Independent Graduate: A lesson to be learned

Britain's shortage of male teachers will only be alleviated if men are shown the positive side of classroom life.
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The Independent Online
IF YOU'RE thinking about becoming a teacher, there's a very slim chance that you're male. That's the latest message from the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) which has observed such a sharp decline in the number of men entering the profession that it has realised it must turn the trend around fast. In 1998-99, a mere 13 per cent of all those accepted on teacher training courses were male - a problem that is at its worst in the primary sector. In fact, some researchers have even predicted that if the problem isn't addressed soon, there will be no male primary school teachers at all by 2015.

James Rogers, Professional Officer at the TTA, is particularly concerned. "It is important that the teaching force is representative of society as a whole, which is why we need more men, more ethnic minorities and people with disabilities," he explains.

Male teachers are urgently needed as role models, he adds. After all, an increasing number of children have no adult male role model at home, which means they could spend the first 11 years of life with only females as adult mentors. As Noel Mackan, a secondary teacher points out, "There are some children who have problems with male teachers when they come to secondary school simply because they do not know how to relate to them."

So what is keeping men away? The fact that working with children is historically perceived as a "woman's job" is likely to be the primary factor. In addition, we have become a nation that is quick to question the motives of men who do wish to work with young children. But male teachers in the primary sector are warned early on, as Rory Maclean, a primary teacher in Yardley, Birmingham explains. "I was told at the beginning of my teaching never to be in a room on my own with a child, and to make sure there is another child or adult with me." He admits to wondering what he'd got himself into when he was given this warning, but has since realised it was merely precautionary.

Long hours and lack of financial rewards are also to blame. With preparation work, teaching, and copious amounts of paperwork, teachers can expect to be working over 12 hours a day with a relatively small wage. Prospects are limited unless pursuing a headship. Nevertheless, men can comfort themselves that it is they who are most likely to reach the top.

In order to raise the intake of men onto teacher training courses the TTA is taking two major steps. First, it is encouraging the teacher training providers to set targets for recruitment of men and ethnic minorities. It has set aside approximately pounds 200,000 for this purpose and has invited teacher training providers to bid for funding in order to help them meet their target.

The TTA's second task is to get the message across that for teachers the rewards outweigh the problems. Becoming a qualified teacher means guaranteed work, not just in this country, but worldwide. The job satisfaction is proven to be enormous. Teachers comment on the delight at finding a child grasp a task that they have been struggling with for a while. The pay is also not as low as some people assume. A new teacher can be looking at a salary of pounds 15,537, for instance, with London weighting pounds 17,778.

The year-long Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) is the most popular qualification for secondary teaching and increasingly more popular for primary. Unlike many postgraduate courses, the majority of applicants do not have to pay a course fee, and there are financial incentives to attract teachers in to certain subjects (which are means tested).

Noel Mackan cannot imagine a job that he would enjoy more: "I love working with children, I love literature, I love the creativity of children."

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