A Few Good Men

4 Nov

One of the questions that periodically raises its head is why it continues to be so difficult to attract and retain men into the teaching profession. It was an issue that TES Cymru covered in April this year as figures showed the percentage of women in the profession was at a ten-year high.

Current statistics show just how unbalanced the sector is. Of the 28,153 teachers in Wales, as of Stats Wales figures for 2011/12, only 7,399 (26.28%) were men. Women accounted for the remaining 20,754 (73.71%) qualified teachers. Why this is the case I am not really sure. It is no doubt a combination of factors. Teaching is perhaps seen as a “female” profession; the lack of male teaching role models for pupils going through the system may discourage them from taking up a career in education; there is a very real fear amongst men of being stigmatised for working with young children or maybe it is the treatment of male teachers as shown by this 2008 NUT survey highlighting that pupil disruption is more likely to occur with a male teacher.

Why is it important? Well, schools should be about opening up children to a host of different experiences. In that sense it is right to also look at the representation of the workforce and try to get a range of different backgrounds. While in this instance I’m looking at the gender balance of teachers it is equally important to look at the race, ethnicities and social backgrounds of the profession. To clarify this isn’t a plea for positive discrimination but a blog about the need to ensure that the merits of teaching are presented to the widest section of society possible.

One of the major issues that we have in education, and this extends well beyond the confines of the Welsh boarders, is the problem of attainment amongst boys. Year on year results show that girls are outperforming boys. Significantly so in some cases. The 2013 A level results, for example, show girls continued to outperform boys in Wales in all but the highest A* grades. Girls achieved a 98.1% pass rate compared to 97.0% for boys. We have seen some success in the engagement of boys through the Foundation Phases. It is one of the key successes of that policy. An Estyn report into the Foundation Phase highlighted how the approach is improving motivation and attitudes of learning with boys, in particular, benefiting. That is work that over the longer-term will hopefully help improve the performance of boys at end of key stage qualifications.

However, there is more that can be done. One argument for a solution to this issue is to increase the number of male teachers. There is some evidence, although more detailed work perhaps does need to be done in this field, which suggests boys work better under the tutelage of male teachers, or at least the presence of male staff in a school can be beneficial to the performance of boys. In 2012 Westminster’s All Party Group on literacy argued that the lack of male role models in school was hampering the engagement of young boys in reading. I’m not sure I buy the argument of the group’s chairman in the article that female teachers are less likely to know what books appeal to boys because of their gender. I’m sure they can objectively propose literature that appeals across gender and interests. I do though believe there may be something in the fact that a male role model encouraging reading as a past time to boys can be effective in stimulating interest. Figures show that young boys are less likely to read than young girls which in turn has a long-term impact on literacy standards between the genders as they progress through school. I would say it should be primarily the role of parents to encourage their children to invest time in reading. However, the effectiveness of male teachers is even more noticeable where there may not be a strong male role model in the home environment.

In targeting more male recruits we naturally have to guard against undermining women who wish to pursue a career in teaching. That being said this issue is one that has just not seen any viable long-term solutions. It is by no means a new concern. Back in 2005 the GTCW were calling for more men to be recruited into Welsh teaching posts. They were alarmed only 26.9% of the workforce were men. As stated above that figure has fallen further, albeit marginally, since then with no real plan in place to counteract the problem. One point this GTCW link raises is the underrepresentation of female head teachers. This is equally concerning and perhaps a consequence of a lack of men in the profession resulting in them being fast-tracked to leadership roles. An issue worthy of a separate blogpost perhaps?

There clearly does need to be work done to attract and retain more men into the teaching profession to address this gender imbalance, even if it is just in better promoting the profession to that section of society. It is of course a very difficult task to do with increasing workloads coupled with slashing cuts to pay, pensions and respect. Nonetheless, teaching remains a profession that provides a lot of satisfaction to those that enter with a passion for contributing to the betterment of future generations and their communities. Other nations are already taking steps. Estonia, who admittedly have even further to travel given male teachers only make up around 15% of their workforce, have created a national strategy to increase the numbers of men (and young) professionals in the classroom. The establishment of the new Education Workforce Council, and the remit placed on that body for promotion of the profession and training could be a good spring-board to start this work, but there could, and perhaps should, also be a role for the Welsh Government and regional consortia to look at this gender gap and put in place proposals to address it.


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