Harris, J. et al, 2020, What’s the (Gender) Difference?: Views on Male Primary Teachers from Three Controlled Primary School Communities

What's the (Gender) Difference?: Views on Male Primary Teachers from Three Controlled Primary School Communities

Research Report


Northern Ireland, like most developed countries, has experienced a long-term decline in the proportion of male primary teachers, to around 15%. The question of males in teaching has been connected in public discourse to the long-standing problem of underachievement lying particularly with working class, Protestant boys. According to existing research, this is mainly due to the joint assumptions of gender matching (the idea that boys will achieve better outcomes with a male teacher) and compensatory theory (the idea that male teachers provide role models that compensate for the lack (or shortcomings) of a father figure at home). However, these theories remain largely unexplored in the context of Northern Ireland’s school  communities. This qualitative pilot research project investigated the perceptions of male and female pupils, teachers, parents and principals in three Controlled primary school communities in East Belfast and North Down, regarding the difference a male primary teacher might make.

Three key themes emerged from the project data. Firstly, it is clear that gender equality is a strong shared desire across all stakeholders in the primary school. This is both in terms of having a more equitable balance of male and female teachers and a balance in distribution across year groups, with parents in particular calling for more males ‘down’ the school, working with the youngest children in Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 classrooms. Secondly, male teachers were seen as particularly ‘fun’ by pupils, parents and teachers alike. We suggest that this perception could be related to their rarity within the primary school environment, but is also counter-balanced by the similarly widely shared view that male teachers lacked ‘caring’, ‘nurturing’ styles of teaching. Thirdly, the theme of male teachers providing vital role models for children coming from disadvantaged and/or singleparent households was strong in parents’, principals’ and teachers’ interviews. This theme aligns closely with compensatory theory, demonstrating that this is a widely shared point of view amongst adult stakeholders in primary education.

While this small pilot study cannot claim to provide generalised conclusions, the rich qualitative data gathered here goes some way to supporting calls to work harder to change the prejudicial views in society which appear to discourage males wishing to embark on a career in teaching, especially in primary schools and, most acutely, working with children in Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1.

Further research could explore the issue of the impacts of teacher gender in primary education across a wider range of schools of different management types and in different community settings across Northern Ireland and further afield.

Output Information

Harris, J., Purdy, N., Cummins, B., Rogers, C., McKenzie, H., McMenemy, R., Winter, F. (2020), What's the (Gender) Difference?: Views on Male Primary Teachers from Three Controlled Primary School Communities. Belfast: Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement, Stranmillis University College
Published: 07/12/2020 Date Desposited: 07/12/2020