Men in a women's world
Four years ago 12 men began the arduous haul towards a degree in primary school teaching at Edinburgh University. But this summer only two will graduate with a BEd.
Graduating alongside Martin Christison and David Banks, will be Richard Denton, who began his BEd five years ago and took a year out to look after his baby, two other men who will each receive a BA and 104 women.
The gender imbalance in teacher training is now critical. Figures from the Scottish Executive confirm what is obvious to all teachers and parents: not enough men are choosing teaching as a career.
Currently, three out of 50 primary teachers are men and, worryingly, the numbers graduating suggest their paltry presence in the profession won't improve soon. In the secondary system, a similar pattern is emerging.
"We are very much aware of the gender imbalance in the profession. It has been apparent for some time in the primary sector but increasingly we have seen the trend appear in the secondary sector," says Matthew MacIver, chief executive and registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.
"At the moment 76 per cent of all registered teachers in Scotland are women and 24 per cent men. In the primary sector the split is 93 per cent women and 7 per cent men; and in the secondary sector the split is 60 per cent women and 40 per cent men."
The pattern continues with this year's cohort of students applying for registration with the GTC. Of 3,525 graduates, fewer than 900 - about 25 per cent - are men.
It is a situation that everyone involved in education recognises as unacceptable. Teaching needs men as well as women.
"They are essential role models for children, especially for those boys from split homes," says Patricia McCall, headteacher of Campie Primary in Musselburgh, East Lothian, where Mr Denton did his placement. "They need male teachers to look up to."
Susan Ralston, headteacher at Blackridge Primary in West Lothian, found Mr Banks's presence at her school a boon. She only has one permanent male teacher.
"Beside being a positive role model, male teachers are also good for creating a balance within the staff," she says.
Scotland isn't the only country with the problem. The rest of the UK, the United States and Australia are all seeking ways to get men into teaching.
In 2003, the Sydney Catholic Education Office went so far as to request exemption from anti-discrimination laws so that it could offer men scholarships.
The Scottish Executive has responded to the crisis by commissioning Edinburgh University to investigate existing data, survey undergraduates, interview other individuals, including headteachers and school inspectors, conduct focus groups and investigate overseas practice. The team is expected to report this summer.
"It wasn't commissioned because of concerns over falling numbers of male teachers but because of a desire to find out why the situation is as it is," says an Executive spokeswoman.
"If we understand why we are where we are, it will allow us to assess what, if anything, could or should be done."
Messrs Banks, Denton and Christison have some ideas about what should be done.
"The money is the biggest hurdle," says Mr Denton, who held a full-time job in a petrol station for four years while studying.
"When I took my year out to look after my daughter, I could so easily not have come back. I'm pound;20,000 in debt and now I may have to pay pound;2,000 towards the next cohort's fees (through the Graduate Endowment Fund).
Trying to bring up a family while studying is so hard."
All trainee teachers face this pressure and all would benefit from a lightening of the financial burden. But what the women don't face so much, perhaps, is the stigmatism the men endure.
"There is a negative attitude to teaching," says Mr Christison. "A lot of guys assume you are gay if you go into it."
The incredulous looks don't just come from men. These graduates also feel they are suspected, sometimes, by women as well as men, of having ulterior motives for choosing primary education, and it can affect their teaching.
David Thomson, the director of undergraduate studies at Moray House in Edinburgh, endorses this. "The attitude at the moment, with the atmosphere approaching a frenzy about paedophiles, doesn't help. The risk of complaints against male teachers is a real deterrent for men."
Mr Christison says: "We've been given lots of advice like never shutting the door when alone with a child or letting them sit on your lap. At nursery level it is awkward doing toilet duty and I asked not to do it. But it just makes you feel even more marginalised in a profession that is dominated by women. More effort should be made to ensure men don't feel out of place in schools."
Some men may simply feel uncomfortable being so outnumbered by women. It is not uncommon for there to be only one male teacher in a school and that can have repercussions in the staffroom. Sexual harassment is not unheard of.
"I know of one teacher who never goes to the staffroom," says Mr Christison. "He just feels too awkward."
Men may even feel they face prejudice from colleagues. Mr Christison says he has had comments from female teachers "to the effect that I couldn't hack it in a secondary school, so I chose primary. What's that about? I chose to study primary teaching while I was still at school."
More frequent is the accusation that the few men who are in the profession are fast-tracked to senior management. The figures do show that men are over-represented at management level.
For many boys and young men who may consider teaching as a career, the thought of entering a profession that is so dominated by women, where their motives are questioned and their actions constantly under scrutiny, is enough to put them off.
"It's a vicious circle," says Helen Ross, headteacher of Melrose Primary, where Mr Christison did his last placement. "You don't see men in teaching, so other men don't consider it as a career."
It doesn't help that the profession has had bad press. Years of reports of poor pay and long hours have been joined by stories about classrooms more like battlefields than places of learning.
"The media inflate the problem of discipline in schools. It's not nearly as bad as they make out," says Mr Denton. "It just perpetuates the negative attitude to teaching. There should be more effort made to ensure the press get it right about teaching."
None of these hurdles put Messrs Denton, Christison or Banks off coming into teaching, although Mr Christison was the only one determined to become a teacher while at school. "I don't think it's promoted enough in careers education," he says.
Mr Denton chose it after he met some of his girlfriend's flatmates, who were studying teaching.
Mr Banks chose it after being made redundant. His wife, a nursery school teacher, suggested he give the profession a try and her head was only too happy to have him come into the school on a voluntary basis. As a school for children with special needs, having someone on the staff with the strength to lift older children was an asset.
"But I almost didn't do it," he reveals. "I applied to do an access to teaching course at West Lothian College, where I was told my accent was too strong.
"That attitude is not the sort of thing that will get more men into teaching. Schools want teachers to represent the pupils, and everyone is different."
He did get on the access course eventually and into Edinburgh University, where his experience of being outnumbered 10 to 1 by women didn't make him regret his decision.
"Being one of only a handful of men at college wasn't an issue," says Mr Banks, who was in his late 30s when he began. "It wasn't something you thought about much. We just all made friends."
Mr Denton and Mr Christison, in their early 20s, found it slightly harder.
"I did find it a bit intimidating at first," admits Mr Denton. "As one of a few men, I was more visible and everyone knew who I was. I used to get embarrassed when women would say hallo to me down the town. They knew who I was, but I didn't know them."
Now they are facing life as probationers, they are satisfied with their career choices. They have guaranteed jobs for a year at least, good pay scales and potential for promotion.
"Not only that. It is a job can take you anywhere in the world. Countries are crying out for Scottish teachers," says Mr Christison.
"You can also take time out. People should consider that when deciding what to do for a career."
Unfortunately, it seems fewer men are focusing on the benefits of teaching, and instead are picking up on the negatives. The fact that such a large percentage of Edinburgh's male BEd students failed to complete the course could be less to do with not being capable and more to do with financial worries and the lack of men in the same situation giving them the support and encouragement that every student needs.
IMBALANCE OF POWER
Historically, men in education have gained senior management positions despite their low numbers, and though numbers may be dropping, men are still over-represented in the senior management strata.
While 6 per cent of primary teachers are men, 19 per cent of primary school heads are men. At depute headteacher and principal teacher levels, the figures are 8 per cent.
In secondary schools, 60 per cent of teachers are women but 82 per cent of heads are men. At depute head level the figure is 61 per cent, while 50 per cent of principal teachers are men.