The gender imbalance in schools

Is the gender imbalance in teaching linked to the gender imbalance in pupils’ outcomes? It is a question more people are asking. Julian Stanley looks at the role teacher recruitment and retention has to play

It is a well-known fact that today the UK has many more female than male teachers and this gender imbalance is currently getting worse not better.

The Department for Education’s School Workforce Statistics last year showed that the number of male teachers working in Britain had fallen for the fifth consecutive year – in 2010, one in four teachers were men, while in 2015 the ratio was just one in five

What is the impact?

So, does it matter? In short – yes. Because many, including UCAS CEO Mary Curnock Cook, believe that this imbalance is not only affecting how the profession is viewed, but is also suspected to be having a negative effect on educational standards too.

Today, girls are much more likely to perform well at school than boys. In an article for the Daily Telegraph earlier this year, Ms Curnock Cook pointed out that at the end of primary education, 22 per cent of boys achieve Level 5 or better in reading, writing and maths, compared to 27 per cent of girls.

Furthermore, by the age of 16, girls are more than 20 per cent more likely to achieve five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths. And, after A levels, young women in the UK are 35 per cent more likely to go to university than young men.

Perhaps boys learn better when they have a male role-model, perhaps female teachers have a subconscious bias towards girls? But without more research it is impossible to say.

As Ms Curnock Cook asks: “So what is going wrong? Does lower achievement for boys have anything to do with the 80 per cent female dominated state schools’ workforce, which includes 85 per cent female teachers in primary schools and 62 per cent in secondary? Would boys respond and learn better with more male teachers and role-models?”

The whole issue is tied into the general concerns about recruitment and retention. We do know that research we conducted with YouGov in June last year found that 34 per cent of all teachers planned to leave the profession within the next one to five years. But what is seemingly apparent is that something about the experience of teaching is encouraging more males to leave the profession – and something is also preventing men from joining up.

Anecdotally, I hear concerns regularly from those in schools who are worried that the balance between male and female teachers is skewed. Some people also have an assumption that when a man joins the profession, he is there just to scale the steps towards headship, rather than to spend time actually teaching – a view that is, in my opinion, both unfair and untrue.

Recruitment and retention

This gender imbalance is an issue that we are particularly keen to get to the bottom of, especially given our long-running consultation as part of our #NotQuittingTeaching campaign.

One idea to address the imbalance came from Ms Curnock Cook, who suggested a concerted national campaign to attract more men into teaching. Individual universities, like the University of East Anglia and Bath Spa, having already taken up the baton by offering taster days, shadowing and support to encourage men to consider teacher training. Other ideas including setting up networks that can support and engage with men in the sector, such as the Bristol Men in Early Years Network.

So, what else can the sector do to turn things around and help attract prospective teachers and tempt departed teachers (of any gender back) back into the fold? I would suggest two main areas 
of focus.

First, we must all work harder to celebrate success. We must make a real effort to stop the negative speak and change the perception of teaching as a whole, giving those working in education the respect they deserve.

Despite the challenges thrust upon the sector by external forces (about which complaints are valid!) we must remember that no-one will want to go into or remain in a profession that they cannot rightly be proud of.
Second, we must better equip our schools to similarly respect the role of the teacher by putting in place the support structures they need such as strong management, CPD and wellbeing programmes. All of these are necessary for a happy, productive and attractive working environment.

In conclusion, by better celebrating, developing and supporting the teaching profession we can make recruitment, retention and progression through the ranks for teachers of all genders the norm, encouraging more teachers to commit to what is still one of the most noble and engaging careers around.

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