'Come in and try it. If you like it, stick'

25th November 2005 at 00:00
What makes men buck the trend and become teachers, particularly in primary schools? Simple: working with children and playing a part in their development is the most positive aspect of the job, reports Elizabeth Buie

Male primary teachers are a diminishing breed. In 2002-03, only 10 per cent of entrants to primary teacher training were men and the latest research suggests that unless action is taken, there is little prospect of improvement.

Gerard McLaughlin, a headteacher at 33, epitomises the rising male star of the primary sector, packing in every possible leadership qualification on his way up the career ladder.

Men are five times more likely than women to become headteachers, in both the primary and secondary sectors, despite perceived and actual barriers to their entering teaching, says a new report, Gender Balance of the Teaching Workforce in Publicly Funded Schools in Scotland, commissioned by the Scottish Executive and published today.

In essence, teaching is seen increasingly as a woman's job demanding "soft"

qualities; men wanting to work with young children, in particular, are viewed with suspicion. The negative image of indiscipline in schools, portrayed by the media and some teachers themselves, and the new focus on interpersonal skills also deter men from entering secondary teaching.

In 2003, 7 per cent of primary teachers, 43 per cent of secondary teachers (down from 52 per cent in 1994) and 18 per cent of special school teachers were male.

Traditional gender stereotyping appears to be a major factor in the growing feminisation of the teaching workforce. Teaching has yet to re-establish itself as a high status profession and men continue to see themselves as the prime family breadwinner with the associated need for a high salary.

Despite the best efforts of the signatories to the national teachers'

agreement, the post-McCrone deal has had a mixed impact. While it has improved salaries across the profession, its flatter promotion structure is blamed, within schools, for making teaching a less attractive prospect for ambitious secondary staff.

The report acknowledges there is no point in coercing men to enter teaching just to make up the numbers. The profession needs motivated, high quality entrants.

Does it matter, though, if the teaching profession is becoming increasingly feminised? Yes, says the report. Boys, who tend to present more behavioural problems than girls, need positive role models; and education itself benefits from the input of diverse interests and personality traits.

Lynda Keith, the director of the PGDE primary course at Strathclyde University, believes that one of the best ways to encourage more men into teaching is to let more boys in late primary see male teachers in their school and think this is something they might also like to do.

She would like to see more teachers talking positively about the job satisfaction they get.

She echoes one of the report's findings, that those men applying to come on to the postgraduate teaching course tend to be more focused than the women because they have made a more informed career choice.

"With many of them, they have actually been in primary schools to make sure that is the career path they want to follow. Some have already been in caring professions.

"You don't tend to find them drifting into teaching, particularly those over the age of 30 who have been in other jobs," she says.

So, what makes men buck the trend and want to become teachers, in particular, primary teachers? What do they see as the most positive aspects of the job?

Mr McLaughlin, who has been head of St Clare's Primary in Drumchapel, Glasgow, for just less than a year, comes from a family of primary teachers. So his career choice was not particularly surprising. The spur, however, was his own unhappiness at primary and early secondary, creating a desire to be an instrument of change in the system.

His first school as a teacher was St Stephen's Primary in Sighthill. His headteacher, Jennifer Boyle, initially placed him in middle and upper school classes, but he asked if he could have an infant class.

"We discussed the issues that might come up," he says. "Yes, a male teacher, for some parents, is certainly a concern when dealing with such young children. But Mrs Boyle organised a meeting for parents to inform them. I was already known in the school: I was in my fourth year there.

"For a lot of parents there were concerns, such as their children going to the toilet. But there were still classroom auxiliaries in those days and the boys and girls would go to her if they needed help, so I wasn't involved in that.

"Because the infants got changed for PE in the classroom, she was always in the room and we made sure the kids wore shorts under their trousers when they came to school and then put their trousers back on over their shorts after PE."

Sighthill was, and still is, an area of deprivation and high numbers of single-parent families.

"For a lot of children it was useful for them to have a male role model or father figure there. I was kind of in the role of Kindergarten Cop: I am 6ft tall, almost 6ft 2in, and I would be teaching all these tiny children."

He loved teaching P1, he says, partly because he saw real development in the children's language and numeracy.

He was one of only 10 men to 140 women on his BEd course and landed his first permanent post straight after graduation.

"I was very lucky to get a permanent position but it was down to my grades.

I was in the top 10 per cent and was offered an array of schools."

After graduating, he did further study at night, including a certificate in educational computing.

Although he loved St Stephen's, he was keen to be promoted. In the mid-1990s, Glasgow had a freeze on senior teacher posts, but he secured a post at St Leonard's Primary in East Kilbride.

His headteacher at St Leonard's put him forward for the Scottish Qualification for Headship, which was open to senior teachers in South Lanarkshire but not in Glasgow. By that time, he had already completed a certificate in management in education.

By his third year of the SQH he was depute head of St Monica's Primary in Glasgow. He also had a diploma in management in education. He used his paternity leave when his son was born three years ago for studying.

He accepts that if he had taken career breaks to have children, he would not be in his current post. But that doesn't mean that men in primary teaching have it easier.

"In a predominantly female workplace, sometimes it does feel as if you have to prove yourself and do a bit more. I don't mind saying to people that I've got where I am because of all the qualifications, not because I was male and because I moved from one school to another. It was because of my CV and the fact that my motivation and enthusiasm came through. At least, that's the feedback I got."

To any men considering becoming a primary teacher, he says you need to have a love of children and it is a job that involves hard work - it's not a 9am-3pm job - but it is very rewarding because you are able to play a part in a child's development.

Gerard Curley, 23, is almost a younger version of Mr McLaughlin. In his first year as a newly qualified teacher, he already has his career mapped out. He wants to be a headteacher by 33 and has enrolled on a Masters degree in management in education, which starts in February.

Like Mr McLaughlin, he did a BEd (he was one of 16 men out of 120 students on the course at Glasgow University) and is one of five primary teachers in his family.

He teaches a composite P3P4 class at St Robert's Primary in Priesthill, Glasgow. "I started off thinking of being a secondary teacher, but then I decided it limits your opportunity with only one subject, whereas in primary you get to teach the whole spectrum."

He thinks that male primary teachers are probably more focused than their female colleagues. "The men on my course had a career plan set out by the time they got half-way through the first year, but the majority of women were quite content taking it one step at a time.

"I'd like to be a headteacher one day. I love working with the children but I feel it's only when you get to the stage of headteacher that you can change things within your school."

Male role models are important for younger children, particularly boys, he feels. "Boys, particularly those with behaviour difficulties, can relate better to a male teacher than a female teacher. When I was at school, if you got over-excited, you used to sometimes call the teacher Mum. I have had the experience of being called Dad here," he says.

"Working with children is the selling point; and no two days are ever the same. If I had to devise an advertising campaign, I would tell men to come in and try it. If they don't like it, fine. Those who do like it will stick with it, because you can tell instantly if you are going to like it."

The salary and conditions are also an incentive to take up teaching, he says. "I'm in my second year out of university and on just under pound;23,000. That really can't be laughed at. It's a reasonable salary and the working conditions are very good."


The Gender Balance of the Teaching Workforce in Publicly Funded Schools in Scotland report highlights the main reasons for the gender imbalance of the profession.

* Some male graduates, who have studied engineering, science and technological subjects, are lured away from public sector occupations such as teaching by better paid private sector occupations.

* The growing feminisation of teaching acts as a further deterrent to men, who are put off by its overwhelmingly female image, associating this with reduced status.

* The growing emphasis on child protection means that men may fear they will be treated with suspicion, particularly if they want to work with the youngest children.

Despite the female predominance in teaching, men still dominate promoted posts. Reasons for this include: * gendered stereotypes about men's and women's roles and responsibilities for childcare;

* women are less likely to apply for promoted posts, whereas men are more likely to do this at an early point in their working lives and men, particularly in primary settings, have accelerated promotion;

* managerialist principles and practices may favour men.

Suggestions to achieving a gender balance include: * countering negative media messages about teaching;

* actively engaging trades unions and teachers themselves in promoting the profession;

* changing the image of the profession for men by emphasising the pay and promotion opportunities as part of a good career structure;

* starting mature entrants higher up the pay scale;

* combating gender stereotyping of jobs in schools;

* ensuring that the best-qualified and motivated people enter the profession, regardless of gender;

* closer working between local authorities and university careers staff to recruit the best graduates;

* developing more imaginative ways of recruiting the best new graduates and career changers; and

* paying more attention to social diversity so that the teaching workforce reflects more closely the full spectrum of modern Scottish society.

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