More men would become primary school teachers if they could specialise in subject areas, prep school heads said yesterday.
The move would also improve teaching standards and give pupils a greater depth to their learning, they added. Figures show that fewer than one in eight teachers in state primary schools are male, and that in the entire country there is only one man under the age of 25 working in a state nursery school.
By contrast, pupils in private prep schools were more than twice as likely to be taught by a male teacher, with almost a third of all teaching hours worked by men.
David Hanson, the chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS), said he believed this was down to a greater sense of status associated with specialising in subject areas. He said: "If you ask a room full of teachers 'What do you do?' they will say 'I'm a history teacher'." Men, in particular, preferred to associate themselves with a specialism, he added.
He also highlighted the differences between state primary schools and private prep schools in their approach to subject teaching: "You can't be a subject specialist in a state primary school. We should have specialist subject teachers who just happen to be working with primary-age children."
The IAPS claims that standards would improve in the state sector if it adopted the same approach as prep schools. Andy Falconer, the head teacher of St Olave's school in York and the chairman of the IAPS, said his school introduced specialisation "right from the reception classes".
"The main benefit of starting subject specialists early is that when you have project-based topic-teaching it can often get a bit woolly around the edges and it loses a lot of the focus," he added. Pupils could look at the Aztecs in history, Mexico in geography and study the pictures of that era in art classes – while knowing they were all connected, he said.
"It is done as specific subjects, rather than lumping it all into one project on the Aztecs for the next three weeks where you can lose a lot of focus and academic rigor and you are not getting the sort of pupil achievement that you might be getting otherwise," Mr Falconer said.
The issue, which was discussed at a conference in London, emerged ahead of Education Secretary Michael Gove's review of both the primary school curriculum and teacher training. He has ditched Labour's proposed reforms, under which language learning would have become compulsory for all children from the age of seven by next September.
Mr Gove has said that he wants to see more teacher training carried out "on the job" in schools rather than in colleges.
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