HL Deb 30 November 1998 vol 595 cc239-40

3 p.m.

Lord Northbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any plans to increase the number of suitably qualified men working in primary schools.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, the Government recognise the problem of under-representation of men in primary teaching. Last week the Teacher Training Agency asked all providers of initial teacher training courses to set themselves targets to focus their efforts to recruit more men into teacher training and to produce action plans stating how they will work towards that goal.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I am most grateful for that encouraging reply. Does the Minister agree that this is in no way a sexist issue? No one suggests that men teachers are better than women teachers. The problem is that at a certain age, boys begin to ask, "What does it mean to be male? What does it mean to be a boy?" Unfortunately, in many of our schools today boys believe that it is not cool for them to work in schools and that that is what girls do. Does the noble Baroness agree that that is the reason that more men are needed in primary schools to act as role models?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that because we want to attract more men into primary school teaching, it should not be deduced that women do not make very good primary teachers. There are literally hundreds of thousands of excellent teachers of young children who are women.

However, I agree also with the noble Lord that we should actively encourage men to join the teaching profession and that boys should not receive the impression that teaching is only for girls. But it should be noted that the proportion of men in secondary teaching is still around half of the profession. It is just under 50 per cent.

Lord Tope

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in addition to lousy pay and career prospects, one of the main reasons that men are not attracted to primary school teaching is that primary schools are perceived to be less important and to have less status than secondary schools? Therefore, it is perceived that men who wish to be primary school teachers must therefore be unambitious, effeminate or worse. What steps are the Government taking to improve that wholly wrong perception of primary school teaching?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I hope that any man thinking of becoming a primary school teacher would not imagine for one minute that he will be perceived as effeminate or worse.

It is important that we raise the status of primary teaching but that we should attach also a great deal of importance to what primary schools do. Indeed, since the Government took office, they have placed an enormous amount of emphasis on primary education. It is the basis for what happens later. The Government have invested substantial additional funds into it and have said that it is crucial to our literacy and numeracy campaign to raise standards.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, before the end of the last Session, my noble friend answered a Question from me which indicated that only 17 per cent. of male teachers are in primary education and now only 47 per cent. in secondary schools. Will the Minister act on the proposition that the situation in primary schools is now so serious that the Government need a crash programme to encourage male teachers in that particular sector of education; and also to ensure that there is not a further decline in the number of male teachers in secondary schools?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I can confirm the figures: 47.6 per cent. of teachers in secondary schools are male and 17.1 per cent. of teachers in primary schools are male. However, the figures for primary schools are not very different from those for 20 or 50 years ago. There has always been a large preponderance of women teachers in our primary schools. The figures have gone down a little, but only marginally. I accept that we do not wish to see a further decline and that, indeed, we wish to encourage more men into the profession. We shall announce measures later this week to improve prospects for teachers in both primary and secondary schools. The Government hope that that will encourage more men into both sectors.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, with reference to the noble Baroness's last comment, will she clarify whether specific measures are to be proposed in the paper that is representing the most radical shake-up of the teaching profession in 50 years? Will that particular imbalance be addressed specifically in that paper?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, we should wait until the paper is published later this week.