Where are all the male teachers?

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

by Jenny Moore

Last time I wrote for this blog, I looked at the underrepresentation of women in headteacher jobs. This time, it’s men’s turn. While women are underrepresented at leadership level, they make up the majority of the schools workforce, meaning men are underrepresented in the classroom.

The most recent figures from the DfE show that just over a quarter of teachers in England are men, with 38% and 15% in secondary and primary schools respectively.

So why is this?

For one thing, I think we may be in something of a self-perpetuating cycle. The more women are in teaching, the more it can be seen as a female-dominated profession and “women’s work”. There’s also the stereotype of women being carers and being responsible for childcare, which could go a long way to explaining why the differences are so pronounced in primary schools.

Primary school teaching is, of course, not only childcare, but I wonder whether teaching very young children can be more easily associated with childcare, and so perhaps seem less ‘serious’ to a potential applicant?

Another possible factor I’ve read about is a lack of prestige in teaching. The theory, I assume, is that men would go for more high status and prestigious jobs, and are therefore put off going into teaching.

And what can be done about it?

Probably the most important thing to do is to break down perceptions of teaching as a woman’s job. That’s easier said than done, but perhaps it can be done together with raising the status of the profession, if men really are put off by a lack of prestige in teaching.

There’s no magic silver bullet to raise the status of the profession, but it could start with the profession being more vocally positive about itself and celebrating the very real impact teachers have on outcomes for young people. There’s something also, I think, in how the media can better respect and champion how hard so many teachers work – long summer holidays or not. Positive publicity – for both male and female teachers – might well go a long way. A pay increase for teachers might also help; this year, the body which makes recommendations on teachers’ pay said this will be needed in the next few years to keep teaching as a competitive and attractive graduate career option.

Speaking of the media, newspapers sometimes connect the lack of male teachers with a lack of male role models, and some have suggested that the lack of male teachers (and therefore male role models) is behind the gender gap in pupil achievement. I can see some logic in this argument, although the assertion that having male role models in schools is good for boys might be oversimplistic.

At any rate, I think we can all agree that the gender gap in pupil achievement is something that needs to be addressed. And perhaps by raising boys’ achievement so that they have real positive associations with their education, in the long run they might also be more likely to go back into the classroom as teachers.

As I said in my last post, I think government still has a role to play in this. I’ve noticed some of their adverts for teaching featuring men quite prominently, but it could go further. Do we also need funding for schools to create programmes to target getting men into teaching as well as women into leadership? TeachFirst have recently launched a recruitment video targeting men, which is a start.

Men who do go into teaching have also reported a perception of benefiting from being a man in a female-dominated profession and getting promoted faster, so perhaps if the gender balance at classroom level is addressed, this could also lead to redressing gender balance at leadership, as men would be less of a “novelty”.

I’d like to see the government and the profession try to address gender biases and stereotypes in the makeup of the profession and who gets what jobs. Because basically, these sorts of gender roles are just bad for everyone.

Comments 1

  1. Blythe 4th May 2017

    Are there issues also around safe-guarding or the perception of men as threatening? Years ago, I worked with a fairly young man who had been a primary school teacher and had left because, as he described it, he was tired of being treated as a potential paedophile, a comment that still resonates with me today. As an example he told me on a school trip, he was not allowed to supervise boys (or girls) using the public toilets, but female teachers could. He said he encountered this double standard every day until it drove him to resign. Incidentally, he was gay (openly in our workplace but concealed at the school), so on the one hand, he might be perceived to have a ‘feminine’-like, caring attitude but on the other hand, he was seen as a bigger threat (for which school tales from Eton might have some responsibility). This was a good ten years ago now and times have changed, but in our wider culture men are still often accused of being predators, simply for being men. With the vulnerability of children and young people as a major focus of pupil welfare, could this still be having an impact in schools?

    My experience of my daughter’s primary school is a very healthy ratio of men to women teachers and she will often give male teachers a hug and this is reciprocated. I am happy with this, but based on my old colleague’s experience, I wonder how many parents are less responsive to male teachers or would be uncomfortable with their child hugging the teacher? My favourite teachers at both primary and (all-girl) secondary school were male, not for their gender but because they were inspiring and encouraged my interests and took our education outside of the classroom. I don’t recall many female teachers who were similarly forward, in fact it was a male teacher who encouraged my love of science, setting up a science club at my request, and a female chemistry teacher who terrorised me so badly, I couldn’t take science at A-Level despite getting A* at GCSE. Perhaps my experience gives me a bias towards male teachers generally.

    P.S. In response to the article of female head-teachers, I experienced two male then one female at primary level, then two female at secondary, all three schools had plenty of male teachers. My daughter’s head is female and has just come back from maternity leave when she was covered by the two female deputy heads and my current head of dept at university is female. I seem to be the antithesis to the article! However, from articles I have read elsewhere (and forgive me for not being able to link back to them at this time), there seems to be a shortage of headteachers full stop, not just female heads.

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