Male role models' importance may have been overstated. Biddy Passmore reports
The Government may be barking up the wrong tree by trying to attract more men into primary teaching, according to new research.
One study shows that children's security at home, not the sex of their teacher, determines their early achievement at school. Another points out that the percentage of male teachers in primary schools has fallen only slightly since the First World War, demolishing the myth of a golden age when boys were more biddable.
The reports, presented to the recent British Educational Research Association conference in Leeds, suggest that change in the curriculum and teaching might be more helpful in improving boys' performance.
A detailed study of 15 boys at a primary school by Martin Ashley of the University of the West of England says that the security of the attachments the children had formed at home was the main factor in their success. Those who came to school without a secure bond to their main carer (usually their mother) would have emotional needs that teachers, whether male or female, could not meet.
He found no evidence in either his study or the research literature that primary school boys in general fared better with male than female teachers. Rather than trying to recruit "footballing, macho male recruits ... to court instant popularity with disaffected boys", schools should seek help from outside agencies and teachers of both sexes should learn more psychology and sociology, so that they understood boys.
In the other study, Penelope Harnett and John Lee of the University of the West of England deny that boys' disaffection and disruption is caused by a "gender crisis" in primary schools, leaving them without role models.
They show that the imbalance between male and female teachers in primary schools is of very long standing. And they suggest that boys' failure and disaffection may lie rather in the curriculum, which fails to motivate or interest them or to support their moral and personal development.
Men represented only 25 per cent of elementary school teachers at the outbreak of the First World War and the same proportion of primary teachers at the time of the Plowden Report in 1967. The proportion has fallen since, but only slightly, to 22 per cent.
"To suggest that boys are failing to achieve and are disaffected because of lack of male role models is simplistic," they say. "A much greater analysis is needed of what motivates boys and interests them."
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