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Boys just need good teachers

Who needs men? Not, it seems, 11-year-old boys - or not as much as we thought. A major study covered on our front page this week finds that boys of that age do just as well academically with women teachers as with men and even, to the researchers' surprise, have a slightly more positive attitude to school when they are taught by women.

The research, which covered 9,000 Year 6 pupils in British schools, introduces some hard fact into terrain often marked by hysteria on both sides. It suggests that simply putting more men into primary classrooms, on the grounds that they are good role models for boys, will not in itself close the gender gap in achievement.

But it would be tragic if the findings were used to drive that small and brave army of male primary teachers out of the classroom - and even more tragic if it stopped current moves to encourage more men in. The study's findings need to be placed in context.

Male primary recruits tend to have lower academic qualifications than their female counterparts. The research may simply be saying that boys - like girls - derive more benefit from being taught by good teachers, of either sex.

Research needs to be interpreted with a healthy dose of common sense. Do we want our primary schools to become completely feminine environments, into which men tiptoe like furtive intruders? No. Do we think the staff in the average primary school should reflect more closely the composition of the world outside? Yes. Could it be that some boys, in some age groups - perhaps even in those delicate early years, perhaps at 11 to 14, when disaffection really sets in - do benefit more from good male teachers? Quite possibly. We need to find out.

In the meantime, the message should be clear. Teaching is not for cissies.

It's a tough job for talented people, of either sex. The current chief inspector, himself a former primary teacher, could help dispel male fears.

Nobody would call him "Miss."

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