The Scottish Government is to launch a recruitment campaign in the New Year, targeted at men to encourage them into primary teaching.
While the move is likely to enrage female entrants to teaching who have yet to find permanent jobs, and could leave the Government open to charges of positive discrimination, the gender gap in teaching remains significant and stubborn.
The 2007 school census figures show that 93 per cent of primary teachers are women (although this drops to 83 per cent for heads); in secondary, 60 per cent of teachers are women compared to 52 per cent a decade ago.
Maureen Watt, the Schools Minister, announced the plan in response to a parliamentary question from the Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor. He challenged the Government to explain how it planned to secure "a more balanced gender ratio in the education sector by exposing male pupils to relevant educational role models during their formative years, thus promoting a higher rate of male school leavers entering higher and further education".
A Scottish Government spokesman said the teacher recruitment campaign would focus on attracting a more diverse intake. It was "of benefit to a child's education to have a balance of both male and female points of view and interests", he said.
However, the campaign is likely to reopen the debate over male primary teachers as role models for boys - an argument dismissed by some academics as "simplistic".
Irene Matier, president of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, said that, while the most important thing was the quality of the teacher, she felt that male primary teachers did act as good role models. They set a different tone in a school and challenged the assumption that only women could be in caring professions, she said. An absence of male role models in primary was "probably detrimental" to boys and maybe even girls, she added.
But Carole Ford, the new president of School Leaders Scotland, said male teachers had only a limited influence on the educational achievements of boys. "There has never been a high number of male teachers in primary schools, so it is difficult to see how this could be considered a significant factor in the current underachievement of boys," she suggested.
"The lack of positive role models in the family, in particular sectors of society and in the media, is much more significant, and this is what has changed over time. Adolescent boys particularly need to see examples of positive male behaviours, and more male teachers at the secondary stage of education could be beneficial."
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