Skip navigation

Male school principals in short supply

NSW is experiencing a shortage of male primary school principals, now said to be half the number of female principals in public schools.

According to new research paper by Kevin F McGrath, a tertiary supervisor in the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University, representation of female primary school principals increased from 33.8% in 1998 to 66.4% in 2018. Female secondary school principals increased from 22% and 48.4% over the same period.

By contrast, the representation of male primary school principals decreased from 66.2% in 1998 to 33.6% in 2018. In secondary schools, the representation of male principals decreased from 78.0% in 1998 to 51.6% in 2018.

Dr McGrath points out that declining male participation is sharper for leadership roles than classroom teaching positions, and that “these findings raise important questions about organisational responses to shifting markers of gender inequality.”

Traditionally, males dominated leadership positions in teaching until, in 1975, the Whitlam Government committed funding to The Women’s Program as part of the NSW Teachers Federation, and a number of initiatives arose to support women  through the teaching profession.

Dr McGrath says that differential promotion rates which appear to advantage male staff have not translated into more male personnel leadership positions.

“Female staff increasingly hold a greater share of promotion positions in both the primary and secondary education workforce – reflective of greater representation overall,” he says.

“Although proportionately, male staff have higher representation in leadership positions than in classroom teaching positions, surprisingly, the data indicates a sharper decline of male representation in leadership positions than in classroom teaching positions. In the last 20 years the representation of male secondary school principals dropped by 26.4% and the representation of male primary school principals dropped by 32.6%.”

Released in July, his paper acknowledges that leadership positions are sought after by males to reduce the stigma associated with choosing a teaching role – stereotypically regarded as a feminine occupation.

“While the rapid decline of men in leadership positions in NSW Government schools may contribute to mounting pressure to develop initiatives that counter a decline of men in the teaching profession, such initiatives need not ‘threaten’ the representation of women in leadership positions.”

He argues that, given women are underrepresented in leadership positions across numerous industries, “any attempt to redress the declining representation of male school staff, particularly in leadership positions, is perhaps likely to face criticism.”

“Although the NSW Department of Education’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2018–2022 includes both male teachers and women in leadership positions as key foci (NSW Department of Education, 2018) as long as promotion rates indicate male advantage – and despite the possibility that differential promotion rates are in part a symptom of lower representation for male token groups – it is perhaps unlikely that the rapidly declining representation of male school principals will be considered worthy of intervention.

Helping boys from all backgrounds to get a better education is better for everyone. Find out more about Improving Boys' Education

Dr McGrath calls on further investigation to determine why the fall in male leadership positions is so rapid and whether or not the decline requires remedy.

NSW Government schools represent the largest school system in Australia; with 798,777 students, and 48,423 teachers in 2,206 public schools.

NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president Craig Peterson told the Daily Telegraph that union-run gender equity programs had successfully helped more women become principals and there was now a “healthy balance” with leadership numbers.

“It is important to have a mix of appropriate role models — for any child they need to see strong men and they need to see strong women,” he said.

Download and share boys' education poster 

One male principal interviewed by the Telegraph said he thought young men were put off becoming teachers or principals because there was an assumption people would think they were paedophiles.

“We are losing a stable quantity of men in primary school and increasingly in secondary schools. One thing I know from speaking with many young men is that they are afraid of being subject to an allegation,” he said.


According to the AMHF National Health Card released during Men’s Health Week in June, boys in Australia are 52% more likely than girls to drop out of school before the end of Year 12 and boys in NSW are 42.6% more likely.

Education is one of the key social factors that shapes our lives and our health, with lower levels of education linked to shorter life expectancy, poorer physical and mental health, lower wages and higher risk of unemployment.

Yet the representation of men working in schools is just one in four (25.7%) of teaching staff across the nation.

“The lack of men in schools is an issue that continues to be overlooked in initiatives to address workforce diversity,” says the report.


DOWNLOAD When female leaders outnumber men: the decline of male school principals in Australia (Kevin McGrath) 

Download The Plight of the Male Teacher: An Interdisciplinary and Multileveled Theoretical Framework for Researching a Shortage of Male Teachers (Kevin McGrath, Shaaista Moosa, Penny Van Bergen, Deevia Bhana) 

DOWNLOAD Men’s Health Report Card 2019, Rating the State of Male Health in Australia (AMHF)

DOWNLOAD NSW Men’s Health Report Card 2019

READ: Males working in NSW public schools plummeting (Daily Telegraph paywall)


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.


Stay in touch with AMHF by signing up to our Men’s Health newsletters.