Happy International Men’s Day, Especially to Men in Primary Schools

Nov 19, 2018

Happy International Men’s Day!

Inevitably, every year on International Women’s Day, there’ll be some comedian who comments on a Buzzfeed tweet or George Takei Facebook post saying “Pfft, when’s International Men’s Day?!” Well genius, it’s today, and I want to use it to post some positivity and raise awareness for an issue that I imagine most people know of but don’t think about all that much: men in primary education.

I want to give a huge amount of recognition to any and all men working in schools, particularly primary. According to government statistics, 84.6% of nursery and primary teachers are female, with an even more staggering 91.4% of teaching assistants being female. In 2007, the statistic was very nearly identical. Workplace equality is, rightfully, as important as you can get in 2018, so why are these numbers so drastically off balance?

In 2015/16, before I started work at RIO, I was a recent graduate unsure of where I wanted to start a career, but who had an interest in teaching. I spent three weeks doing work experience at three different primary schools and one thing which staff at all three invariably said to me at one point or another was “that’s good, we need more men teaching primary.” Some even supposed I’d have an advantage in applying for jobs, being a man. If such an advantage exists, where are the male primary teachers?!

I now work with a lot of educators from all sorts of settings across the south west. Last month, RIO ran several CPD sessions for schools looking to improve their arts education through an Arts Council accreditation called Artsmark. I met 25 teachers from 14 different schools, some of whom were arts teachers, some of whom were headteachers or SLT. Only ONE of them was a man.

This issue isn’t just restricted to schools. Over the last 6 or 7 months, since I took on my role working with cultural organisations and schools, I’ve met lots of people from theatres, museums, galleries, music education hubs and more, all looking to ensure they have a great education offer. Guess what? The vast, vast majority of those I’ve met so far have been women. Inspiring women of course, but where are all the men?!

Last year, and certainly not for the first time, girls outperformed boys across the board in Key Stage 2 SATs – and by significant margins in some cases. This isn’t necessarily related to the gender divide of teachers, but I’d be very interested to find or conduct some research to see if this theory is based in fact. Regardless, I don’t think it’s a huge stretch of the imagination to suppose that there could be a link.

James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, spoke earlier this year at the union’s annual conference:

“A diverse Early Years workforce can help children, especially those from deprived backgrounds, to visualise their futures and fulfil their educational potential.” 

We owe it to our young people to give them the brightest and most varied possible view of their future. And we owe it to young men to show them that they can do or be whatever they want. What better way to show them that than by having an inspiring male role model (in amongst the many brilliant women) teaching them from an early age?

Why are there so few men in these fields? I’m no expert, so I won’t try too hard to guess or theorise, but I’d suspect it stems from old, outdated stereotypes that haven’t yet been and must be deconstructed. We need more men working in primary schools. We need more men helping children and young people explore the world of arts and culture. For those without a dad at home, a male primary school teacher might be the closest thing they have to a positive father figure.

I don’t expect the figures for 2018 will be much better, but hopefully by 2027 things might just look a little different.

Lewis Gerry is a Consultant (Communications & Customer Relations) at the Real Ideas Organisation, working primarily on Artsmark and the Bridge programme.