PROGRESS USUALLY brings problems in its wake. The widely welcomed initiative by the Scottish Executive to put extra adults into the youngest primary classes is no exception. First, pre-school leaders blamed the counter-attraction of classroom assistant posts for a shortage of nursery nurses. Now there are claims that the gender imbalance in primary education is being exacerbated as the overwhelming majority of new posts go to women.
That is not because of widespread gender discrimination except that brought about by men themselves. Very few have applied to become classroom assistants. Although the idea of male jobs and female jobs is supposedly obsolete, few men opt for the care and education of young children, just as not enough women become engineers. A climate where men who work with children can easily come under suspicion does not help. It also appears that of men applying to be classroom assistants, few have met with success.
Women teachers might be relieved if there were more men to take kickabouts with boys. More seriously, in a society of one-parent families the absence of male exemplars may contribute to boys not learning about future roles for themselves. Purposelessness leads to underachievement and in some cases to disaffection.
No one expects a man tying P1 shoelaces to create an obvious improvement. Classroom assistant jobs are bound to appeal mainly to women because they are family friendly: hours at work are limited and the holidays are free. None the less more strenuous efforts should be made to ensure wider male representation in primary education.
That is not just a matter of recruitment practices. Few fathers are closely involved in home-school links, and some who take their children to school complain of being shunned by mothers at the school gate.