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Gender diversity in the school workforce across the UK home nations

Joshua Fullard, Assistant professor at University of Warwick

Due to the budgetary pressures of the 2008 financial crisis the then UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced a public sector pay freeze in 2010. In 2013 the pay freeze was replaced by a 1 per cent cap on public sector pay that remained in place until 2018. 

As a consequence of that 2010 public sector pay freeze, the salaries of more experienced teachers’ have fallen by more than 9 per cent (Sibieta, 2022). Not only has this made teaching less attractive to prospective entrants – the Department for Education has consistently missed recruitment targets since 2013 – but there are also concerns over the implications for the composition of the school workforce. My latest research investigates how the composition of the school workforce has changed in England, over the past decade, and contrasts these changes with the other UK home nations (Fullard, 2022). 

Teacher diversity in England 

Teaching is a female-dominated occupation across the OECD. While men have, historically, been overrepresented in senior positions, the school workforce in England is no different. The latest data shows that the school workforce is becoming even more female-dominated in England. The proportion of male secondary school teachers is at a record low (35 per cent) and has stagnated in primary schools since 2016 (14 per cent). 

Looking at gender representation at the school level we find that 24 per cent of state-funded schools in England do not have a single male classroom teacher and 47 per cent of state schools do not have a male in the senior leadership team. 

‘The latest data shows that the school workforce is becoming even more female-dominated in England. The proportion of male secondary school teachers is at a record low (35 per cent) and has stagnated in primary schools since 2016.’ 

Comparisons across the home nations 

While there is a striking lack of gender diversity in England, my latest research shows that the situation is more acute in Wales where 30 per cent of schools do not have a male classroom teacher. This is higher than England (24 per cent) and every region in England apart from the East Midlands (also 30 per cent) (Fullard, 2022). 

Northern Ireland has generally had the lowest proportion of schools without a male teacher among the home nations (28 per cent vs 39 per cent in Wales and 32 per cent in England in 2010). However, over the past decade the proportion of schools without a male teacher has fallen significantly more in Wales (9.4 percentage points) and England (8.3 percentage points) compared to Northern Ireland (3 percentage points). As a consequence, the proportion of schools without a male teacher in Northern Ireland is marginally higher than in England today (25 per cent vs 24 per cent). 

Representation and pupil attainment  

The gender differences in school representation we observe across the home nations might, at least partially, explain the differences in cognitive attainment (see Sibieta & Fullard, 2021). Specifically, boys in Wales generally have lower levels of cognitive attainment compared to their English counterparts and they are more likely to be in a school without a male teacher. Similarly, boys in Northern Ireland generally outperform their English counterparts and they are more likely to be in a school with a male teacher. 

While this is not intended to be interpreted as causal, it supports an empirical literature that shows that teacher diversity influences pupil attainment and seems like a promising area of future research (Dee, 2005). 

Concluding remarks 

While attracting men into teaching is important for purposes of diversity and representation as well as meeting recruitment targets in STEM subjects, at least in the short run, this highlights a wider issue facing the school workforce – teaching has become less attractive over the past decade. Indeed, recent evidence suggests that 3 in 10 classroom teachers would be financially better off if they left the profession (see Fullard, 2021). Combine the decline in pay with the pressures of teaching during the pandemic, and it is no surprise that policymakers are struggling to recruit and retain the quantity, quality and composition of teachers required. 

We are very fortunate that personal motivations ensure that there are enough professionals willing to do this critically important job. We might not be so lucky in the future.


References 

Dee, T. S. (2005). A teacher like me: Does race, ethnicity, or gender matter?, American Economic Review, 95, 158–165. https://doi.org/10.1257/000282805774670446

Fullard, J. (2021). Relative wages and pupil performance: Evidence from Timss. ISER Working Paper 2021/07. https://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/research/publications/working-papers/iser/2021-07

Fullard, J. (2022). Teacher diversity in England 2010–2021. Education Policy Institute. https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/diversity-of-teachers/

Sibieta, L. (2022). The even longer squeeze on teacher pay. Institute for Fiscal Studies. https://ifs.org.uk/publications/15989

Sibieta, L., & Fullard, J. (2021). The evolution of cognitive skills during childhood across the UK. Education Policy Institute. https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/the-evolution-of-cognitive-skills-during-childhood-across-the-uk/

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