Ulster 'needs more male primary school teachers'
MP in warning over impact on society
Positive discrimination should be introduced to increase the number of male primary school teachers in Northern Ireland, it was claimed today.
SDLP MP and MLA Alasdair McDonnell said steps must be taken to address the shortage of male teachers.
Dr McDonnell said serious consideration should be given to introducing a grant for male trainee teachers or awarding extra UCAS points to males applying to teaching colleges.
Department of Education figures say there are no male teachers employed in the nursery sector, while in the primary sector, male teachers only make up 16% of the number of teachers.
This disparity is repeated in all educational sectors with the grammar schools, where 38% of teachers are men.
Dr McDonnell said without action to address the situation, the adverse knock-on impact in the context of local society would continue to spiral.
He said: "The yob culture that we see all around us is the result of a multitude of complex factors that have eroded basic common values. It stems in many cases from a lack of discipline.
"But I would make the case that the large numbers of youngsters having no direct link with any form of male authority figure at primary schools level is a critical contributory factor."
He added: "The reality is that we have all sorts of initiatives to try and encourage extra numbers into disciplines and courses, such as maths and the sciences, to raise their graduate numbers.
"Yet we continue to shy away from providing any sort of meaningful scheme to make teaching an option for young males. It means that as a society we are losing out on a massive talent potential.
"Of course I am not trying to make the case that in any way female teachers are inadequate. But equally it would be impossible to argue against the case being made for the beneficial aspects of male pupils being able to identify in a positive fashion with their gender counterparts."
While agreeing that action must be taken to increase the number of male primary school teachers in Northern Ireland, local director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mark Langhammer, said more research must be done.
"ATL would certainly support more research on the under-representation of males in primary teaching, but I'm not sure that quotas or special measures are the answer," he said.
"There is not yet enough hard evidence on why men don't choose a teaching career in primary schools. Anecdotally, the reasons we hear are connected to job status, that primary teaching is seen to be of lower professional status than subject teaching.
"The more nurturing nature of primary school work is often cited as is the fear of male teachers that they will be subject to innuendo on taking up a profession with access to young children.
"ATL would make a plea for empirical evidence on the causes of under-representation, before any action is taken."
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the Minister was acutely aware of the low number of males choosing teaching as a career, particularly in primary teaching and encourages the higher education institutions to take steps to attempt to redress the position.
She added: "While the current legislative framework precludes positive discrimination in favour of male applicants to the teaching profession publicity materials encourages males to apply."