Chief executive, Training and Development Agency for Schools

When a boy goes to school, does he see a world that reflects the one outside the school gates? In most primary schools where male teachers are rare, he probably does not. If that boy is black, the chances that he will be taught or supported by a black male teacher are even lower. Half of all children between five and 11 have no contact with male teachers and most children will never be taught by a teacher from a black or minority ethnic (BME) background.

I believe Estelle Morris had it right. I recall her saying that underachievement among boys - of all races - is social as well as academic: having few male role models in the classroom is just not a good thing. Nor is it good that our children often fail to see a teaching workforce that reflects the full richness of our diverse society.

Positive, real-world role models - like teachers, doctors and other professionals - can play a great part in inspiring boys and helping raise aspirations. Teachers, in particular, are ideally placed for this. Day to day contact with pupils means they can inspire and lead young people. They give young people an opportunity to interact with positive authority figures. Their passion and enthusiasm for the subjects they teach is powerful proof that education is relevant to boys. And implicit within the very fact that they are teachers is the message that boys from all backgrounds can succeed.

There are other reasons for looking to increase diversity among the teaching workforce. Research commissioned by the TDA has shown support among pupils and parents alike for more men to teach in primary schools. There is also a real need for teachers in maths and science, and figures suggest that BME candidates are playing a significant part in meeting these recruitment challenges, making up 14 per cent of trainee science teachers and 20 per cent of maths trainees. If we don't encourage people from more diverse backgrounds into the profession, we are missing out on a rich seam of excellent teachers.

At the TDA, we have an intensive recruitment campaign that promotes teaching to people of all backgrounds, showing the enjoyability of working with young people, the day-to-day challenge and variety, and the excellent pay and progression opportunities.

We have established a broad range of training routes, allowing people from all manner of circumstances to become teachers, by training on the job, for instance.

There are also a range of services available to help people decide whether a career in teaching is for them. The TDA's Teaching Information Line (0845 6000 991), provides advice and assistance for would-be teachers. The TDA can help potential teachers arrange a school visit to experience life as a teacher, go on a course to network with other potential teachers, or get advice from serving teachers.

We have also introduced a range of financial incentives. From this September, a newly qualified teacher will start on a salary of at least £20,133, or £24,168 in inner London. Eligible trainees on postgraduate training courses in England are entitled to a tax-free training bursary worth between £4,000 and £9,000. Newly qualified teachers with a PGCE in priority subjects such as maths and science may also be eligible for a taxable "golden hello" worth between £2,500 and £5,000 after their induction period.

Behind the scenes, we are offering grants to training providers to help them recruit and retain applicants from a broader range of backgrounds.

And we're enjoying some success. The number of men starting primary teacher training courses has increased from 1,500 in 2001-2002, to 2,300 in 2006-2007 - 14 per cent of all primary trainees. Final figures for the current academic year have yet to be published, but male applications account for approximately one in five. In addition, 12 per cent of trainee teachers have a BME background, according to the most recent figures. This represents 3,900 people - a 126 per cent increase in the number of BME trainees since 2001.

This is progress, but it's slow. Entry to training courses - especially for primary teaching - is very competitive, reflecting the rewards that this job offers. Many applicants underestimate this, including those who are underrepresented in the classroom. I would encourage people who are interested in teaching to make the strongest application possible, which will often mean getting work experience in schools or working with young people. They should also get their applications into course providers well before Christmas, to stand the best chance of securing a training place for next year.

Teachers from all backgrounds are making a great difference to improving the lives - and futures - of young people. And the benefit is mutual. Teachers have told me of their joy at being able to give something back to their community and being able to instil in young people an all too rare sense of pride and belief. We want this important relationship to continue to flourish. In these sometimes troubled times, teachers make an immense and invaluable contribution.

Graham Holley is Chief executive, Training and Development Agency for Schools