The numbers behind the percentages make even more interesting reading. In March 1997 there were just under 4,000 men between 21 and 29 teaching in primary schools, compared with 31,000 women in the same age group. The latest DFEE statistics show fewer than 1,000 men under 25 teaching in the primary sector or around one man for every 20 primary schools.
In secondary schools the situation is better, but not by much. There were 10,500 men under 30 teaching in 1997 compared with nearly 19,000 women.
These statistics are good news for women in that their opportunities for promotion should be better than ever before. But they do raise the question, as to whether it is right for society if teaching becomes a virtually all-female profession?
Looking at the age profile of teachers, unless there is a significant change in recruitment patterns, the total number of men in the profession will continue to decline. On current trends, secondary schools will have lost another 10,000 male teachers in 10 years time. In 20 years, men are likely to account for only 10 per cent of primary schoolteachers and little more than 20 per cent of all secondary teachers, or about nine per secondary school. The large percentage of teachers currently in their forties means that recruitment policies will be of vital importance over the next few years.
So what are the short term implications for schools? Many will have a disproportionate number of men in management positions overseeing staffrooms increasingly dominated by women. However, even this scenario depends upon teaching remaining a career attractive to women. For example, reforms to the school year could seriously deter those with family responsibilities from choosing teaching as a career. Recruiters to ITT will be monitoring applications to teacher training very carefully for any signs of such a trend.
While the real challenge is to make teaching an attractive career, a priority must be recruiting more men. We know that boys are under achieving at school and massively outnumber girls in exclusions. Reversing the flight of men from teaching will inevitably help tackle these problems.
John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brookes University and runs an education research company. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org