Staffroom battle of the sexes

6th October 2006 at 01:00
* Men feel ostracised by female staff * Women feel sense of injustice because men are more likely to be promoted

Being labelled a paedophile, dealing with jealousy over your rapid promotion and having no one to talk to about football, are among the difficulties faced by male primary teachers, research has found.

Two studies based on interviews with male student teachers have uncovered similar problems of staffroom isolation and resentful colleagues.

One man on teaching practice in a female-dominated primary told academics from Winchester university that when he walked in, the staffroom went quiet.

Another said that with no men to talk to in school, the atmosphere could "almost feel hostile; there is no escape". He wanted to talk about football, but: "The topics of conversation were about families, shopping, the gym and calorie-controlled diets - very female."

But among female students there were fears about preferential treatment for men. One said: "We joke and say, 'Of course you'll get the job - you've got a penis'."

A separate Brunel university study uncovered a "strong sense of injustice"

among women teachers about male promotion. One said she had competed for a job with two men five years ago. "I got it and they didn't," she said. "Now they're both heads and I'm not - they are no better than me."

Another said: "They're with you for two years, you teach them all you know, and the next minute they're your boss."

The Brunel study also revealed that female heads had concerns about employing men because of public fears of paedophilia.

"A reluctance to employ men was justified both in terms of preventing scandal and protecting male teachers themselves," it said.

The Winchester researchers found concerns among students about society's "paedophile paranoia". "My male mates tease me and I am very conscious of how a male teacher's actions could be misrepresented," said one.

Another on placement asked a teacher for advice on what he should do if a five-year-old cried in assembly. "I had noticed female teachers picked these children up and placed them on their laps," he said. "My teacher became all blustery and said 'Oh no, you definitely can't do that'."

Women Winchester university student teachers voiced similar concerns. One said: "I visited a school where there was a male headteacher and a young male teacher and I got really uncomfortable because - and it was perfectly fine, I'm not saying it was not appropriate - but they were touching the children all the time. Kids were climbing all over them and it was really tactile and I was thinking, 'Oh dear!'"

They also had fixed views about the kind of people their male counterparts were, according to the Winchester study.

"They're either quite, you know, feminine, or the more Flashman types, authoritarians," said one.

But there was a recognition that primary children needed male role models and sympathy for men's predicament.

"The staffroom can be catty and gossipy, and this can be directed at men,"

a female student said.

Another said: "They can get swamped by the female culture. I knew a teacher who ended up getting his legs waxed for charity."

Men in a Minority - Perspectives of male and female final year primary undergraduates, by Michael Yates, Tansy Jessop and Simon Boxley from Winchester university. Gender and micropolitics: male and female teachers'

interactions in early years contexts, by Deborah Jones from Brunel university

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