I recently read an article in The Mancunion, titled “What do Teach First ambassadors actually promote?” As a Teach First teacher, I would love to answer that question and clear up a few misconceptions.
I began the Teach First Leadership Development Programme (LDP) in 2013 and am currently teaching Maths in a school in Oldham. I completed the programme last year, and have chosen to stay in the classroom as a qualified teacher.
Teach First is an educational charity with a mission of ending education inequality between pupils from low income backgrounds and their wealthier peers. Teach First teachers are trained throughout a two-year programme which places them in schools serving low-income communities.
Since it was founded in 2003, Teach First has placed ten thousand teachers into schools who have collectively taught over a million pupils. The majority, like myself, continue working in the profession after completing the LDP. In fact, of the ten thousand or so that Teach First has recruited since it started in 2003, the majority (56 per cent) are still teachers. A recent independent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that these teachers are three times more likely to be teaching in disadvantaged schools and seven times more likely to be in leadership positions.
There is a recruitment crisis in school teaching at the moment. A charity providing ten thousand new teachers—and placing them in those schools that often struggle the most for recruitment—can hardly be accused of contributing to this problem.
A further 12 per cent of those who complete the LDP remain in education more generally—working in charities, for example. 49 charities have sprung up in just over a decade from former Teach First teachers. One example is Frontline, which trains its applicants to become social workers. Their founder, Josh MacAlister, a former Teach First teacher, was inspired to set up Frontline following his experiences in the classroom.
Admittedly, some—though just 14 per cent of those who completed the LDP since 2003—have gone in to business. However, many of that 14 per cent still have strong links to education. Whilst tackling educational inequality means excellent classroom teachers and head teachers , it also means politicians, entrepreneurs, business and charity leaders working in their own arenas to address it.
The article also suggests that schools choose to take on Teach First participants as they will inevitably be cheaper than someone with years of experience. Actually, schools choose to engage with Teach First because of the benefits it brings and the quality of teachers—not least because these schools in deprived areas often struggle to attract new teachers in the first place.
Additionally, it is not correct to say that Teach First teachers only receive six weeks of training with a lack of support and no practical training. The LDP begins with an initial intensive five weeks of training over the summer—including hands-on experience in schools—but this is just the beginning.
Those on the LDP then get two years of non-stop support from university tutors, in-school mentors, and Teach First Leadership Development Officers, during which they study towards a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (though from next year they will study towards a Post Graduate Diploma in Education, which is actually worth more credits than the PGCE). The support I received was excellent. It is no surprise that Ofsted rate Teach First’s training as Outstanding.
The article is correct to note that many schools in low-income communities face challenging behavioural issues. However, Teach First teachers are dealing with this every day and are trained to handle difficult classrooms right from the beginning. If you were to ask students in these schools how many years of experience a teacher should have, they likely would not care, because their teacher cares about them.
Teach First has never suggested that it is, or implied that it should be, the only pathway into teaching. Teach First has a unique role in recruiting and developing leaders in communities that need them the most. There are many excellent routes into teaching and Teach First is proud to be just one.
Finally, one thing I definitely agree with in the article is the author’s suggestion that, “If you see Teach First ambassadors on campus, ask them about these issues and listen carefully to their responses.” Who knows, it could be you walking into the classroom next year.
Andy Milne graduated from the University of Manchester in 2011 and currently teaches maths at a school in Oldham.