As a 24-year-old Primary NQT, there is one thing that separates me from the vast majority of my colleagues: I’m a man.
As of the last academic year, 85% of teachers working in primary and nursery settings are female. The average primary school or nursery with under nine full-time equivalent teaching staff, of which there are many, is unlikely to contain even one man.
Why does the divide exist?
Sadly, I think the answer – predominantly at least – is that a lot of men still instinctively perceive teaching, particularly in primary and early years, to be a job better suited to females. Men associate the role with nurturing and caring, traits which are stereotypically associated with women.
But there is also something of a vicious circle. Growing up, boys are not seeing men standing in front of them in the classroom. As they develop and start thinking about career choices, they are not seeing their fathers, brothers and male friends working or training to become a teacher, so why would they consider it?
The most obvious question to ask next is: what impact is this having on our children’s education?
Once again this year, girls outperformed boys across the board in Key Stage 2 SATs – and by significant margins in some cases. I know of no evidence to suggest that this is related to the gender divide in teaching. However, it surely provides food for thought, and I would suggest that the correlation between the gender divide in Key Stage 2 achievement and in the workforce educating those pupils must be explored further.
This is not about the quality of the teacher; it is about the differences in how young children can respond to adults of different genders.
Would men be able to relate more to young boys, given they were once one themselves? I believe that in some cases yes, they would. This is reinforced by research from the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) which, prior to its closure, published figures showing that half of men would be more likely to approach a male teacher about issues around school work or bullying.
This highlights another issue: the need for male teachers from a pastoral perspective. As we know, children come from many and varied home contexts and, as outlined by The Centre for Social Justice, “where there is a shortage of father involvement, the presence of other positive male role models is vital.” So for there to be only a 15% chance of that happening in primary school, where children spend the vast majority of their time outside of the home, is a huge problem.
Preparing our young people for the world they are going to grow up in is one of our core responsibilities. A big part of that preparation is the development of interpersonal skills. For a child to have only conversed – at least at any length or with any regularity – with females during their initial schooling will without doubt have an adverse effect on their confidence when they arrive in secondary school, where they will be interacting with adults of both genders on a regular basis.
What can be done?
The priority must be demonstrating to boys and young men that primary teaching is not a gender-specific profession. That means equal male and female representation at teaching careers events, and in any form of school or university outreach that teacher training providers might be engaged in. It also means male teachers, such as myself, making sure that we are strong advocates for our profession and dispelling any myths around the feminine nature of the job.
There are fantastic male teachers and there are fantastic female teachers – neither is better suited to the profession than the other.
We need more information on the true impact of this disparity and more discussion within the sector about what might be done to address it, because most of all, we need more men to consider teaching as the rewarding, enjoyable career that it is.
Ryan Stevens is a year 3 teacher at Albert Pye Primary School in Suffolk, part of the Active Learning Trust