A drive to recruit more male primary teachers in Wales is failing as figures reveal a growing gender gap in foundation phase and late primary teaching.
The number of men applying and being accepted on to primary training courses in Wales has dropped sharply this year despite an Assembly government push to attract more men into the profession.
The overall number of applications for initial teacher training (ITT) courses in Wales grew by 12 per cent, but just 89 men are starting a primary course this autumn compared to 131 in 2008. Only six of those have been accepted on to early years courses to teach children up to the age of seven.
Jane Williams, early years programme leader at University of Wales, Newport, said that recruiting men has long been a struggle, but recent debates about new vetting and barring procedures for people working with children could be exacerbating the problem.
"The main factors are public suspicion of men wanting to work with young children as a result of media coverage of paedophilia, the lack of a credible professional career structure and associated low wages, and the perception of the role as female," she said.
John Howson, a teacher recruitment expert and managing director of Education Data Surveys, said the big drop was worrying, particularly as the number of women accepted for primary courses increased from 335 to 352.
"It may be simply the fact that men are applying for these courses later or that most of the people doing the decision-making are women," he said."
"One accepts that primary teaching is always going to be a predominantly female profession, but just six men starting early years is a cause for concern."
The play-led foundation phase for three to seven-year-olds was designed to appeal to boys following concern about the increasing feminisation of the primary curriculum. But it does not appear to be attracting men willing to teach younger children.
Professor Howson said men may be reluctant to choose a narrower age range if they are unsure which group they wish to teach.
Academics have pointed to the reduced number of places on courses that cater for the whole 3-11 or 5-11 age range.
Aberystwyth University is among several teacher-training providers forced to cut courses by the Assembly government following the publication of the 2006 Furlong report, which recommended a reduction in trainee teachers.
Aberystwyth is winding down its primary provision, but academics say they have not seen a drop in the number of men.
In fact, the school of education has actively targeted specific groups such as men, ethnic minorities and women returning to work, by advertising in carefully chosen publications and using people from a mix of genders and ethnicities.
Overall, Wales had a greater proportion of men applying for primary training (26.6 per cent) than in England and Scotland.
Magi Gould, primary director of teacher training at Bangor University, said the trend towards fewer men was not reflected at her institution either.
"I think that is probably because we enjoy a good reputation here in Bangor," she said.
"The Assembly government has an initiative to try and get men into primary teaching and we do keep that in mind - but we don't accept men just for the sake of it. They have to be of a high calibre."
An Assembly government spokesperson said it was working with the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) to develop recruitment events and advertising campaigns that encourage male applicants.