EIGHTY-NINE per cent of primary school teachers are female. Does this in any way disadvantage pupils? Are boys, in particular, missing out on the shortage of male role models in the classroom? Does the absence of father figures at school as well as at home make it easier for gangs to groom boys? Is it possible that the current knife crime epidemic has its roots in an absence of a paternal influence from an early age?
For Richard Madeley, stand-in host for my former pupil Piers Morgan on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, the answer to my questions, if we are to take him seriously, appears to be a resounding ‘No!’ In fact, he became irritated and agitated when I dared to suggest otherwise on last Wednesday’s early-morning show.
He accused me of disparaging female teachers by suggesting that we need more men in the profession. I was doing nothing of the sort, of course, and pointed out that he was adopting a Rita Skeeter approach (manipulative journalist from Harry Potter books) by putting words into my mouth. This did not go down well.
He retorted with by inventing a notion that I must be saying that ‘Primary school teachers who are women are de facto discriminating against boy pupils in the classroom.’ This was his manipulation of my claim that boys and, to some extent, girls were disadvantaged by the lack of male role models.
In my experience the truth is that many, probably most, female teachers agree with me and so do most parents. Pupils too, it seems, prefer to have a few male adults around.
Madeley, though, was having none of it. ‘I can imagine a lot of women teachers getting ready to go to work now will be simmering with anger,’ he declared, showing how out of touch he is with the crisis of gender imbalance and recruitment in the teaching profession.
Nor does he appear to have any clue about the impact on society in general and on children in particular, especially on boys, of the male shortfall in our schools.
‘I remember being in a mixed school,’ Madeley opined. ‘Most of my teachers were women and I don’t feel remotely disadvantaged by that fact at all.’ Some may disagree. Certainly, I came to understand why Madeley is so often compared to the comic creation Alan Partridge.
Good Morning Britain had initially wanted only to discuss mixed-gender sports teams. My fellow guest, Match of the Day’s first female commentator Jacqui Oatley, has rightly complained about what happened when her daughter turned up at a football coaching-for-kids session. The girls were told to play with hula hoops whilst the boys kicked a ball. Completely crazy and a great breakfast TV story! It was, though, a freakish aberration and it did not take place in a school.
I rather threw a spanner in the works by pointing out that the episode should not distract from the fact that girls outperform boys in nearly all areas of school life and that if we wish to feel sorry for anyone, it should be for the boys.
As for mixed-gender sports teams, beyond the early years they are, surely, with some exceptions, potentially dangerous for girls. Want to put girls off sport? Invite them to play with and against boys. Such issues do not arise, of course, within single-sex schools. Jacqui Oatley admitted that she herself was the product of single-sex education.
So, too, was Susanna Reid, who usually co-hosts Good Morning Britain. On this occasion, Charlotte Hawkins was standing in. And it was Hawkins who hit the headlines for attacking me for speaking up for boys. The Mirror made a meal of it by headlining its story: Charlotte Hawkins outraged over ex-head teacher’s ‘dangerous’ comment about girls in sport.
Any support that the newspaper thought it might generate for Charlotte evaporated when readers’ comments appeared. They have since been taken down but seemed to be 100 per cent against her. This one is illustrative:
I wouldn’t want my daughter coming home from school all battered and crying because she’s been made to play a game of rugby with lads. Fu*king ridiculous idea. I have an idea, let’s put Anthony Joshua in the ring with Nicola Adams, see how fair it is.
Subsequent radio coverage in which I was involved showed similar understanding of how boys are the ones missing out in school. Indeed, it seemed few, if any, go along with the PC London media elite stance that girls are always downtrodden victims.
As for the lack of male role models in our primary schools, mums have been lamenting the situation on social media for ages. Here’s an example.
It has become increasingly apparent in recent years that too often the mainstream media feels a PC duty to undermine and manipulate conservativism and conservatives. Lip service may be paid to ‘balance’ but, in practice, we are the counter-revolutionaries whose credibility must be eroded and whose morale must be sapped.
On a banal level this even operates via a two-tier treatment of TV guests. On Wednesday, not for the first time, I was not allowed to sit in the Good Morning Britain ‘green room’ pre-programme with other guests and partake of refreshment. Instead I was provided with a belated cup of tea but no food in an area that was reminiscent of a multi-storey car park. It was little compensation for having to miss breakfast.
Just before going on air I was told that I would be debating with someone called Jacqui. When I asked, ‘Who is Jackie?’ a producer admitted that it had been ‘naughty’ not to have told me that I, the amateur, would be up against a professional media commentator. Nor was I told that the interviewers – Madeley and Hawkins – would be part of ‘Team Jacqui’. The game was given away only by the profusion of hugs and kisses that greeted Jacqui’s arrival on set. Three against one seemed a trifle unfair even if it failed to win the day for them.
Jacqui Oatley, by the way, is a supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers whereas I support Aston Villa. There was therefore every reason for us being at daggers drawn! In fact, off-camera we got on very well indeed. I have no complaints about her. Admirably strong-willed, she was charming and funny.
Sadly, treating guests labelled ‘conservative’ as fair game has become normalised in much of the media. There are a few exceptions and, ironically, one of these is Piers Morgan, the regular presenter of Good Morning Britain. My latest experience on the show made me realise that Piers is one of an endangered species. Perhaps Good Morning Britain producers simply decided that whilst the cat’s away the mice will play. It did not work out quite as they intended, but neither did the transport they ‘arranged’ to get me home. If they don’t get the counter-revolutionaries one way, they will find another.