Problems of the parent- teacher and some more trouble with men

18th October 1996 at 01:00
I am in a querulous and grouchy mood. My first question is this: why do teachers and parents inhabit different planets, when most are parents themselves?

This should lead to a natural alliance for changes in policy or better support: yet usually it does not. Take two examples. Most teachers are vehement or even virulent about not "being in the childcare business" when working parents dare to squeak about the problems caused by school-hours rooted in the 1950s.

Yet these same teachers often have to struggle with the same problems. Do they split their minds into two? Do they give themselves an earful?

Primary school parents are given an official 10 minutes twice a year to talk to our children's teachers. This is a great improvement on the past. (Yes, we can make appointments any time, but this is hard for working parents).

Such an allocation is bizarre. It feels totally, laughably inadequate when this is the one other adult with whom your child is spending most time, when there are so many ordinary things you would love to know and discuss. Do teachers who are parents not feel the same about their own children and those who teach them? Don't they also think this time is quite inadequate? So why is the whole system constructed in this extraordinary way?

My second point is about male primary teachers - that dwindling band whose rarity is again the target of official research, and media lamentation.

As a parent, I would love to see more. Mixed staff groups can enrich the experience of children and each other. I'm just incensed at the way the debate is conducted - and I suspect women primary teachers are too.

The question is always: "Oh dear, how can we make primary teaching more attractive to men?" But sauce for the gander should be sauce for the goose.

If men need better pay, conditions and promotion chances, then why have women not deserved them in their own right? Researchers could equally ask: how has man's over-representation in primary headships affected women's career morale?

Moreover, the answer to men's fears that they will be suspected of unhealthy interest is not to disparage parents' worries as "irrational", and reduce safeguards.

But it is to improve sensible child-protection policies, which may weed out the small, but genuine minority of abusers.

What children need most are high-quality teachers. Some male and female ones are brilliant, some disastrous; single-sex staff groups may be either; many all-female ones today are actually commanded by a man (the head). As for role models, ethnic minority children and disabled children need these too.

Experience shows that without tackling sex inequality, the overwhelming result of bringing more men into heavily-female professions is that they receive even more senior jobs at the expense of well-qualified women - in the shortest possible time. So I hope the new research does encourage more men, but through challenging the main problem: male attitudes. We need to ask: why are so many men estranged from young children? Why do they not welcome working with fewer discipline problems, or want to teach the most rewarding, lively minds of all - kids in late primary school?

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