Teaching Profession Opinion

Smoking Gun in U.K. Gender Gaps?

By Richard Whitmire — September 02, 2011 1 min read
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In this article in the Telegraph, the reporter suggests a reason behind the widening gender gaps recently revealed in national testing in the U.K.: a paucity of male teachers in primary schools:

Data from the General Teaching Council for England shows that some 27 per cent of primaries - 4,569 - are staffed entirely by women. Men make up just one-in-eight teachers working in primary schools and only 48 are currently employed in state-run nurseries. The disclosure comes amid concerns that a lack of positive male role models may be putting boys off school at a young age and fueling the gender gap in education. It comes just days after the publication of GCSE results showed that the gulf between girls and boys at the end of secondary school had now widened to a record level.

Now comes the supporting philosophy:

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: "The danger of having so many female teachers is that boys get the impression that education is a feminine thing and it is somehow sissy to be fully engaged with education. "Boys may demonstrate their maleness by standing a bit apart from the learning process."

Sounds convincing, but is that causation?

Note what is not included in the article -- any data on whether the gender balance among primary teachers has changed over the years. If British primary schools are like American elementary schools, they have not changed. Roughly 90 percent of the teachers at elementary schools are female, and always have been -- including in times when boys were performing as well or better than girls.

That raises the question: How can a paucity of male teachers in the early years be generating these gender gaps? I’ve heard one answer -- that a new generation of teachers has emerged from teachers colleges bristling with girl-empowerment indoctrination.

That conspiracy theory, however, doesn’t match what I see on the ground. Teachers are not ideologues.

If you are inclined to believe that the gender of the teacher at the front of the classroom is the source of these gender gaps, look to middle school, not elementary school. Middle school is where male teachers have nearly evaporated over the past two decades. And middle school is where we see the academic gender gaps blossom.

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