Universities could get more cash for enrolling men on primary teacher training courses, the Teacher Training Agency said this week.
Announcing its three-year corporate plan, the agency said 20 per cent more men needed to be recruited to primary training by September 2002. But the target was received with scepticism by university departments of education.
Barry Miller, head of teacher training at Bradford College, questioned how the increase could be achieved when numbers of applications from male students were so low - of 350 undergraduates on primary teaching courses at the college, which awards Bradford University degrees, 14 are male.
"We already enrol all the properly qualified male applicants, so what does that leave us with?" Mr Miller asked. "We can't select applicants who aren't good enough just to meet quotas."
An advertising campaign next month will target men, emphasising career prospects and salaries. But Mr Miller said a cultural shift was needed to show men the importance of early-years teaching.
"Men who are considering a career in teaching are far more likely to opt for secondary schools as primary education is usually regarded as a female domain," he said. "The stereotype in primary schools is two male members of staff - the head and the caretaker - and often this is borne out in reality."
Factors putting men off primary teaching included pay, status and nervousness concerning abuse accusations, he said.
Martin Pearson is the only male student on Bradford's BA education studies degree who has opted for an extra postgraduate year to convert to primary. He said: "There just aren't enough role models in primary schools, and that could be one reason why boys are not achieving their full potential."
The TTA also wants to increase numbers of trainees from ethnic minority backgrounds and those with disabilities.