses has jumped from 15% to 18% in a year.

Campaigners say it is the first time in 100 years that there has been an increase, but it still leaves primary schools with a dearth of male staff.

“Whenever I talk about the need to get more men into primaries, the unions say I’m being anti-women, but it’s not that,” said Graham Holley, chief executive of the TDAS. “Everyone is trained to handle boys and girls in the classroom and it [the gender mix of staff] does not affect attainment. But education is about more than just academic achievement; it is about preparation for adulthood, and there is a need for a mix of role models in primary classrooms.”

Holley argued that schools needed to represent society better, “and if we are not attracting men, we are under-exploiting our pool of potential teachers”, he added.

This week’s events are a recognition that more needs to be done. One will take place at Coleridge primary school in north London, where a survey has been carried out to find out how children feel about the lack of male teachers. “Girls didn’t care, but the boys did. They said they preferred men because they knew what they liked and did more ‘doing things’,” said Shirley Boffey, the headteacher. “Men often have a different approach to delivering the curriculum: boys like to do, they like to go outside, they like to be active. Having male teachers does not only make a difference in the classroom, but also in the staff room; it changes the tone.”

At another London school, which expects to attract 100 men to its event this week, the headteacher said she was determined to change the image of primary school teaching. “Thirty or 40 years ago it was seen as a job that women did because it fitted in with their children. We want it to be seen as a serious profession out of which men and women can expect to make a long career. We want it to be seen as more hard-edged and dynamic,” said Alyson Russen, head of Millbank primary school.

Millbank has 24 teachers, of whom only four are men. “That is common,” added Russen, who said it was important to change the balance: “It makes a big difference. Schools should represent what is out there in the world. That is what works best for kids, what they need and thrive on. You want a mix in age, in linguistics, in ability and disability, in ethnic background and in gender. Teachers are powerful role models.”

Ben Keeling, a lead teacher at the school, hopes that speaking to men about his own experience, starting with the event this week, will help trigger a change: “The job is seen as a more nurturing, caring role and is stereotypically not seen as male. But, as Alyson says, ‘little boys need to learn to become men’.”