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Man hunt begins to get desperate

New Zealand

Across the globe male staff are hard to find and boys lag academically. TES reporters investigate the gender problem.

The new national boys' schools association has joined opposition calls for men-only training scholarships to attract male teachers.

Male staff increasingly are seen as the key to closing the academic gender gap. Anecdotal evidence suggests boys respond better and show more respect to male teachers, said Paul Baker, spokesman for the New Zealand Boys'

Schools Association, formed to address boys' under- achievement.

"I'm always hearing parents complaining about their boy's behaviour at primary, then finally the child gets a male teacher and what a difference it makes."

He said the problem is that men are choosing adventure sports instruction over teaching and schoolboys are suffering as a result.

Girls beat boys by more than 10 percentage points in the first year of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement assessments in 2002 for the country's Year 11 students. These replaced the external School Certificate exam - equivalent to GCSE - with a mix of internal continuous assessment and end-of-year exams. Girls also got significantly more top grades.

The results continue a trend over recent years in results in the School Certificate. The significant disparity between boys' and girls' performance has provoked widespread concern. Opposition spokesman on education, Nick Smith, has challenged the Government to extend its TeachNZ training scholarships to all men.

Incentives, similar to "golden hellos" in England, already exist to train in shortage subjects. The government pays allowances of $10,000 (pound;3,700) for students specialising in subjects such as maths and physics. It also funds scholarships for Maori and Pacific Island trainees.

The staff gender balance is especially skewed at primary level. Ministry of Education figures show that men still make up only 18 per cent of primary teachers, compared with 43 per cent at secondary level.

The Ministry of Education said the results have galvanised many schools into addressing poor performance among boys.

Education minister Trevor Mallard said schools "need to consider the specific needs of boys" if the gap is to close.

Dr Baker, who is also head of Waitaki Boys high in North Otago, said it was not just rates of pay that were putting men off teaching. The profession's perceived low status and the greater risk of accusations of child and sexual abuse were two other central causes.

The boys' schools association was set up earlier this year. One of its main aims is to urge the government to research causes of the gender gap.

It is also promoting initiatives for boys including a national campaign aimed at promoting positive male role models. This "Good Man" project is intended to help develop confidence and a sense of identity in young men by promoting worthy male qualities.

Dr Baker said the drive aimed to counter negative images associated with masculinity. He said his association was working hard to both raise academic achievement and improve the way boys think about themselves, helping them to fulfil their potential.

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