Untangling the myth of men in primary schools

Tes Institute Team

A Male Teacher Sits Supervising A Group Of Children Who Are Working On Whiteboards & Digital Tablets.

There is an outdated myth that the primary classroom is a woman’s domain. We spoke to a group of male primary teachers who claim this is not the case. 

Years ago, colleagues would joke that if you were a man in a primary school, you would either be the caretaker or the headteacher. The idea of a male primary school teacher was considered unusual – even something to be suspicious of.

Are things still the same today?

Recently, the gender balance at the top of the pyramid has become more reflective of the entire teaching workforce. Women now make up 73 per cent of headteachers, which is good news for any ambitious female teachers out there. 

However, the number of men working in primary schools has remained low overall. In 2017, just 15 per cent of qualified primary teachers were male


Addressing the shortage

So why are so few men going into primary teaching? In secondary schools, women still outnumber men, but the balance is better: 36 per cent of qualified teachers were male in 2017.

Compared to secondary teaching, the primary classroom still seems to be viewed as a woman’s domain. But this view is outdated, male primary teachers argue.

Stephen Lockyer has worked in primary schools for twelve years and thoroughly enjoys his role. He thinks that more men should consider a career in primary teaching.

“Working in a class, especially an enthusiastic one, is joy on tap. I’m one term in with my new class, and we are so bonded and close now, I can get them into any learning situation with excitement and eagerness. It’s magical,” he says.

And, he adds, there are some unexpected perks to working in a predominantly female environment.

“I’d say it can be a little lonely as a male at times, but I’m quite happy with my own company. I work with one other male in a staff of 70, so I do get a toilet almost exclusively to myself.”

No parent problems 

But what of the old myths that male primary teachers are figures worthy of suspicion? Do parents raise concerns?

On the contrary, says Niall Robinson, a Year 4 primary school teacher in Essex. He has found that parents respond warmly to him.

“Most parents never even mention it. I have never felt self-conscious about it, and I think it is good that boys and girls see a balance of male and female faces when they’re in assembly and around school,” Robinson says.

Some parents even seem pleased to see a man in the job, according to James Hartley, a primary teacher from South London.

“I work with a number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, where they might not have many positive male role models,” he says. “Parents are just pleased their children have a man to look up to.”

“I’ve found that both genders respond well to male influence but that boys especially can thrive when they are able to see responsibility, enthusiasm and sensitivity being displayed by a man.”

Staying safe

Despite this anecdotal evidence, myths persist that in order to avoid unwarranted suspicion, male primary school teachers need to take extra precautions around children.

But, in reality, Robinson finds that his female colleagues have to be just as cautious as he is.

“Nobody would want to put themselves in a position where a false allegation could be made. All members of staff, regardless of gender, follow the school guidelines regarding student relationships,” he explains.

And Robinson is not alone in seeing his gender as irrelevant here. Primary teacher Andrew Percival similarly feels that being male has little bearing on his ability to do the job well.

“It may sound weird but I don’t really see myself as a ‘man in a primary school’,” he says. “I’m just a teacher – the same as anyone else who works here.”

Find out more on how you could train to become a primary school teacher