Research by University of Swansea psychologists has provided some support for the theory that boys might make faster progress in primary schools if there were more male teachers.
A study of a South Wales primary school found large differences in the reading ages of boys and girls which may have been linked to the gender of their teachers, writes David Budge.
In one class of eight and nine-year-olds that had a male teacher, boys had an average reading age of 11 years and three months, while the girls' reading age was only nine years and one month. However, in a second class taught by a woman, the position was reversed. In her class of eight and nine-year-olds the boys only had a reading age of nine years and six months, while the girls' reading level was said to be 10 years and 10 months.
The researchers, Dr Sine McDougall and Hilary Woolford, say that boys taught by the male teacher also had better vocabulary knowledge and phonological skills than girls in the same class.
"These results add weight to the suggestion that the scarcity of male teachers in primary schools may adversely affect boys' progress in learning to read, " they say. "They also suggest that girls benefit from the role model provided by the female teacher."
Nevertheless, Dr McDougall accepted that their data was very limited. "As we only studied a random sample of 10 boys and 10 girls in each of the two classes I could not make generalisations about other schools around the country, " she said. "Our results are interesting but I would want to go out and do further research to find out how applicable they are to other schools."
"The teacher as a role model: the effects of teacher gender on boys' vs girls' reading attainment", by Hilary Woolford and Sine McDougall, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP.
Education researchers who wish to disseminate their findings through the columns of The TES should send summaries of their research (1,000 words max) to David Budge, Research Editor, The TES, Admiral House 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Tel. 0171 782 3276