The Irish News reported statistics earlier in the week illustrating how the decline in the number of male primary school teachers has continued in spite of initiatives aimed at increasing males into the profession (though the paper does not outline the nature of these employer-led efforts.)
In the current academic year, just 1,307 of the 8,473 primary school teachers were male, representing just 15% of the profession. Of these, some 60% of the males were aged 40 or older.
In post-primary schools, the ratio of female to male teachers is just 2:1, so the disparity is certainly most pronounced in the primary sector.
It is a picture that will become apparent to many parents of young children as they notice the absence of male teachers in the schools in which their children are enrolled.
But it is one that, perhaps uniquely, I am rather unfamiliar with working in a school in which some 40% of the staff are males and, of that, all but two under the age of forty.
But does it really matter?
This research report, conducted in England in 2008, suggests it does matter for a variety of reasons. The research suggests that male teachers play a vital role as role models for boys, whilst also indicating that boys were more likely to work harder and approach male teachers than female teachers about difficulties with school or in the home.
Interestingly enough, the news report carried figures from the General Teaching Council in England showing that just 13% of registered primary teachers were males.
Amine Ouzad’s research (perhaps slightly more controversially, ahem) suggests that male teachers were better at getting pupils to listen and work harder than their female counterparts. I must remember to throw that one out during lunchtime in the staff room tomorrow…..
This paper sets out the common responses from female and male teachers to questions implying the necessity and role of a male teacher in the primary school, reflecting how the clumsily expressed desire for more male teachers can often be interpreted as an inference that female teachers are either deficient or male teachers are stereotypically the sports and discipline figures.
There has always been a predominance of female teachers within Foundation and Key Stage 1 as males seemed to feel more comfortable taking classes from Primary 4 upwards, when the children had become more mature. Certainly that has been my experience, though there are a number of exceptions of which I am aware of.
The funny thing about some stereotypes is how they often appear to be soundly based. My own experience would indicate that most female teachers recognise the male teachers as those who should be taking sports teams within a school, and it is also the case in my experience that the male teachers predominate those amongst a teaching staff with the reputations for being disciplinarians, including yours truly.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule again, but they are just that.
So is the presence of male teachers in the classroom really an important issue for society?
Personally, I think it is for many of the reasons outlined in the reports linked above.
On a lighter note, the declining participation in sporting competitions by many primary schools in Belfast previously renowned for their competitive stature has certainly been a consequence, with the absence of males leading to many schools not organising teams or providing only token representation. Naturally, my concern is somewhat tempered by the fact that the absence of real competition has left my own school holding aloft the Primary 6 and Primary 7 Belfast primary school soccer cups again this year….Now there’s a silver lining for you!