'I'm either a paedophile or gay'

This year's BERA conference will focus on the predicaments of inexperienced heads, ethnic-minority staff and male infant teachers who are called 'Miss'. Biddy Passmore reports

"There have been two main comments I have received when I tell people that I want to be a teacher. They either call me a paedophile or gay."

Those are not the only reactions likely to undermine a male primary trainee's confidence. Reception and Year 1 children tend to call them "Miss" or "Mrs".

The small band of men who train and go into primary jobs seem to survive by creating their own "boyzones" of beer, Sunday league football and part-time jobs where their "masculinity" is not in question.

These and other findings come in new research on the recruitment and retention of men on primary training courses, presented to the British Educational Research Association conference in Exeter today.

Pam Lewis of Brighton University and Carrie Weston of Canterbury Christ Church University College carried out in-depth interviews of eight men on key stage 1 training courses at two universities. They also examined university registry data and prospectuses and interviewed sixth-formers about their attitudes to teaching.

They found the male trainees struggling to cope, on courses where they were outnumbered 40 to one by women ("I really thought there would be a few more blokes around," said one). During teaching practice, they felt isolated in all-female staffrooms and confused by their contradictory treatment.

On the one hand, they were suspected of having doubtful motives. One trainee was told firmly to "stay away from the toilets and don't touch the children in any way".

On the other, they were expected to behave like "typical" men: coach football, deal with naughty boys and put up shelves in the staffroom.

Four of the eight student teachers were fathers who had previously worked in manual jobs and had entered training via access courses, attracted by their experience of parenthood.

But Pam Lewis and Carrie Weston point out that this may give them unreal expectations as teaching is very different from fatherhood. The researchers also found hostility among sixth-form boys to primary teaching as a career. Boys were surprised that a degree was necessary to teach infants and said any man who did it "would have to be one of those weirdoes".

The findings show how difficult it will be for the Teacher Training Agency to meet its target of recruiting 20 per cent more men to primary training courses. At present, only one in six primary teachers is a man but that is expected to fall to one in ten.

The authors say colleges should be more "up-front" in prospectuses about the need to recruit men and only put male trainees in schools with other male staff.

"Creating Boyzones", by Pam Lewis and Carrie Weston. Details from carrie.weston@virgin.net

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