The Urge to Scribble

October 14, 2007

Role models are for life, not just for primary school

Filed under: Uncategorized — theurgetoscribble @ 11:29 pm
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There has been a recurring cry recently for more male primary school teachers. In April the then Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson, made a speech to the Fabian Society where he launched a recruitment drive for male teachers to act as role models to young boys. The Training and Development Agency is running a campaign to persuade more men to teach. Last Sunday, an article in The Observer Magazine belated the lack of men choosing to go into Primary School teaching. Politicians, commentators and the Training and Development Agency are all working themselves up into a paranoia that the children of today are growing up without appropriate male role models. To hear their opinions expressed you could easily believe that if the person teaching boys (and girls) their reading, writing and arithmetic did not have the correct chromosomes then they would all be running wild, re-enacting the preliminary stages of the Lord of the Flies.


Male primary school teachers are an unusual species. The Observer article sets the figure at one in eight – apparently exactly the same proportion as at the beginning of the last century. But these male teachers are taken to be an unquestionably good thing. Boys, it seems, will ‘work harder and behave better when it is a man towering above them at the blackboard.’ Surely the automatic response to this is not just to put more men into schools but to look at why the boys behave better for the men. Boys will, after all, have to work with women throughout their life. Is it not better then, that they should learn to respect and work with them as early as possible?


The problem is also posed as an entirely contemporary one, whereas, as we have already said, the proportion of male to female primary school teachers is exactly the same as it was one hundred years ago. It seems fair to point out that the male of the species have hardly suffered in terms of achievement in the past century despite the overwhelming feminine influence dominating their early years.


What is infuriating is the unthinking assumption that only men can communicate with boys. It reflects a wider assumption, currently fashionable, that communication between men and women is difficult, to the extent that they speak different “languages”. If this is the case, it seems amazing that we function at all, every day life relying pretty much on members of the population speaking to each other and working together. Given the many things we expect of our children and the many things we expect them to achieve, it astounds me that we don’t expect them to continue to strive for basic attainment in social interaction.


Graham Holley, chief executive of the TDA has a more balanced view of what education needs. “It’s not that we think that men make better teachers,” he says.”What we’re saying is that education is about more than academic achievement: it’s about preparation for adulthood. Society is diverse, so the teaching profession should be as well.” That seems to be a sentiment worth agreeing with. Teaching is, after all a worthwhile profession, which should not be seen to be closed to a person because of their gender. As much as attempts are made to encourage women to be engineers and physicists then we should work to encourage men to be teachers and nurses and any other traditionally female dominated profession. But there is a limit.


According to the Observer article: ‘A TDA study has found that while women spend time and effort putting together a strong application, men tend to make much less effort. They fill in the forms badly, hand them in late, and are less likely to spend time volunteering in schools to gain experience.’ In the article this was painted as a problem that the bodies receiving applications had to face. Surely it is a problem that the applicants have to face. They cannot expect to get a job if they do not put in the time and effort to filling in a form and getting some basic work experience. It is the same in any profession. Teaching should not be any different. A teacher needs perseverance and dedication to the job, if that cannot even be dredged up for the application then that is probably a sign of the candidates unsuitably, whatever the sex.


Maybe I am just frustrated on the part of the girls whose well-being seems to play no part in the panicked calls for male role-models. Following the general assumptions that men benefit the boys it is assumed that the girls perform better with a female teacher. So I could be frustrated that they have to suffer for the good of their male counterparts. But it is more frustration that no one thinks to argue that male teachers might be of benefit to the girls as well. As much as the boys will have to learn to work with women throughout their life so the girls will have to work with men, to not see them as a foreign species with which they have no interaction.


Graham Holley is right, school is about more than getting grades, it is a preparation for a wider world, for all the students who go there. Lets not panic about whether the person at the front of the class has a penis or not. Any potentially talented teachers should be encouraged as much as possible, but not simply for matters of social engineering to fit around prejudices that should have been combated long ago. Lets just work on getting the best teachers to produce a generation of well-rounded children who have the imagination to look to role models whoever they may be, regardless of their sex.



  1. Hey! While I agree with just about everything you said above, I want to add another reason for wanting more male primary teachers that is, I think, actually feminist: Teaching young boys AND girls that men can be caretakers (and teaching, while it is a great many other things is, at least at the primary level, about taking care of other, more vulnerable human beings) is enormously important in shaping their attitudes toward gender later in life. One of the things I’ve found most troubling about my interactions with men (yes, blanket statement here) is the number who presume that there will always be someone else to take care of people, the details, them, etc. (As evidenced by the sloppiness of their applications for teaching positions, perhaps!) Encouraging a more egalitarian view of the world, from age 5 onward should be as much about teaching young boys that men, too, must care about more vulnerable people and put their own needs on hold to nurture them as it is about telling young girls (and boys) that girls can grow up to be scientists, executives, politicians, etc. – all the types of careers where aggressiveness and a degree of disregard to others are rewarded. It’s not so much about “caring” – the idea that women have bigger hearts, better interpersonal communication, etc. etc., as humility, and introducing young boys to more men humble enough to devote their days to the (literally) little people would, I think, do a world of good for making academia, at least, a more bearable place for women.

    Just my two pence, as it were. Hope you are well and enjoyed reading your thoughts!

    (Nick’s American girlfriend)

    Comment by Megan — October 15, 2007 @ 4:20 am | Reply

  2. Hmm…

    The similarity of the ratio of teachers between now and the turn of last century surely suggests a lack of development on gender issues, right? In 1900, presumably, there were more female teachers than male because Biblical notions of gender has pitted women as the rightful educators of children since…well, a while back. The persistence of the ratio surely suggests the persistence of the gender notion that you would like to break down. Megan makes that point from another angle.

    What I find really perplexing is the gendered notion that men just can’t get their applications together. First, I would be cautious to buy into that statement, but second, if I did buy into it then that would be accepting a generalization based strictly on gender. The ol’ question then recurs: if we accept one gender generalization, then where do we draw the line? So is saying “it’s men’s own fault for being lazy” really the problem or is the acceptance of that conclusion a problem that just compounds it?

    So, I dont really disagree so much as I’ve come away with a few questions. Are there particular gender-related developmental issues affecting Blighty? If so, then can gender association (something that is very strong at the adolescent age) be used to undercut developmental problems? Maybe some research on developmental psychology would be useful in determining how important gender roles are to development. But my tentative sense would be that gender differentiation could probably co-exist with gender equality. I would like to see more male teachers for the same reasons I would like to see more female CEO’s, etc.

    Oh, as an after thought. Dont boys develop slower than girls? Maybe they need a little help.

    Anywho, just trying to join in here. You gonna leave me a comment? You can bash me, if necessary. See you tomorrow,


    Comment by The Kagga, Esq. — October 15, 2007 @ 8:24 pm | Reply

  3. A rather complex subject, as it’s difficult to differentiate in any precise way between the influence of school, family and other social factors in shaping beliefs and achievements. Having said that, a couple of points spring to mind regarding the issues raised in the above comments.

    Firstly, the inference from the TDA’s report that male applicants for teaching positions might need some form of affirmative action is rather at odds with the Government’s commitment to raising standards. If it’s true that those applying for jobs as teachers aren’t capable of successfully filling out an application form, surely that’s a pretty damning indictment of the failings of the education system as a whole. Moreover, men seem to have no such problems applying to become doctors, lawyers, etc. and therefore perhaps what is really required is a rethink on recruiting for teacher training courses.

    Secondly, I would suggest that the historical exemplar of the unchanging ratio of teachers could be equally well employed as evidence for the benefit of male role models, unless of course you think the British education system has churned out successive generations of well rounded men, who consider women as their equals…. indeed, a change might just help challenge traditional perceptions of gender roles.

    Comment by Ed — October 15, 2007 @ 11:38 pm | Reply

  4. I think one of the reasons for this issue gaining a greater profile is the relative underperformance of boys in school. Take GCSE’s – apparently, 25% of all boys are not getting a single good GCSE. That is an appalling failure and is costly at a personal level as well as to society in financial terms as a whole. People are therefore trying to find reasons why. There is a gender imbalance in teaching at secondary level as well, although at primary level it is more severe.

    However, academic studies suggest that the gender of the teacher does not have a measurable impact on the performance of pupils in exams.

    Be this as it may, I would suggest that we do need more male teaches for straightforward egalitarian reasons, most of which have been advanced above. I also believe that with more parents leaving young children at school while they work full time days, schools are more important than ever before in instilling discipline and manners. And in this field, it is basic human psychology that boys will tend to respect a man slightly more than a woman. Is that the way it would be in an ideal world? Of course not. But it is how we are. Can any woman be just as successful in disciplining pupils as any man? Absolutely. Overall, having more men around may help though.

    I find the hundred year figure mildly surprising. What of fifty years ago?

    Comment by Andrew Hanson — October 17, 2007 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

  5. I think it highlights that positive discrimination is not helpful even when it is turned around and applied to the male gender. People should be judged on their merits and if these male applicants can’t even turn in an application form on time for a job they are supposed to be passionate about, how can we expect our children to learn worthwhile lessons from them in class?

    Perhaps the male role model needs to be in the home, and not necessarily in the classroom…

    Comment by Sophie Fernandes — October 17, 2007 @ 4:56 pm | Reply

  6. What country are we talking about here? What is the SOURCE of the alleged information that male teachers are the same number today as they were a hundred years ago? This has certainly NOT been the case in the UK. The authority I worked for as a teacher had a policy, even in junior schools, that the ratio of male to female staff had to be 50/50 or as near to it as possible. Earlier than that it was a strict rule that, when a female teacher got married, she HAD to resign her post. All female teachers were unmarried. Hence they were rather scarce.
    The reason boys NEED male teachers is that, when we teach children, we are not merely teaching SUBJECTS, we are teaching them how to grow up to be men and women. With a vast majority of female teachers we have the ludicrous situation where we have WOMEN trying to teach boys how to grow up to MEN, a subject they have never experienced.

    Comment by David Hughes — June 9, 2008 @ 7:38 pm | Reply

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