THE Scottish Executive's pound;66million initiative to introduce up to 5,000 classroom assistants into primary schools over the next three years will entrench primaries even more strongly as virtually male-free zones.
A TES Scotland survey of education authorities reveals only a tiny handful of men will be recruited to assist teachers with class organisation and learning support, although there is clearly huge demand from women.
The main problem appears to be limited applications from men rather than bias in appointments, although the sheer size of the gender imbalance has led to one suggestion of an "unspoken prejudice" against males.
In North Lanarkshire, 3,399 individuals applied for an average of six posts each, resulting in a staggering 25,427 applications for the 133 jobs. But only two went to men.
Glasgow advertised 203 posts and had 1,111 applications, 39 from men. Of 185 assistants so far appointed, three are men.
East Renfrewshire had 574 applications for 33 positions, 14 from men. In East Dunbartonshire, 570 people applied for 47 vacancies, of whom six were men. All the jobs in these two authorities went to women.
Perth and Kinross reports that four out of 518 applicants for 11 posts were men. In South Lanarkshire, two men have been appointed after 1,069 applications for 74 posts.
A total of 725 individuals have filed applications for 112 positions in Edinburgh, and city officials expect "hardly any" to be from men.
"The gender pattern reflects the experience we have had in appointing special needs auxiliaries," Tom McMillan, employment manager in the city's education department, said.
One unsuccessful male candidate, who has worked in the voluntary childcare sector in the west of Scotland for 14 years, applied for 10 posts and was interviewed for two by a panel of three women primary heads.
"Given the increasing number of men who now work in this sector," he said, "I would have expected and hoped that a greater number would have applied for the classroom assistant posts nationally and that more would have been successful."
The under-representation of men may be partly due to low salaries, Brian Boyd of Strathclyde University says. There is no national scale for classroom assistants but most authorities are offering pound;6,000-pound;7,000 a year for term-time work. West Lothian, exceptionally, is paying up to pound;11,313 for full-time posts.
Dr Boyd is also concerned at a perception that working with the young is seen as a female occupation. "There cannot be any objective evidence that women are necessarily better than men in these roles, and there may well be an unspoken prejudice against men."
Ian Mills, director of education for East Dunbartonshire, also feared that the small proportion of male employees in primary schools, coupled with the number of households where the lone parent is the mother, could be a factor in some boys underachieving.
Ginny Thorburn, head of education personnel in East Renfrewshire, said authorities might have to become more proactive to attract men.
The official position of the Scottish Executive is that the best people should be appointed regardless of gender. A spokeswoman stated: "We would also encourage the authorities to look at any potential barriers which may exclude good candidates from entering the profession."
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