Getting men into teaching: the battle continues…

2 September 2011

Jeremy Davies writes:

New figures out today reveal that one in four primary schools in England still has no male registered teacher, and in total just 12% of primary school teachers are male. There are only 48 male teachers in state nurseries. The numbers in Wales and Northern Ireland are not much better, and in Scotland they’re worse.

The Government’s response – to announce a “troops to teachers” programme, to be launched later this year. According to education secretary Michael Gove, this will “ensure that there are many more male role models entering teaching”. As well as providing jobs for some of those redundant services personnel we heard about yesterday, no doubt.

Solving the lack of men in teaching is not about providing male role models – the concept that gets trotted out endlessly by the ‘Broken Britain’ brigade – certainly not, at least, in the sense that Mr Gove implies with his idea of drafting in the military.

Women are just as capable as men of instilling discipline in children, of educating them and inspiring them with ideas, dreams and ambition. We don’t need to draft men in to do that! Of course, we want men who teach to be great at all these things – far from automatic if they’re coming from a completely different professional background, without substantial, good quality training!

What this is about is presenting children, from the youngest ages onwards, with clear-as-crystal, living examples of men in caring roles…and of men and women working together to shape our inner worlds.

At the moment, we rely almost entirely on families to provide children with this experience…though we do little, through mechanisms like the parental leave system, pre- and ante-natal education and support for separating families, to ensure it’s available to them.

Getting more men into work with young children will take time…the lack of young men queuing up to work in nurseries and primary schools a symptom – and cause – of the huge gender divide that still plagues us. Quick fix responses that focus on outmoded concepts of what men can bring to the table will not solve the problem…and perpetuate the idea that where bringing up children is concerned, men are ‘other’ .

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  • Rob Williams says:

    Of course some troops are women these days. IN fact there are a lot more women in the armed forces than there are men in nurseries and pre-schools.

    We need more that troops to teachers to make a real impact on the gender divided teaching profession. And yes – we need to get away from the idea that women teachers are good at doing certian things and male teachers are needed to role model other behaviours. All behaviours required by teachers fall well within the phsyical and emotional ranges of men as well as women.

  • Fiona McAllister says:

    Let’s not let the disciplinarians monopolise role modelling! It’s important for children to seen men and women in caring roles and to view caring and teaching as sutable for both sexes. ‘Traditionally female’ behaviours/professions should be seen as potential models for well-rounded children’s development. And of course we need such roles to be valued through social status and better pay.

    • Charlie says:

      I guess this also goes back to our childrearing models, how we let our children play and develop their social and emotional selves – it was interesting that largely through the influence of the feminist movement of the late 20th century it was allowable and OK to Masculinise our girls but not acceptable to feminise our boys – this is still very much the case and we do not on the whole see gender neutral early years childcare practice indeed we seem to be witnessing the opposite.

      Children of course learn from the way adults behave and mirror this behaviour as they develop so what men and women do is immensely influential. As mums, dads, carers and practitioners awareness of gender is important in what we share with our youngest children as this impacts on how they turn out as adults. There is the eternal fear that if boys play girls games and dress up in frocks they will grow up to be gay – very little is said about girls dressing up as firefighters? is male homosexuality still the elephant in the room?

  • David Bartlett says:

    It’s great that the Government want more men working in schools. But I agree that all this talk about male role models tends to go hand in hand with traditional views about how we expect men and women to behave.

    The problem with this is that all the evidence suggests that an open and flexible attitude to gender roles leads to more confident, fulfilled, productive individuals. We want boys and girls to have positive, well-rounded perceptions about the (largely interchangeable) roles men and women can take on in society. With primary schools and nurseries still largely a no-go area for men, this is very hard to achieve.

    Of course, there are other reasons to increase the number of men working in schools and nurseries. We need more good teachers, and there are many men out there who would be good at it (including some ex-soldiers!). And more male teachers will increase the diversity of experiences represented in the schools workforce – which can only enrich the experience of the children who go there.

    For me, the best news is that Michael Gove seems to recognise the broad role male teachers should take on, when he talks about wanting more “male authority figures who can display both strength and sensitivity”.

    He is also right to highlight that “one of the principle concerns that men considering teaching feel is the worry that they will fall foul of rules which make normal contact between adults and children a legal minefield”. These concerns about “normal contact” are not just about physical assault, but also about long-held fears of many male staff of being falsely accused of sexually abusive or intrusive behaviour.

    So we need to look urgently at why men aren’t queuing up to work in nurseries and primary schools. This is partly about of it not being seen as “manly” by young men, and it’s not that well paid of course. But it’s also about schools themselves needing to change to be “male-friendly”.

    This is all familiar territory, and there is no magic bullet. But we could make strides if we take a long, hard look at what needs to change for schools to be genuinely “male-friendly”. We might find that a male-friendly school is one that, amongst other things, is fairly robust about discipline (Gove’s other theme). This is not because men are better at exerting authority than women, or because we want men to do more of the disciplining in schools. A greater emphasis on discipline in schools would be one way to attract and retain male recruits, because it would offer a vision of what teaching is all about that is well-rounded and appealing to both men and women.

    I think this echoes the sort of thinking needed about fathers/men and the riots – it’s about how to enhance and tap into men’s social capital.

  • John Kay says:

    I actually think part of the problem here is that in a general sense, men see their role as being to work…all the time…so whereas for women there’s a huge appeal to a job like teaching, because it fits in so well with having kids…men won’t necessarily see it that way. We’re brought up to be the ones who bring home the bacon – all year round.

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