by John Crace, The Guardian

Primary schools have long been an almost entirely man-free zone, but research published last week suggests that secondary schools could soon be heading the same way. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency 23.8% of those qualifying to become teachers in 2006-07 were men – a fall of 1.5% on the previous year and the lowest figure over the past five. Despite repeated government drives to recruit more male teachers, men just aren’t that interested.

John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, believes many men have been put off teaching in primary schools – often regarded as a woman’s job anyway – by an increasing vigilance over child abuse. “People have become much more suspicious of men who want to work with young children,” he says. “These perceptions are absurd, but men are reluctant to be stigmatised in this way.”

The problem in secondary schools is less clear-cut. “We’ve got into a vicious cycle,” says John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. “As more women started coming in to the profession, there were fewer male teachers to be role models.”

Not everyone will be broken-hearted by this decline, though. While it has been a mantra in education circles that boys need more male role models, a report last year for the Department for Children, Schools and Families suggested that male teachers were often much nastier to boys than girls, while women treated both sexes equally.

Either way, it’s possible these statistics are already out of date. What with the squeeze on private-sector jobs, it has been reported that record numbers of men have been making inquiries about teacher training. And the City boys have led the way. Let’s just hope they don’t teach maths.