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Revealed: Workforce shows women dominate teaching profession in Northern Ireland, except in the top roles


Teacher helping female pupil with writing

Teacher helping female pupil with writing

St Marys College

St Marys College

Dr Matthew Milliken, Ulster University

Dr Matthew Milliken, Ulster University


Teacher helping female pupil with writing

Less than a quarter of Northern Ireland's teachers are male, according to a new report.

Figures show the workforce continues to be female-dominated – and the disparity is increasing.

Yet female teachers are still underrepresented in the top jobs in education, even as the profession struggles to attract a higher number of male employees.

The data emerged in a report published yesterday by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

In Northern Ireland, the number of teachers has increased overall across the profession — up to 20,936, up by more than 1,000 on five years ago, though the number of pupils in schools has also increased significantly in the same period.

Yet there is a clear gender divide.

In 2021/22, 77.2% of all teachers (16,157) were female and 22.8% (4,779) were male. That compared to 77% of females and 23% of males in 2017/18.

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The figures cover teachers across all schools, in full-time and part-time roles.

The gender difference is most notable in early years education, with no male teachers in nursery school, and only 15.6% of primary school teachers are male.

By the time pupils reach grammar school, 67.7 % of their teachers are female and 32.3% male.

But females make up less than half (46.4%) of principals in post primary education. Overall, 61% of principals are female, though the figure is elevated due to there being no male teachers or principals in nursery schools.

The average age of teachers is also rising. In 2017/18, 33.7% of the teaching workforce was aged 30-39, but that has now fallen to 29.2%. In contrast, the number of teachers aged 20-29 has risen from 19.7% to 22.3% over the same period.

The average age of a teacher is now 42.3 years, an increase from 41.5 years in 2017/18.

But it’s the growing divide overall between male and female teachers, and the disparity when it comes to taking the top jobs as school principals which will be most concerning for the sector.

At St Mary’s University College, one of the two main teaching universities in Northern Ireland, work is ongoing to address the gender balance.

“When it comes to the promotion of our BEd degree programmes we ensure that there is a balance in terms of post primary schools that we visit and engage with to ensure we are reaching the same amount of boys and girls,” the college said. 

But at Ulster University’s UNESCO Education Centre, Dr Matthew Milliken said the latest figures should send a warning signal that change is needed.

“Male teachers have always been disproportionately more likely to reach senior positions (Head Teacher or Deputy Head) than their female counterparts; this is particularly evident in primary schools where women make up 85% of the teaching workforce but less than 60% of principals,” he said. 

“Around 20% of our over 20,000 teachers here work on a part-time basis. Women make up nearly 95% of these part-time teachers.

“It is hard to break the glass ceiling if you are unable to be physically present in the school on a daily basis or to routinely undertake the expected out-of-hours responsibilities required for principals to work alongside the school’s board of governors.”

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