Anyone who has meaningful contact with schools knows there are a lot of women teacherse. They know most primary teachers are women and that an all-female primary school staff is unremarkable.
Some will be aware that most secondary school teachers are women. But startling new figures - published for the first time today in The TES Magazine - suggest that, in some parts of the UK, male teachers are fast becoming an endangered species.
In the last academic year, only two newly qualified male teachers in Redcar and Cleveland registered with England's General Teaching Council to teach in primary and secondary schools - an astonishing 10 times fewer than the number of women who did.
And it was not just in a less affluent part of the north of England that schools were not proving attractive to young men. In leafy Richmond upon Thames, in the South-east, only three newly qualified men registered.
Again, 10 times more women did.
Fewer than a quarter of all teachers in primary, secondary and special schools in England now are men. In Scotland, the situation is similar. The proportion of male teachers has dropped from a third in 1996 to a quarter in 2005.
And in Wales, where 27 per cent of teachers are men, the GTC for Wales has voiced concern about the lack of male role models in the classroom.
Compare that with 1980, when the number of teachers in England stood at an all-time high and men filled more than 40 per cent of posts - 23 per cent in primaries and 55 per cent in secondaries.
A special study of GTC data carried out for The TES Magazine by the Education Data Surveys, a respected education statistical research company, shows that rather than drifting gradually down, the fall in the male teacher population is gathering pace, - and much faster in some areas than others.
Professor John Howson, director of EDS and a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes university, was startled by his findings when he began number-crunching the data. He found several areas of the country had fewer than 10 per cent male primary teachers. Reading is the lowest authority without a middle school system - which skews the figures - with just 7 per cent: 38 men compared with 478 women. The national average is 13 per cent.
But it is in the secondary sector that the decline in male teachers is most dramatic. Not only has the national average of male secondary teachers dropped to 41 per cent, but it falls to 29 per cent in Richmond-upon-Thames. Harrow is not much better with 32 per cent, and Camden in north London has 33 per cent.
Professor Howson believes the figures suggest the entire teaching profession is now set on the road to feminisation. "We've all known it's been like this in primaries. When you add in all the classroom assistants, the dinner ladies and the office staff, probably only about 1 per cent of the primary workforce in somewhere like Reading is male.
"We've rather accepted it. But do we want secondary schools to go the same way? Because the secondary sector has already passed the first tipping point of equality."
In Professor Howson's study, it is the gender of the youngest teachers in the profession which is most telling. In England, in September last year, 556 men under 25 were registered with the GTC as primary school teachers compared with 6,364 women of the same age. That is less than 10 per cent compared with 13 per cent of all ages now.
In secondary schools there were only 1,320 male teachers under 25 years old compared with 3,496 women of the same age. That is less than 30 per cent men compared with 41 per cent of male secondary teachers of all ages now.
And those overall figures hide large variations in different parts of the country. In the North-east of England, for example, in September last year there were 120 male teachers aged under 25 registered with the GTC compared with 644 women, meaning that fewer than 20 per cent of young teachers there were male.
The geographical variations in the mix suggest that economic factors are at work, with men harder to come by in poor rural areas, inner cities and run-down seaside resorts or, conversely, in areas where there are plenty of good jobs for graduates.
Long holidays and a reliable pension have always been powerful lures to the profession, says Professor Howson. But with bank holidays, most professionals now get at least six weeks' paid leave, unmarred by marking and lesson planning.
In a period of low inflation, even an inflation-proof pension loses its edge. And then there are the new top-up fees on postgraduate courses, whose ability to take the shine off the brightest golden hello could account for the 15 per cent drop in men applying to train as maths teachers this summer.
Such economic disincentives should influence both sexes to an equal degree.
But in a society still saddled with the notion that men provide while women nurture, salaries and pensions can be a bigger issue for males.
This would also go some way to explaining why 60 per cent of new secondary heads in England are men, as well as 30 per cent of new primary heads - remarkable considering most primary teachers are women.
Salaries have to be part of the issue. According to data published by the Office of Manpower Economics in the 10 years from 1993, male secondary teachers did worse financially than other graduates in non-manual work. But Annette Braun, a research officer at London university's Institute of Education, who has surveyed London secondary teachers, believes that the changing nature of the profession since the 1950s might also put some men off.
"Teaching once had a different respect associated with it. Now schools have a wider brief, not just about the academic education of children but also socialising them. That emphasises the need for people skills for teachers as well, and research has suggested that women are socialised into seeing themselves as being 'people' people," she says.
Research also suggests that women are better equipped than men for teaching in other ways too. For example, girls consistently outstrip boys at GCSE and A-level, and they carry on performing better into higher and further education.
"School is better for girls," says Ms Braun. "And if school has worked for you, you are more likely to consider making it your career."
Add to this pressure the fact that many men are dismayed by the absence of male companionship in primary schools.
"Staffroom chatter is usually about cakes and dresses, it's not a male environment," says one male Cambridge PGCE student.
And the feminisation of teaching has all the hallmarks of a self-perpetuating trend that, despite the best efforts of the Training and Development Agency for Schools - which recently established a panel of male primary teachers to help it improve the gender balance - may already have reached the point of no return.
A spokeswoman for the TDA said the agency's number one priority was to get people into teaching with the necessary qualifications, regardless of gender or background, but agreed that it was important to have male teachers.
"Different people bring different qualities to the classroom. It is important that children are exposed to a teaching force which is representative of society," she added.
Many argue that boys - particularly ones brought up by lone mothers - should have a male role model, at least in the classroom. Carol Clayson, head of Wellesley first school in Norwich, says she was sorry when the one male teacher on her staff left to take a deputy headship.
"Life is made up of men and women," she says, "and a child who lives in an all-female household and then goes to school in an all-female education system isn't seeing a balanced section of the community."
Others, like Dr Tony Sewell, who runs a science academy for boys with Imperial college, London, have gone further, suggesting that a lack of male teachers and "feminisation" of the curriculum can damage a boy's education because lessons no longer nurture traditional male traits such as competitiveness and leadership.
But Dr Mary Thornton, an assistant director at Hertfordshire university's Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, disagrees. Her research suggests that boys look to football players rather than teachers of any gender as role models.
"In an ideal world we want good teachers who represent our society," she says. "So we want a spread of men and women, black and white, and religions and ethnicities. But the key criterion is the quality of teaching."
Nor does she agree that teaching is becoming feminised. "Becoming feminised is quite different from being predominantly female," she says. "I think that the nature of our education is, if anything, stereotypically masculine. It's competitive, target-oriented and grossly over-assessed and audited, which has a much more a masculine feel about it."
Will the profession suffer in terms of pay, status and influence if men vanish from the classroom? "The problem with teaching becoming a female profession is the low status that society accords to professions that are predominantly female," says Dr Thornton. "But I don't think we should have more men for that reason. We should do something about the status of teaching, full stop"
WHY DO SO FEW MEN WORK IN READING'S SCHOOLS?
"It's the cost of living around here," says one Reading ex-teacher.
"I know we live in an egalitarian society but, for many people, teaching is basically a second income.
"When I was in teaching, I moved from Wales to Cumbria and then down here, and that was very difficult because the cost of living in Reading is so extreme.
"Salaries are fixed nationally, and you don't get any weighting in areas like this, unlike in London.
"To persuade a man to come here is always difficult, whereas when I was head of a department in Cumbria, they applied from all over the country.
"Down here, it's mostly women whose husbands or partners have good jobs."
GIRLS WITH ATTITUDE
Many believe that girls are more prepared than boys to play the education game as pupils, and some who train teachers have come to recognise this attitude difference too.
As one lecturer who regularly addresses the largely female PGCE courses at Cambridge university's faculty of education put it: "When I say 'good morning' to most classes, the students just mumble 'good morning' back. But when I say 'good morning' to a PGCE class, they write it down.
IF I WERE A CARPENTER...
Barney Aldiss, 30, lives and works in Hertfordshire where the cost of property means that teachers his age cannot afford to buy their own home.
Still, he had no doubts about becoming a design technology teacher.
"We all know the pay's not great," he says. "Even the kids ask why on earth you do it. But you go into the job because you love it."
For his male peers at college, however, teaching was not an option.
"They went into the trades and joined designing teams," he recalls. "A couple are now making way more money than I am.
"The initial salary as a teacher isn't actually too bad compared with someone going into a bottom-rung job commercially. The difference is the increase in salary over the years."