The vast majority of teachers in primary schools are female; even in leadership teams, including headteacher roles, there are considerably fewer men than women, although the imbalance is less dramatic.
Research from the Education Policy Institute shows that male teachers have a higher tendency to leave the profession year on year and that, in the last five years, the number of men teaching at primary schools in England has remained low, at just 14.1%.
This inequality of gender representation in teaching is a problem, not only for teaching staff but also for students. A key issue, raised time and time again, resulting from the lack of men teaching in primary schools is the lack of male role models for boys when they are young.
It is important that there are more men teaching in primary schools for boys to form relationships with and seek support from, in particular, those boys who do not have a male presence in their lives at home.
The lack of male teachers in primary schools also fosters the perception among boys that teaching is a female role, and this directly and negatively impacts the number of boys considering teaching as a profession.
At Eastern Learning Alliance (ELA) we recognise that there is a need for greater equality within the teaching profession, not only for men but also women wanting to progress their careers and become a part of leadership teams.
By approaching gender equality across all levels in teaching, instead of only looking to fix the issue of low male teaching figures, we can create the change needed and achieve gender equality across the board.
To make this change, we need to talk about how we face the challenge of bringing men into the profession and retaining them once they’re there, but also about ensuring that there is the right support in place to provide women with equal opportunities to progress and develop as leaders.
As a trust, ELA is working to improve opportunities for all in its family of schools. We are employing policies, practices and a culture that supports flexible working across all management and teaching positions, for the benefit of both male and female staff.
Over the last three years, we have used the ‘Investors in People’ guidance, along with workload feedback, to inform structural staffing changes and improvements to flexible working conditions. In December of each year, all staff have been asked which hours/work pattern they would each prefer for the coming academic year.
The timetable for each school is then built around this, helping all staff to achieve a work-life balance.
Opportunities for the trust’s senior leadership team have also been created to achieve a balanced gender representation, with flexible working options allowing members of the leadership team who are juggling family and care commitments to do both.
This has had a direct positive impact on staff wellbeing. In the last three years, teacher retention and absence rates have significantly improved with two-thirds fewer staff leaving, and two-thirds fewer staff absence days across the trust.
Staff productivity has also improved, leading to a broader curriculum, an improved student experience and consistently high pupil outcomes as a result.
Ultimately, the driving force to buck the trend for teacher recruitment and retention, I believe, is the culture that each school creates for its staff. Driven by the strong leadership of the trust, all employees across the ELA schools have access to extensive training, learning and professional development opportunities.
The strong ethos and values which are developed and shared among our teaching staff enable the trust to maintain an important culture of promotion from within. Ultimately, joining an ELA school as a teacher leads to a challenging and rewarding career, where teachers are valued as role models within the whole trust community.
Ryan Kelsall, deputy CEO, Eastern Learning Alliance.