Yearly Archives: 2012

Will Teach First receive an additional £76m to manage their own programme from 2013? An what are the consequences for staff working within universities with Teach First contracts from 2013?

There are some significant changes afoot in the world of initial teacher education. Not least of these has been the rise of Teach First. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have many concerns about this organisation, not least the significant public monies that this ‘charity’ receives to go about its work. But from September 2013, things are going to change dramatically, and, in my view, not for the better.

Currently, Teach First works through a partnership arrangement with universities across the UK to deliver its programme. But from September 2013 things will change. If the current bidding/tendering process proceeds as expected, from September 2013 Teach First itself will become a provider of initial teacher education in its own right. It will receive its own ITE allocation of student numbers and funding directly, before sub-contracting with universities to help deliver its programme.

This in itself is curious and worth dwelling on further. The tender is for the establishment of a National ITT Provider for the Teach First Programme, with around £76m up for grabs to undertake this role. But my sources tell me that Teach First itself has applied to become the national ITT provider for its own programme! In other words, they are bidding for £76m of public money to manage the whole ITE process themselves, As we will see, this includes the imposition of draconian contracts on any universities who choose to partner with them in this new role.

The precise nature of these new contracts should cause many universities and their staff significant concerns. I’ve seen copies of the ‘Relationship Management’ parts of these proposed contracts that Teach First have written, and they contain clauses which give Teach First significant responsibitlies for the direct recruitment, management and discipline of university appointed staff.

So, not only do Teach First want to exert significant influence about the content of the programme, as it is delivered by their university partner, they want to have a significant influence in the selection of university staff, their performance management, and any potential discipline procedures that they may face. This worries me considerably.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. In the current climate of reducing HEI student numbers, will universities be able to, or want to, resist the imposition of draconian contracts such as this with affluent partners like Teacher First  (given their new status and power as an independent provider of ITE?
  2. As a member of staff working in a university with a new Teach First contract, would you be happy working under such an arrangement? Have you been informed about the potential consequences on your work post 2013 if your university is expecting to work with Teach First and this new National ITT Provider for the Teach First Programme organisation?
  3. Why is an additional £76m of public money being made available to the successful winner of the National ITT Provider for the Teach First Programme tender? One might have thought that Teach First should be able to fund and deliver its own programme without this public subsidy.

Perhaps you wondering about how many students the new Teach First programme will train? This information is contained within the tender document: 1,250 in 2013/14 increasing to 1,500 in 2014/15. So, between 2013 – 2016 they will be training approximately 4,250 students. £76m for 4250 students = £17,8882/student, Remember though, that this £76m is in addition to the core funding that individual Teach First students attract and which is paid, currently, to Teach First working in partnership with selected universities. Please contrast that with the traditional PGCE routes which are having to run on the basis of student fees alone (i.e. £9k/year with no additional subsidy). Hardly a level playing field.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little political will to challenge the prevailing narrative about the success of Teach First. However, all the recent research has shown that Teach First students do not enjoy long teaching careers. Only around 40% of their students are still in teaching five years after their programme has ended. And this includes students who Teach First say are working in education but are actually maybe contributing as little as one day a month on their mentoring programmes (whilst working full time in a bank, perhaps?). The actual figure is likely to be much less. Teach First costs us, the taxpayer, significantly more; it doesn’t educate teachers that are any better than traditional routes; their teachers leave the profession sooner than those trained through other routes; and, from September 2013, hundreds of university staff working on Teach First contracts could find themselves being accountable to Teach First directly for their work and suffer the consequences, personally, if they don’t meet their standards or share their dominant ideology.


An update on the new Qualified Music Educator award

Those of you with very long memories will remember that two of Darren Henley’s recommendations (Nos 24 & 25, remember those?) related to the establishment of a ‘Qualified Music Educator’ award. Well, nearly two years since those recommendations were published we are still to see such an award implemented although, as we will see, some progress has been made.

The Creative & Cultural Skills organisation is responsible for the development of this award. So far, a draft qualification framework has been written that you can download from here. The group has asked for feedback on their work via Survey Monkey and you can access this here. Continue reading

A house of cards?

As usual, anytime I publish a post here about Teach First it causes a reaction from many advocates and supporters who feel the need to point out supposed weaknesses in my presentation of data drawn from independent sources.

Yesterday’s post caused such a reaction from several folk. Firstly, can I say, loudly and clearly, that I am not in any way criticising the individual students studying on the Teach First programme. Many, if not all, of the students working their way through the Teach First programme are dedicated, skilful and highly intelligent young people and I’m delighted that they have chosen a career (albeit a short one perhaps) in teaching. Continue reading

The failure of Teach First: the retention chart they didn’t want you to see

Three cheers for researchers from the University of Buckingham, who have produced an analytical report into the state of initial teacher education in 2012. Using data supplied by the DfE themselves, they have demonstrate the abject failure of Teach First, compared to other training routes, to educate teachers who enjoy a long career in teaching. This is the table they, Teach First, didn’t want you to see:


The chart compares retention in the same after training on the various secondary routes. As you can see, students from university-based PGCE courses and SCITTs fare in a similar way (with, broadly speaking, 75% remaining in teaching after five years). But, as the report itself says, the striking thing:

… is the way the retention from the flagship Teach First trainees drops from 93% to 40% after five years. This is not unexpected. On this scheme, graduates from the leading universities commit themselves to serve for two years in challenging schools before pursuing their intended careers. It is essentially 40% gained for teaching rather than 60% lost, but given Teach First’s high profile and strong government backing it is not necessarily what people want to hear.

Not what people want to hear, but they need to hear it! The most expensive, self-inflated and pompous programme of initial teacher education I have ever seen is the one that is responsible for over half their students leaving teaching after five years! This is not a 40% gain for teaching. It is a massive waste of taxpayer’s money that could be spent on the further development and support of established, value-for money and high quality programmes such as those offered by universities and school partnerships. Please, someone, wake up and see Teach First for what it is: a massively expensive, ideologically-ridden, PR-driven programme that makes little long-term impact on the quality of our teaching workforce.

Book Review: Technology and the Gendering of Music Education by Victoria Armstrong

This book explores, most successfully, the construction of gendered identities in the music technology classroom. In particular, it explores these identities within the specific activity of musical composition with technology. Whilst I think that Armstrong is wrong to state that the current research literature ‘ignores the socially constructed nature of computers and computer use’ (p.1), she is right to point out that much of the current research literature in the field of music education with technology focuses on issues other than the gendered implications focused on within her book. This book is an important redress to that imbalance. Continue reading

It’s good to hear from another critic of Teach First

Sometimes I feel like the only person who is prepared to stand up and criticise Teach First. However, since my name appeared in a recent Guardian article, several colleagues at universities across the UK have got in touch and told me about their concerns. All of them are unwilling to go public about these given that their employers all have contracts in place with Teach First and they ‘don’t want to rock the boat’ (in one source’s words).

So, it was encouraging to read this letter in the TES today from Professor Bill Boyle, University of Manchester (which is deemed worthy of collaboration with Teach First):

I did not know whether to be amused, appalled or amazed at the letter in defence of Teach First and its claim to have a training programme based on research findings, relevant theory and “wealth of expertise in pedagogy” (“First and foremost”, 16 November). As professor of educational assessment at a Russell Group university, neither I nor the three other professors with relevant expertise have been consulted about or involved in our university’s version of the programme. Probably for the simple reason that any worthwhile immersion in research and theory of pedagogy takes longer than the quick scamper through sound bites that the Teach First programme allocates for trainees.

Well said Bill.

Apologies for the lack of posts recently

Apologies for the lack of content recently. I’ve been having some technical issues with the blog and these have only just been resolved. I’ve had to move the content across to this new hosting and, unfortunately, have lost some of the tags and categories. I’m hoping to get this sorted over the next week or so. Please bear with me.

Dear Mr Gove: Michael Rosen’s letter from a curious parent

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve been enjoying Michael Rosen’s ‘letters from a curious parent’ to Michael Gove.  Here’s a copy of the most recent one which may, if rumours are to believed, be one of the last before Gove is reshuffled to cause mayhem somewhere else.

Powered by article titled “Dear Mr Gove: Michael Rosen’s letter from a curious parent” was written by Michael Rosen, for The Guardian on Monday 6th August 2012 18.45 UTC

As rumours swirl about concerning your possible departure from the Department for Education, it’s difficult to know if this is an end of year or an end of school report. Either way, parents, pupils and most people who work in education stay at the school wheel longer than any secretary of state. We see you come and go like swallows, each one of you determined to make your mark on an institution that is more than capable of making its own marks, if given the chance. And marks you have made. In your short time in the post, you haven’t just scribbled on a few bits of paper. You’ve moved the furniture out and rearranged the landscape.

I have a seven-year-old about to go into year 3 and I admit I am beginning to feel some anxiety about what’s waiting for him over the next few years. As he is in a local authority school, you seem to have lined up for him a regime of science without experiments, maths without problems and English without meaning. (More on this in a moment.) If you think his school isn’t doing this properly, you can wave your wand and turn it into an academy where, mysteriously, his teachers wouldn’t be bound so rigidly to this regime while being controlled directly by you and whichever unaccountable trust of worthies (or unworthies) happens to take over. Let it be said that this huge change to how this society educates its young has taken place without real public debate or choice. For many, it seems like a row in a monastery over who gets to buy the Bible. The press and TV have been strangely quiet about the torpedoing of democracy going on here, which I guess is just how you like it.

So it is that it doesn’t seem to have worried the fourth estate too much that you have found some small print that seems to give you and you alone the powers to remove locally elected people from the running of a school, that you and you alone become that authority, nor, under cover of the Olympic hoo-ha, have just fundamentally altered the terms of employment of teachers. You have unleashed on our children a new genre: the unqualified teacher. Maybe in your next job you will follow this up by giving us unqualified lawyers, unqualified surveyors, unqualified structural engineers, unqualified nurses and unqualified doctors. Then we can have parity of esteem, while sitting sick and broke among the ruins of faulty buildings. Why not? The market can determine who’s good and who’s bad at their job: the rich will get the best and the poor will get the worst.

But isn’t it the market that lies behind your education revolution – or counter-revolution as I suspect you would call it? I have heard that the reason why your academies are free from your heavy-handed, overly directed curricula is so that they can buy their own curricula from the multinational suppliers waiting in the wings. You would know this only too well from your meetings with Rupert Murdoch (documented in February by David Leigh in this paper) in those heady days when it looked for one moment as if the whole apparatus of media, education and information was about to be handed over to his corporation?

Yes, academies are free to spend our taxes on curricula-for-profit. So, where before teachers went shopping in the marketplace for books and materials to teach the curricula devised (for better or worse) by elected ministers and their experts, now these syllabuses will come as great chunks of online ready-mades. And isn’t this precisely why you have brought in the unqualified teachers? To operate the machines in the education mills that will manufacture the schooled children. They will be 21st?century factory “hands”.

Meanwhile, back in the enemy heartlands, where, unlike some Tory-controlled areas, local authorities aren’t handing over their schools to you, your justifications for the changes facing my youngest child are based on what? As Prof Stephen Krashen recently pointed out in a letter to this newspaper, there is no evidence to suggest that expensive, exclusive, intensive, systematic synthetic phonics teaching produces more or better readers who understand what they’re reading than “mixed methods” (which include basic phonics); there is no evidence to suggest that teaching spelling using lists helps children spell better than if they read plenty of books; there is no evidence to suggest that teaching grammar rules to primary children helps them read or write better.

There is also no evidence to suggest that children below year 5 cannot make predictions and usefully test them scientifically; there is no evidence to suggest that anyone benefits from mathematics without understanding.

For these reasons, your end of year or end of school report is a disaster – I mean for us, of course.

Yours, Michael Rosen © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Teach First: a small blip in the victory narrative

The London Evening Standard have published a short article praising Teach First for their role in boosting the performance of London’s schools. In what must get the prize for one of the sloppiest pieces of education journalism, the article cites research conducted by the Financial Times which appears to rely on a statement by Lord Adonis that Teach First has had a role to play in boosting the performance of schools across London.

Normally, I wouldn’t bother highlighting such an article. After all, Teach First are very good at blowing their own trumpet and don’t need me to do it for them. However, the comment that followed this article was very revealing. In it, an uncle of a recent Teach First student had this to say about the programme:

You’d have to talk to my nephew, who dropped out of teaching shortly after passing through the Teach First programme. The course seemed to provide a sugar rush of boosterism, telling the applicants how brilliant they were, and how lucky schools would be to have them, then leaving them unsupported and poorly-trained when they went into the classroom after an absurdly-short programme. The effect on the morale of committed professional teachers of being bypassed by parachuted-in whizz-kids, many simply wishing to polish their CV’s before moving on rapidly, may be imagined. Getting a share of the top talent into teaching is vital, but not this way.

Again, I wouldn’t normally highlight this either – one statement doesn’t make a truth (something that the London Evening Standard reporter ought to bear in mind perhaps?). But this comment does ring true with conversations that I have had with several parents of recent Teach First participants. They are not required to toe the party line in the same way that anyone else associated with Teach First is indoctrinated into a particular perspective about their process of initial teacher education. Many of the above issues have been raised in these conversations. I am expecting to have another one of these conversations next week and will ask the parent’s permission to recount it here.

Whilst parents (and in this case an uncle) can occasionally find ways to communicate their dissatisfaction with Teach First, for the most part there is a complete embargo on criticism of Teach First in our media. Politicians are unwilling to examine the issue (Labour initially embraced Teach First; the Coalition are sustaining them with our money); the voices of many academics, despite having serious concerns, are silenced by their concern for the reputation of their institutions that rely on generous Teach First contracts for significant portions of their income; and you won’t find many Teach First participants criticising the programme – they are far too indoctrinated for that.

Obviously, I have significant concerns about the Teach First programme. Many of these are highlighted in the comments made by this uncle. Underneath the veneer of hype and self-publicity, the Teach First programme leaves a lot to be desired and is an incredibly costly way of training our teachers. I think it is a shame that others are not prepared to come out in public and criticise Teach First in a robust way. Whilst I know that Teach First can, and does, produce a number of excellent teachers, there are far better ways to educate our postgraduate students and create inspirational young teachers.

The death of the professional teacher?

Today’s pronouncements by Gove, in the run up to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, about the ‘freedoms’ being given to the head-teacher of any academy to employ whoever they like to teach their pupils marks the death of teaching as a profession. Qualified Teacher States (QTS) is no longer needed to teach within the state sector. It is nothing short of a national scandal that anyone who cares about the quality of education our young people will receive should stand up and rail against with the full force of their power.

Gove has made numerous decisions over the last two years that have made me angry. Some of these related to the microcosm of music education and the various factions within it. These have not caught the public imagination in any meaningful way. Then there are the issues relating to the National Curriculum, its supposed revision and implementation (all delayed time and time again). There has been little public outcry about this in circles outside of academics and others with a peculiar interest in such affairs. Similarly, Teach First goes on from apparent strength to strength. Despite my numerous promptings, there has been little appetite in our media for any criticism of the costs involved in this form of initial teacher education. But it bugs me every time I see a tweet from that ‘charity’.

But this is different. Every parent of every child in state schools across the United Kingdom will have taken for granted, until today, that their children were being taught by qualified teachers who had taken, in a variety of different ways, a form of training that marked them out as fit for teaching. A central component of this is their pedagogy. Just knowing about a subject is not enough; you have to know how to teach it too. For this reason, I firmly believe that a PGCE, as an academic qualification that allows you to demonstrate the competencies demanded of QTS, is the best way to start your teaching career.

But now things are different. If your child attends an academy you will no longer have the confidence that they are being taught by qualified teachers. I suggest that you ask the head teacher of that school whether or not they intend to continue employing qualified teachers for all subjects. Insist that they do. Complain if they do not.

But, more widely, this decision, if not revoked, marks the death of the teaching as a profession. Teaching can be done by anyone, with no qualification beyond an enthusiasm for, or knowledge of, a particular subject. Would the general public tolerate a similar approach in the provision of healthcare? Would we expect to have to check the qualifications of our doctors, nurses or surgeons? No! We shouldn’t. Yet teaching is not seen as valuable enough to warrant a basic standard of qualification.

A few years ago we were expecting teaching to become a Masters-level profession. How far has teaching fallen under the hands of an ideological, un-caring and downright shoddy Secretary of State for Education? This is a national disgrace and a scandal. Fight to have it over-turned. Lobby your local member of parliament and write letters to Gove, Gibb and their cronies. Never forget this moment. If there was any doubt in your mind about Gove and his intentions, surely this issue will have confirmed that the education of our children is in mortal danger under this Coalition Government.

Today we celebrate the opening of the Olympics. But don’t forget, despite its absence from our media channels, that this day also marks the death of the professional teacher.