Stop that sex drive

1st December 2006 at 00:00
Why recruit men as role models when pupils seem indifferent? Adi Bloom reports

Government drives to recruit male primary teachers are entirely misguided, with neither pupils nor teachers believing that the sex of a teacher makes any difference. Instead, teachers believe that government efforts would be better spent recruiting good teachers of either sex.

Becky Francis, of Roehampton University, interviewed pupils and teachers at 51 primaries in London and the North East. Asked whether there was any difference between male and female teachers, two-thirds of the pupils said there was not. The children saw the teacher's sole purpose as teaching them - issues such as gender were peripheral.

Dr Francis quotes Ishaq, one pupil, who said: "They're both teachers. They both teach the same thing." Another child explained: "It's just a teacher."

Other pupils accepted there were some differences between men and women, although they were unable to agree on what these differences were. Several attributed kindness to women and a tendency to shout to men.

Others argued that, if their female teacher was a man, "she wouldn't be shouting that much".

Only one boy out of 307 pupils felt he would benefit from having a male teacher. He said: "I think man teachers understand a bit more about you because they're a boy as well."

Teachers were similarly uncertain what benefits men would bring to the classroom. More than half of the 50 teachers interviewed disagreed that having a male teacher would motivate boys or improve their achievement.

Many argued that being calm and treating pupils with respect was more important in a role model than gender. One male teacher said: "Who are the kids' role models at the moment? They might be men, but they're not necessarily what you want as a role model."

Another man resented the suggestion that he should serve as a de facto parent: "We are not paid extra to be surrogate fathers." And female teachers were insulted by the implication that they were somehow failing their male pupils. One said: "I don't think we're doing anything bad enough to need them to come and take over."

Both sexes suspected that the emphasis on hiring male teachers would only reinforce existing stereotypes.

One teacher remarked that all the men in her school led sports clubs.

Others questioned the message conveyed to girls when male teachers were quickly promoted over female colleagues. A male teacher acknowledged that he was told by female colleagues, "You'll be head in five years".

But teachers did concede that they and their pupils benefited from a workplace which reflected the gender balance of society as a whole. If nothing else, they said, an increased number of male staff would make changing-room supervision much easier.

And one male teacher concluded: "If there's a positive male figure, I think that's just as important for the girls as it is for the boys."

Perfect Match? Pupils' and teachers' views on the impact of matching educators and learners by gender, by Becky Francis

We're not bovvered

Scott Taylor knows what qualities he looks for in a teacher. The Year 6 pupil at Pownall Green Primary in Stockport, near Manchester, is a practised judge of staff. "Usually, you think about if they're strict, if they're nice, if they have a fun way to teach," he said. "You think about their personality and that."

But the 10 year old insists he rarely thinks about the sex of his teacher:

"Both men and women can do the job well. And they all treat everyone the same. Some people say male teachers shout more. But we have a French teacher who's male, and he doesn't shout at all."

His classmate, Georgina Webster, 10, agrees pupils cannot judge a teacher by sex alone. "Anyone can teach, as long as they want to," she said. "Guys sometimes say they like to be taught by guys. But, once they've settled down, they're not bothered as long as they've got a good teacher."

Pownall Green has three male teachers - two subject specialists and one classroom teacher. But neither Scott nor Georgina feels the need to increase these numbers.

"Some boys in some classes somewhere might feel they can't relate to women teachers as much as men," said Scott. "But no one I know feels like that.

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