The effectiveness of a teacher is what matters.

Whether a teacher is male or female is of secondary importance. Yet most parents think their children benefit when the teaching staff in primary schools includes both men and women.

As more children spend their formative years in families with a single parent, most often the mother, there is growing concern that many boys grow up without an adult male to provide a role model. That has led to calls to increase the number of men in teaching, especially in primary schools where the majority of teachers are women.

It is particularly disappointing, therefore, that the number of male students training as primary teachers in Scotland has fallen, albeit marginally from 14% in 2007/09 to 13% in 2010/11.

This contrasts notably with the situation in England, where the proportion of men training to teach in primary schools has risen from 18% to 20% this year.

In a sector dominated by women, men can bring a refreshing new perspective that is valuable to both boys and girls. For boys who reach the top years of primary school having being taught solely by women, and who do not have strong male role models in their family, there is a gap in experience in relating to men. Nor should it be forgotten that girls in all-female families also lose out in learning how to relate to men.

All teachers bring individual qualities to their work and in primary school that will include skills ranging from music or art to science and language. In schools where all the teaching staff are women, however, there may be a particular lack of interest in coaching sports, or ability to just have meaningful class discussions about subjects which tend to be of greater interest to boys.

It is also possible that men may take a more robust attitude to risk at a time when schools are criticised for being so risk-averse children are losing out.

More importantly, it is only by seeing men and women work together collaboratively and effectively that children learn that gender is not a barrier.

At a time of cuts in both the public and private sectors, there is an opportunity to attract men into primary teaching who might not have considered it previously.

In particular, those who have gained skills and experience in other areas have much to bring to the teaching of young children for whom education is learning about the world. New recruits will be needed to replace the large number of teachers close to retirement. A better gender balance in the classroom will benefit all.