In Holland nearly half of primary teachers are men. Why is our workforce so feminised?

Chris Husbands

The Teaching Agency reported this week that the number of men training to become primary school teachers has increased by more than 50% in England in the last four years and was rising at five times the rate of women trainees.

Throughout the twentieth century, primary teaching in England was a largely feminised profession, with the proportion of male teachers in the primary classroom generally around 15%. In recent years, governments have worked hard to turn the demographics of primary teaching round, and recent evidence suggests that there has been a substantial increase. 

Why is it so difficult to recruit men into primary teaching?

Much of the answer almost certainly turns on primary education’s strong associations with nurturing and pastoral care and this often plays into assumptions about women’s career motivations. The pattern is repeated across Europe. In Italy, over 94% of primary teachers are female; in France over 82%. But not all countries exhibit so feminised a primary workforce. In Finland only 69% of primary teachers are women, in Greece just 57% and the Netherlands just 53%. Moreover, the pattern can change: in France, in the mid-1950s, almost 35% of primary teachers were men.

This pattern has deep historical and cultural roots. French evidence suggests that in the 1960s and 1970s, men opted for other careers because they felt that primary teaching had “lost prestige” as a male profession – a perverse side effect of attempts to even up career and promotion opportunities for women. Moreover, the strong connections between primary teaching and nurturing made it attractive in many ways to women in a highly gendered society. And one should never forget the attractions of a career which, in a society marked by sharp gender differences, allowed for a good balance between personal and professional lives – not least in terms of school holidays and the benefits for teachers’ own childcare arrangements. Put like this, what often needs to be explained is not the decline in the attractiveness of primary teaching to men but the relative attractiveness to women.

The recent upturn in the recruitment of men into primary education can be attributed to a number of things: current challenges in the graduate labour market consequent on the global economic crisis, a vigorous government advertising campaign, and some general erosion of traditional gender roles and assumptions. Of these, it’s likely that the first is the most powerful driver; in tough times for graduate recruitment, traditional assumptions are increasingly questioned. But, as the French experience suggests, perceptions can change over time and the advertising campaign should not be under-estimated.

There is a recurring concern about the absence of men in primary schools, and the claimed lack of role models for boys. The evidence on the importance of gender role models in primary school is mixed. It’s important, for all sorts of reasons, that public service professions are not gendered. But in the classroom, what really matters is the quality of teaching.

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Posted in Chris Husbands, International comparisons, Teachers and teaching assistants
13 comments on “In Holland nearly half of primary teachers are men. Why is our workforce so feminised?
  1. Miss Honey says:

    Why will men only contemplate a career in primary teaching when general economic conditions are poor and alternatives few? Why is it not inherently attractive to many of them? The quality of teaching is, of course, important, but what message are boys receiving about the nature of education, if they see that it is something that is administered, dispensed and organised almost entirely by women? A high percentage rise based on a relatively low population, may not tell us a great deal, other than that times are hard in the jobs market. It would, therefore, be unwise to be too quick to praise the TA’s advertising campaign, which has been singularly unsuccessful in healthier economic conditions, and to neglect consideration of the possibility that there might,just might, be something seriously amiss with the nature and conditions of primary teaching.

  2. Tyler Durden says:

    I just completed a primary PGCE and I won’t be going into the profession. I came across so many anti-male attitudes that I’d rather work in a factory. My advice to any other men thinking of doing it is don’t.

    • Rena Spinks says:

      This is really sad. Our loss Tyler. I have just written an assignment on Men in Early Years, and I found that in a high percentage of one-parent families, children may not experience a positive male role model until they are 11! As a EYFS Teacher and CCLD Tutor,I can honestly say, there are still some practitioners who would warmly welcome men into our workforce. Sorry to hear that you experienced these attitudes.

    • Adam Whitlock says:

      The reason female teachers are often hostile to men is because they get fast tracked and promoted above women more often in primary education.

  3. Chris Husbands says:

    Thanks for the comment. What I said in the blog was that although there are concerns raised about the lack of male role models in primary school, the evidence on the impact is much more difficult to find.

    • Miss Honey says:

      Thanks for the reply, but what I said was that more consideration should be given to the possibility that there is something seriously wrong with the nature and conditions of primary teaching if men will only contemplate it as a last resort, when times are hard.

      • Chris Husbands says:

        What would you do? Looking at the entry from Tyler Durden above, you could equally argue that its attitudes in (some, not all) staff rooms which need to be changed.

  4. Gabriel O. says:

    This is my view which I think applies to most men.I am starting Secondary PGCE this September. I did not feel I had adequate ‘natural flare and subtileness’ for children under 10. This might be due to traditional society’s view of the role of male and females in nurturing and teaching children. This view to a large extent is still prevalent.

  5. Ofstedwatch says:

    I came across a male primary teacher who was recently asked at an interview, by the (female) headteacher” how do feel you would get on working as a male teacher in an all female school?” Needless to say he wasn’t offered the job and wouldn’t have taken it even if he had been!

  6. John says:

    It is interesting that ethnic minoritiy males are not attracted to primary teaching as well. Possibly to do with percieved status ans the notion that it is a ‘woman’s job’. Also the barriers and restrictions that are put in place – a ‘good ‘ 2:1 degree or above,, full-time only teacher training programmes and requirements for experience in the classroom before they start training. Apart from that primary teaching is a really hard job to do properly and certainly is not a nine to four, family friendly career . Yet again, however everyone is an expert, because everyone 95% of the population) have experienced primary education so they ignore research and follow their own ‘gut ‘ feeling – especially Mr. Gove

  7. The male role model is crucial in the primary school. Not just for those children without a father figure around but for all children in the school. In my experience men enhance discipline and offer a variety in teaching and learning techniques and activities that just isn’t there if it’s only women. Plus its one of the few jobs that enable you to make the world a better place every day. Any men would want to become a primary school teacher should read my Amazon kindle book Tips for Real Men in Primary Schools: Are you thinking of becoming a male primary school teacher? I talk in detail about all the issues around men in primary and even offer tips for surviving the female dominated work environment!

  8. sameena says:

    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XFPJJR3 i am currently looking at this topic for my dissertation i would appreciate of anyone could fill in my survey thankyou

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