Dáil debates

Tuesday, 26 April 2005

3:00 pm

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Question 52: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the decreasing number of males entering the teacher profession at all levels; the steps she intends to take to ensure a better gender balance in the teaching profession; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13161/05]

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I am aware of the decreasing number of males entering the teaching profession and I know that the situation is particularly acute at primary level. The relatively low number of males in the teaching force is a feature common to all OECD countries. OECD statistics show the situation in Ireland to be close to the OECD average. It is important to attract more men into teaching for a number of reasons, not least of which is the positive role models teachers provide in children's lives and the desirability of having both male and female role models in our schools.

Teaching should be seen as an attractive profession for the best candidates of both genders. It is fulfilling work which makes a significant social contribution. With the increases in teachers' salaries under partnership agreements and benchmarking in recent years, it is also now a well paid job. The average salary for a teacher is now €50,000 per annum, an increase of approximately 43% on the 1997 figure. This compares very favourably with an average industrial wage of about €29,000 per annum. The pension and holiday entitlements of teachers also heighten the attractiveness of the profession. Teachers are deservedly held in very high regard in this country.

This Government wants to attract and reward the best teachers. In addition to increasing teachers' salaries, we have also undertaken other initiatives to enhance the status of the profession. Not least of these is the establishment of the Teaching Council as a professional regulatory body.

I know however, that a particular focused effort must be made to encourage more men to become teachers, particularly at primary level. A report on attracting more men into primary teaching is being compiled by a committee comprised of representatives of the colleges of education, the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, the INTO and officials of my Department.

The main objective of this committee is to make recommendations on strategies and initiatives to increase the number of males entering primary teaching. It is expected that the committee will make recommendations in respect of both short-term and long-term strategies. The work of the committee is almost complete and I understand I can expect to receive its report within a few weeks. In examining the recommendations of the committee, my Department will also have regard to elements of the report which would assist in the examination of this issue at second level.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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I welcome that this report is due shortly. Will the Minister publish it when it becomes available? On the OECD figures, the average is 20% whereas in the figures available here, only 10% of students in teacher training colleges are now male. At second level, only 15% of new ASTI members are male, so I suggest the trend is also progressive at second level. Does the Minister agree that this needs to be addressed, especially if it is a progressive trend? If the imbalance were the other way around, we would feel the need to address it. We should address the issue of males in teaching. Does the Minister intend to examine the effect of the leaving certificate curriculum on how boys perform and does she propose changing it? Does the Minister intend to look at the teaching of Irish and the fact that the need for honours level Irish to get into primary teaching is a possible obstacle for men in teaching? Moreover, does the Minister have figures for postgraduate courses and if men feature more predominantly in them?

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I am not sure if there is any connection between boys doing honours Irish for the leaving certificate and their subsequent entry into the training colleges. It is useful to look at the numbers across both sectors, as Deputy O'Sullivan has done. For example, when the appointment of teachers at primary school last year is considered, 1,213 female teachers were appointed and only 144 male teachers. This represents a 9:1 ratio, which is of great concern. The situation is somewhat better at second level in the voluntary, secondary, community and comprehensive schools where 279 male teachers were appointed for the first time, which represents 29.1% of the total number of first-time appointees. This is genuinely a concern. However, various factors are involved in this trend, including personal choice, parental influence, career guidance, academic ability and the image of teaching as a career generally, particularly for men. The factors also include the image of the colleges of education, perhaps based on tradition rather than fact and perceptions regarding pay and conditions.

I look forward to receiving the report to see the recommendations. There are positive moves that could be taken, but one must be very careful about equality legislation to ensure one does not discriminate in favour of one group. I am conscious of the trend because of the need to have role models of both genders.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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In light of boys' performance in the leaving certificate and the Minister's somewhat conservative approach to reforming the curriculum, would the Minister accept that the current method of examining the leaving certificate, which is mainly about memorisation, hinders boys' examination performance and their opportunities to enter teacher training colleges, which have quite high points?

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy O'Sullivan is quite mistaken in thinking I am opposed to changing the curriculum. The curriculum needs to be constantly updated and to respond to societal changes. We need to examine the entry-points rating of teacher training colleges in the context of the question. The entry points rating is not prohibitively high. The dearth of men in teacher training colleges has more to do with men not actively choosing teaching as a career. Recently, I met some young male teachers at the INTO conference and suggested to them that they should go out and promote the profession in secondary schools. The lack of status men afford to teaching has much to do with the dearth of men entering the profession. However, I will certainly take the report's recommendations on board.