Female primary staff are insulted by the idea that they can't deal with boys - especially as the evidence shows they can. Dorothy Lepkowska reports
The drive to raise the number of male teachers in primaries is misguided and annoys women, according to research.
Female teachers feel angry and defensive because the policy implies that they cannot handle or inspire boys. And there is little evidence to show that having more men in primary schools improves standards.
Researchers from Roehampton, London Metropolitan and Newcastle universities, led by Professor Christine Skelton, looked at the relationships between pupils and teachers of both sexes in 51 year 3 classes in London and the north-east of England.
Interviews were also carried out with three boys and girls in each class.
Two-thirds of pupils believed there was no difference between being taught by a male or female teacher. Their main concern was that they were being taught effectively.
And two-thirds did not think that having a teacher of the opposite sex would improve their education. Almost 60 per cent said women treated boys and girls the same. However, a quarter thought that all teachers naturally favoured their own gender.
When asked why they thought policy-makers were trying to attract more men, some teachers thought it was because of a perception that men were stricter and "able to sort out bad behaviour".
However, the report said: "There is an absence of any clear discussion of how male teachers are expected to behave or teach or the form of 'acceptable masculinity' they are supposed to represent to boys.
"The form of masculinity which male teachers are envisaged to represent, and the reasons that boys should apparently identify with this, are never articulated in policy material.
"This signifies an important problem, given that policies are being implemented on the back of these unsubstantiated assumptions."
The report's author Professor Becky Francis, from Roehampton, said: "Our evidence suggests that there is no guarantee that boys are more likely to form relationships with male teachers or look up to them. In fact, the policy is having quite a detrimental effect on female teachers."
One woman teacher said: "I don't think we're doing anything bad enough to need them (men) to come and take over."
Another said: "It's a big buzz word at the moment, boys' underachievement.
They think having a male teacher is going to raise standards, but I don't agree with that."
However, some teachers who were opposed to gender-matching said boys from lone-parent families, particularly those raised by mothers, might be the exception and could benefit from more contact with male teachers.
Some men said they found problems with their perceived role. One said three "tough' boys in his class constantly sought his attention to the point of fighting.
He believed he was being "dumped on" by the Government. "We are not paid extra to be surrogate fathers," he said.
Last October, the Training and Development Agency for Schools launched a renewed drive to attract more men into the classroom, after a survey showed parents wanted it.
Figures show that fewer than 16 per cent of primary teachers are men, and that half of pupils do not have contact with a male teacher.
A TDA spokesman said: "We do not advocate that male teachers are better than female teachers. The drive to recruit more male primary teachers is to work towards ensuring that the profession is as representative of society as possible."