Male teachers: A strong answer to peer pressure, 01-08-2007

As a survey of eight to 11-year-olds reveals that 39 per cent of boys have no male teachers, former teacher Kurt Browne explains why male role models in schools are vital

He was one of the brightest boys in the year, with supportive parents but when he was 15 he suddenly stopped trying.

He left school at 16 with two GCSEs and two children by different girls. He felt very proud of himself. I'm convinced that one of the reasons that made it cool for him not to care was the power of his peer group.

Peer pressure is one of the strongest influences on boys today and one reason why so many are leaving school with no qualifications and virtually no chance of getting a job.

The absence of positive male role models in many of their lives - at home and particularly in the school environment - means that their peers are the only people they have to judge themselves against.

More male teachers in primary schools mean we could pre-empt this problem. Once boys reach year 10 (at 15), a surge of masculinity takes over and they will want to assert their authority, and challenge both parents and teachers.
The teacher's battle is then against testosterone, the peer group and the street where the culture is never to back down to authority no matter what.

I have spent all my adult life trying to help disaffected boys. I was born in Trinidad but came to London when I was 19 because my father could see I was mixing with the wrong crowd at home.

I did ''A'' levels followed by a teaching degree then, in 1984, became a youth worker in the tough Stonebridge Estate in north-west London.

I met many parents in despair because their children were failing in school so I decided if I wanted to make a difference, then I would teach.

I taught RE and PE for 20 years in comprehensives and in 2000 I became the lead learning mentor in my school, supporting children through their problems and motivating them.

Many former pupils have told me that I've been like a father to them.
Some parents have low expectations for their children and that is another reason for failure. Boys in particular don't value education.

They don't see men succeeding in the professional world so it doesn't occur to them that they could make something of themselves.

Schools are at fault here, too. Due to the immense pressure on teachers to gain results, students are spoon-fed and trained to pass exams, rather than encouraged to think for themselves.

Instead schools must help children learn to take responsibility for their education and their lives. After all, school is the most powerful influence on youngsters after their parents.

We can't change a child's mother or father, but schools can provide the environment for change, and provide the right role models for them.

Without male teachers as an alternative role model, the influence of peers and street culture is all-powerful. Boys want to be part of a club or gang.
Teachers need to be trained to challenge that but not in front of a child's peers. You have to do it one to one, because that is when you see the real child without bravado.

It's pointless sending a child home if he or she has done wrong. They see it as a welcome day off to watch television or play computer games.

Instead schools should have a special unit where a child who misbehaves goes for the day and is counselled about his behaviour -somewhere he can work away from his peers and go home after the other children.

We need to build up a culture of education; ditch political correctness and give teachers the means to do the right thing.

We have to make it cool to learn rather than cool to be deviant, and to do that we need more men in the classrooms to show young boys that there is another path they could take.

· Kurt Browne was talking to Angela Levin