Missing men: back to school- same old story?

On Thursday 1 September, Michael Gove made a speech about how students behave in schools. One of his ideas for getting students to stop misbehaving in class included a plea for more men to take up the job of teaching.  In his speech the Education Secretary said:

“We need more male teachers – especially in primary schools – to provide children who often lack male role models at home – with male authority figures who can display both strength and sensitivity.”

Well, I agree with the Education Secretary but I suspect for different reasons.

It is true, of course, that we are certainly ‘missing’ men in terms of the numbers who teach.  Teaching is unquestionably a gendered occupation.

And yes, we should encourage men into a sector of the workforce in which they are under-represented.  This is only fair, and stems from the same desire to see women entering the realms of science, engineering and technology in greater numbers. A diverse teaching force is desirable. There is no reason why any sector of the economy or any field of human activity needs to be male dominated or female dominated. If asked, male graduates give specific reasons about why they are not (generally) thinking about teaching. The barriers to participation are real, and need to be dismantled.

But we need to be very clear about why we want this balance and equality in terms of numbers.  You do not hear discussions on Radio 4 about needing more female scientists or more female plumbers because the men are doing a bad job. It is important that politicians do not stray into the realm of misleadingly telling parents that their sons would be better served by ranks of male teachers. It is particularly unhelpful for politicians to reinforce stereotypes about masculinity.

Mr Gove walked straight into this pitfall when he linked reversing the flight of men from primary education with ‘launching a troops to teachers programme’ later in the autumn, to draft gifted individuals from the armed services into the classroom.

I wonder if politicians realise how long the debate has raged about whether and how the lack of men in teaching significantly affects boys’ learning and boys’ behaviour in school.

Some brave civil servant needs to remind Mr Gove that there is no evidence that women are less able to discipline a classroom than men. No evidence that women are unable to engage with boys effectively. No evidence that either boys or girls see their teachers as role models.  No evidence that teacher quality or effectiveness rests on the gender of the teacher. Governments may view male teachers as positive role models for boys but surely the question is whether boys and girls themselves see their teachers as role models.

If primary aged children require more male role models, then don’t they also need to see men evenly and proportionately distributed across all primary teaching jobs and positions? Don’t they also need to see female teachers in promoted and high status positions? Why has the government devised no strategy on challenging gender stereotypes in its work on the early years curriculum? The Women and Work Commission asked the government to do just that when they concluded that challenging stereotypes at this age was one of the most hopeful ways to reduce the pay gap between men and women.

Men as teachers are in a good position to challenge fixed notions of gender. But they are only one piece of the jigsaw.

On pupil behaviour, teachers know what makes a difference. They generally want improvements in class size; a less restrictive curriculum; greater parental involvement. The biggest group of teachers, if you ask them about pupil behaviour, tend to want supportive and positive learning environments with firm boundaries- and support from outside of school. Asking for help from the army is not on most teachers’ wish list!

Rdm11, GEA Member.



Leave a Reply