Plans to discriminate in favour of men applying for teaching jobs in Birmingham are being considered by education chiefs.
The radical move is in response to long-standing problems recruiting male teachers, particularly at primary school level.
However, law experts warned that the authority could end up in court having to fight costly legal battles for breaching anti-discrimination laws. The proposals are included in a recruitment and retention strategy document set to be put out to consultation in the new year. "We are looking at positive discrimination," said Valerie Farquharson, recruitment manager at Birmingham City Council.
"It is something we will look at and consider whether it is possible to do. We are talking about positive action where there has been under-representation of men."
Positive discrimination in favour of men would be considered "across the board" in schools, but with a focus on primaries, the authority stated. Women currently make up 83 per cent of teachers at primary level in Birmingham and nearly 60 per cent of teachers in secondary schools. The situation is roughly replicated across the country. Veronica Dean, of Birmingham-based employment lawyers Averta, said the authority risked breaking the law if it implemented a positive discrimination policy.
"Whilst there may well be a disparity, particularly in primary schools, and all sorts of social reasons why it would be nice to have more men, if any employer discriminates and says it wants men just because they are men, that would be unlawful," she said.
A spokeswoman for the employment arbitration service Acas added: "The employment legislation states you can encourage applications from under-represented groups. What you can't do is positively discriminate and recruit just men."
Pupils can go through their entire primary education without being taught by a single man. Some educationalists blame this for lower achievement among boys compared with girls.
Ms Farquharson said pupils in some households in the city did not have any male authority figures to learn from.
"If we look at the family unit, there are many single parents," she said. "It is not having a male figure within the home or even in the school. We are developing a recruitment and retention strategy which will be put out to consultation."
A survey by the Training and Development Agency for Schools last year found nearly half of all five to 11-year-olds never came into contact with male teachers.
The agency reported 14 per cent of trainee primary school teachers in 2005/06 were men – 2,301 compared with 14,183 women.
However, the organisation did not advocate discriminating against women.
"We wish to point out that it is the quality of the character and potential of graduates to make good teachers that we seek – we don’t advocate that men or women make better teachers," said a spokesman.
Last week a study by the National Union of Teachers and Warwick University highlighted a worrying trend of sexually abusive language been used by pupils as young as five against teachers. Having more male teachers in school may be one way of tackling the problem but Sean Neil, author of the report, said it was more important that children had good teachers supported by parents.
"Clearly, a child who is supported at home with a father who is involved in their education is important," he said.