Another independent report showing Teach First as vastly expensive and ineffective

The IFS have published their report into the costs and benefits of different initial teacher training routes. If you are unfamiliar with this sector, you might have wondered how hard it could be to prepare someone for teaching (the answer is that it is harder than many imagine) and that universities might have a key role still in providing this training (the answer is that they do but it is not nearly as large as used to be the case).

Successive Tory governments have favoured alternative approaches and have continued to spend multiple tens of millions of pounds on the ‘charity’ Teach First which trains, on balance, a very small number of teachers in comparison to other routes.

Following on from the DfE’s own research in 2010, research done by the University of Buckingham in 2012, the Education Select Committee findings in 2014, and the report from the National Audit Office in 2016, the IFS report is the fifth report that I can recall that makes two things completely clear:

  • Teach First is vastly more expensive than all other initial teacher education pathways;
  • Teachers trained via Teach First have significantly shorter careers than teachers educated by other initial teacher education pathways.

Here are some of the key graphs from the IFS report. Firstly, this graph shows the average and total costs of training one secondary school teacher across the various pathways:


Alongside this, it is also worth considering the the variation in the amount of funding ITT providers receive for trainees on the different training routes. The report states, clearly, that ‘Teach First receives net funding of £28,700 per trainee (this includes direct grants from the NCTL, fees paid by schools and voluntary contributions, and this is net of the payment to schools to cover mentoring). This compares with the £9,000 HEI providers receive in tuition fees for HEI-led PG courses’ (p.15). In other words. HEIs can educate three teachers for the price of one via Teach First.

However, it is not just the initial costs that one should consider. The IFS have also done an analysis of the costs over the first 5 years of a teacher’s career. Here, the vastly inflated costs of Teach First are reinforced again:


As the report explains:

Figure 8.1 combines the five-year retention rate estimates with the central costs associated with ITT to show an average central cost per teacher ‘in service’ after five years for each of the routes for which we have data available.41 Teach First has both the lowest five-year retention rate (37–44%) and the highest average central cost. This means that the average central cost per Teach First trainee who remains in service five years after QTS is therefore between £59,000 and £70,000. For other secondary school routes, the five-year retention rates are higher and the central costs lower, resulting in a lower implied average central cost per trainee ‘in service’ after five years of between £35,000 and £44,000 (p.62). [my emphasis]

If you have got this far, you might be wondering whether the hugely inflated costs associated with Teach First are a wise use of public money at a time of austerity? I am. Perhaps, you might think, teachers trained by Teach First enjoy a long and productive career which returns on the investment that we, as taxpayers, have made in them. You’d be wrong. Teachers trained via Teach First enjoy significantly shorter careers in teaching than their colleagues educated via other routes. Here’s another graph from the IFS showing retention rates after five years:

five_year_retentionSee that line at the bottom? Yes, that’s Teach First’s retention rate. Over 60% of people trained by Teach First leave teaching after 5 years. This is significantly higher than any other route. Additionally, their retention rate is getting worse. This graph shows how it has deteriorated over the last five years (look how the grey and black lines for recent years fall below the green):


In presenting the facts about Teach First in this way, I receive a lot of criticism from those either involved in Teach First as participants or those seeking to defend it as some kind of engine for social justice in education. To the former group, I have always defended the rights of individuals to choose whatever route into teaching you feel is best for you. I would strongly argue that Teach First does not offer the best training experience and nor does it prepare you to enjoy a long and productive teaching career (that much is obvious from the above). I would encourage you to look elsewhere.

To the later group, I think there are only marginal if any gains from the state sponsoring Teach First to the tune of over a hundred million pounds in recent years (including £76m in 2013). The Teach First marketing machine is infamous for promoting the perceived benefits for their programmes, including much play being given to increases in GCSE grades and, yesterday, to the claim that it’s participants are 7 times more likely to end up as school leaders. Dig a little deeper, and the marginal gains quickly fade away.

So, there is no doubt in my mind that this money could be spent more wisely. As soon as this ‘charity’ has its public funding removed the better in my opinion. Teach First is too expensive and based on a flawed model: you teach ‘first’ and then move on something else with a better salary. This is something else that the IFS report makes clear is a more likely outcome for folk trained via this route. As this table shows, put simply, as local wages rise Teach First trained teachers are up to five times more likely to leave teaching that those educated via other routes:


There is a huge amount of other interesting information in the IFS report and, as time allows, I’ll be returning to it to consider its implications more widely. I would also highly recommend John Howson’s blog for those with interests in this area.

The NAO reveals the truth about the vast costs and minimal gains associated with Teach First

Thank goodness for the National Audit Office! Perhaps this is not something that you would normally expect to say, but the public body, whose vision is to help the nation spend wisely and help Parliament hold government to account through improving public services, has done sterling work today in publishing its report – Training New Teachers.

Apart from the top line messages (which are far from encouraging, e.g. it is 4 years since the Department for Education has met its target in training the right number of new teachers, and there are significant signs that the crisis is worsening (p.13)), the report provides clarity and a line in the sand in relation to the key problems associated with Teach First; namely, its cost and ineffectiveness in educating teachers who go onto enjoy a long teaching career. Regular readers of this blog will know that these are things I have pointed out on numerous occasions over the past few years.

Let’s start by looking a total costs (Fig. 17, p.38):


Teach First trained 1200 teachers at a total cost of £43 million (yes, million!) pounds during 2013/14. That’s £35,833 for each one! This compares to £18,991 for each student trained within an university-led programme. Incidentally, on these figures university-led programmes are easily the most cost effective. University-led provision also filled the highest proportion of their allocations (85%) – see p.39.

The NAO helpfully provide another figure that shows the true costs associated with Teach First (fig.19 on p.43). Here it is:


There are two additional points here. Firstly, although the subject of student loans is a contentious one, once loans have been repaid the bottom three routes into teaching become even cheaper (for the state at least, if not the individual concerned).

Secondly, the cost to schools of having a Teach First student within their institution is almost four times that of a traditional university PGCE student.

Advocates of Teach First argue that the benefits associated with the programme are worth the extra cost. They also try to reassure us that Teach First ‘ambassadors’ enjoy long careers, at least of similar length to those educated in other routes. However, this is also false. The NAO expose this myth in their retention chart which so, graphically and beyond any doubt, the huge exodus of teachers trained by Teach First after two years of teaching (fig.20, p.44):


To give you a sense of comparison, the NAO report that through other pathways around 28% of teachers leave the profession after five year (p.8). With Teach First it is around 40% after two years (and that’s a charitable reading of the above table)!

These figures and the detailed analysis done by the NAO show that Teach First has been a huge waste of money (at a time of austerity when we are meant to be watching every £) and is operating a completely ineffective system which trains teachers who only make a minimal contribution to schools and pupils’ lives before leaving the profession to enjoy other careers. As I have said repeatedly, the clue is in the name. Teach ‘first’, and then move on.

We have a brilliant mechanism for training teachers within universities across the UK. The overall quality is excellent and it is cost effective. The taxpayer’s money spent on this charade by this Government and the previous Labour one is disgraceful in my opinion. The sooner it is closed down or public money is withdrawn from this ‘charity’ the better.

More evidence of Teach First's poor retention rates

As anyone who follows the machinations of policy in relation to initial teacher education knows, the retention rates of Teach First have always been poor. A cynic might say that the clue is in their name. Whilst the Teach First media machine is expert in smoke and mirrors, simple questions deserve a simple answer.

Well, Lousie Haigh (MP for Heeley, Sheffield) took it upon herself to ask Nick Gibb such a question recently. How many Teach First teachers in each (a) subject and (b) parliamentary constituency (i) began teaching and (ii) left the teaching profession in each of the last five years.. The answer was revealing and can been seen in full here.

The following table shows a summary of the figures for the number of teachers beginning to teach with Teach First as compared to the number of teachers leaving teaching having trained with Teach First over the last five years (as a total). I’ve also added a column showing the % loss of teachers for each subject area over the last 5 years.



The figures show clearly that Teach First is failing admirably to train teachers who spend more than a few years working as teachers. Perhaps this doesn’t bother them very much. Maybe their argument is that schools, and the young people they teach, are better off having their ‘ambassadors’ working with them even if it is just for a short period of time rather than not at all.

For me, this represents a complete failure. Both this Conservative Government, and the Labour one that preceded it, have wasted vast sums of public money on a charity who have failed to train teachers to enjoy long and productive teaching careers. The costs of training teachers in each initial teacher training route were examined recently. I’m not sure whether the poor retention rates as illustrated by these figures, and others published by the Select Committee in the last session of parliament, were considered within this work. I will look into that next week. But I do know that our universities train teachers who do enjoy long and sustained careers as teachers and, as such, provide a much better quality of training with a greater degree of cost benefits than Teach First could ever hope to provide.

Teach First Retention Rates

Several folk were asking about retention rates for Teach First. There seems to be some confusion here. So, I’m going back to figures submitted to Teach First to the Education Select Committee for their ninth report into attracting, training and retaining the best teachers. You can download it from here. In the second volume, page 216, you’ll find this paragraph:


The University of Buckingham have also published their report into this, and other, issues. Their findings were broadly similar to this and I reported them back in 2012.  All this evidence in addition to the work done the DfE themselves. Seems conclusive to me.

Tough Young Teachers? 3 reasons why we should be tough on Teach First.

The first episode of Tough Young Teachers airs tonight on BBC3 at 9pm. It will be an interesting watch for sure. There has been a considerable amount of press enquiry surrounding the series and I’ve chatted to journalists from the Guardian, Radio Five Live and others over the past few days. I even got to chat with the CEO of Teach First on Radio Five Live this morning. He seemed to be unable to calculate how long I had spent teaching in two Suffolk high schools (not that it matters to be honest) nor did he recognise statistics cited on his own website regarding retention rates, or the statistics presented in the Education Select Committee’s report in the training of teachers. That’s the Teach First spin machine for you. It starts at the top and filters down.

As I’ve stated on numerous occasions, my criticism of Teach First is not aimed at individual students, many of whom work very hard and try their best to become the best teachers they can be. My criticism centres on three key issues.

Firstly, the cost. The current three years of work Teach First is undertaking is costing us, the taxpayer, £76 million. All other HEI ITE routes are supported solely through student fees. At a time of financial austerity, we can’t afford this vanity project. If Teach First wants to do its work, it should raise funds solely from the large corporations that it courts and by charging student fees.

Secondly, it is not value for money? Students trained by Teach First, teach for a while and then move into other careers. The clue is in the name! Teach First’s own figures (which Brett didn’t recognise but they are listed on his website( show that only 54% remain in education. Government figures (which are probably more accurate anyway) show that students trained by Teach First are five times more likely to leave teaching after five years than those trained in other ways. Retention is very poor compared to other routes.

Thirdly and most importantly, our most vulnerable children deserve qualified teachers who are committed to their long term education. They don’t benefit from students who are trying teaching first before moving quickly onto corporate careers. One current Teach First first year student told me last term that ‘Working full-time as an unqualified teacher with some of the most vulnerable children in the UK is just a terrible idea, and I have hated every minute of it’.

Teach First is underpinned by a £5m publicity and marketing machine that floods the media with positive stories. They are paranoid about their reputation management. But the reality on the ground is very different. One current second year Teach First student said to me that Teach First is ‘superficial, only caring only for its shiny image whilst using emotional jargon to arrogantly set themselves above other teacher training programmes. In reality they hardly touch the surface of the real issues in educational inequality’.

Teach First is expensive, inefficient and unnecessary. We already have a high quality process of initial teacher education in the UK based in schools and university partnerships. This is delivered through minimal cost to the taxpayer and produces high quality teachers who go onto enjoy long and productive careers. Teach First does exactly the opposite. One current second year student told me recently that ‘Teach First can’t seem to decide if it is a teacher training provider or a leadership development organisation, and as a result it doesn’t manage to do either effectively’. I agree entirely.


Another Teach First student speaks out

There was a lot of pompous and self-congratulatory tweeting yesterday about Teach First. Much of this was generated as a result of this article in the TES which failed to analyse in any meaningful way Wigdortz’s rhetoric and the output of the considerable spin-machine that is Teach First. Sadly, we can expect more of this as I suspect the BBC will do no better in the forthcoming TV series on BBC3 that will follow (starting on the 9th January).

In the real world, I have commented regularly on the emails I receive from students undertaking the Teach First programme and the academics who work on it. These are often not happy tales. Many correspondents are frightened to speak out about their experiences for fear of retribution. Some of you will remember this student from a month or so ago who found the programme a ‘sheer endurance test’ which was based on a ‘terrible idea’ of unqualified teachers teaching some of our most vulnerable children.

Another student got in touch in September 2013. For that person, Teach First was ‘superficial, only caring only for its shiny image whilst using emotional jargon to arrogantly set them above other teacher training programmes. In reality they hardly touch the surface of the real issues in educational inequality’.

For generally, the Teach for America movement has come under tremendous criticism in the US.  For Katie Osgood, the only proper response is to encourage students to quit the programme; but perhaps most powerful of all was the the voice of young black student, Rachel Smith, whose poem pleaded for qualified teachers for the most impoverished students:

It’s time we rebuked these self proclaimed saviours and put our faith in the true educators, the ones who expect masters degrees and double majors and not the ones just trying to do the black community a couple of favours. 

In light of all of this, it was sad to hear from yet another Teach First student over the holiday period. This student has given their permission for me to quote from our correspondence and I do so below with thanks to the individual involved:

It is actually quite difficult to gain perspective on my experience so far – I am currently on my second year of the programme and whilst it has been very rewarding, it has been an unbelievably stressful experience. I have been lucky enough to take to it well and have a lot of confidence in my teaching ability – I was seen by Ofsted in XXX of my first year and did very well which gave me some validation in terms of my career choices. However, if I am honest I cannot with confidence say that it is Teach First as an organisation that has directly influenced this.

The support and training we have received from the Higher education provider for the PGCE was wonderful – I had two tutors from a University who were fantastic at helping me improve and also fantastic at improving my situation at work, which has been fraught to say the least. However, these individuals were not technically employees of Teach First and if I were to be perfectly honest, I would say that any training put on by Teach First directly that I have had has not been useful, and has often felt like a frustrating waste of time.

Teach First can’t seem to decide if it is a teacher training provider or a leadership development organisation, and as a result it doesn’t manage to do either effectively. Across my 15 month experience there has been a marked lack of training that directly addresses the classroom or the students. Instead we have drawn out sessions where we discuss diffuse concepts with little conclusion or consequence. 

My current feeling about the programme is that somewhere along the line, it has been successful in improving my capability as a teacher. In that respect I have no regrets about the last 15 months. However it is unquestionable that with the budget, facilities and minds this charity possesses, a lot more could be done which actually has measurable effects on the students.

I’d like to thank this student for getting in touch and being brave enough to speak about against the prevailing positive rhetoric about Teach First. The key issues here are no surprise to me. I would encourage any of you who are working on Teach First programmes as academics, or students on the programme this year, to get in touch with me directly and tell me about your experiences (good or bad).

Another criticism of Teach First

My writings on this blog are often critical of Teach First. I have many concerns about their work and the ways in which it is financed. It is rare to hear criticism of Teach First from its students or those who work on its programmes, not because everyone is happy about it but primarily because dissent is jumped on as a breach of contract and possible dismissal from post can result (through the Teach First disciplinary procedures which take precedence over the standard university contracts most academics are employed through).

So, in many ways it was encouraging (but still sad) to receive an email recently from a current Teach First student. It was far from complimentary about Teach First’s programme. Here is part of the email:

I’ve always wanted a career in teaching but I have found this experience a sheer endurance test. Working full-time as an unqualified teacher with some of the most vulnerable children in the UK is just a terrible idea, and I have hated every minute of it. I have been questioning whether I am being lazy, or defeatist, because much of the TF programme (and in general, attitudes towards teaching in a challenging comprehensive such as the one I teach in) is centered around promoting “resilience” and “determination” in the name of “narrowing the gap” and other euphemisms for the neo-liberalisation of state education which are mindlessly repeated.

I would encourage any Teach First student, or academic working on the programme, to get in touch with me about their experiences of Teach First (good or bad). I promise to keep any conversations we have private unless you give your express permission for your thoughts to be shared here (as this student has done).

Here's a different perspective on Teach First ...

As I mentioned in my previous post, I regularly receive emails from students and tutors who work within the Teach First programmes. Most of them are too worried about speaking out in public  regarding what they see and experience. When I receive these emails, I ask these people whether or not they would be happy for me to quote them anonymously. Most say no.

Yesterday, I received an email from someone who has agreed to let me share part of their comments here. They state:

My experiences have led me to the conclusion that Teach First is superficial – caring only for its shiny image whilst using emotional jargon to arrogantly set them above other teacher training programmes. In reality they hardly touch the surface of the real issues in educational inequality.  

The only positive about their programme is that they offer graduates a salary. If they did not, then not one graduate would be interested in applying to them. Who would want to step into a struggling school, with no prior experience and be left responsible for education of young people who deserve so much more. 

Thank you for your article, its made it clear to me that I should train to become a teacher through a PGCE, where I may get some beneficial training and may one day become a teacher that can make a actual difference.  

I’d like to thank this young person for writing to me. If you have experiences of Teach First, as a student or tutor, then I’d love to hear from you. Please be assured that I will respect your privacy at all costs.

Is one grade difference in one subject worth the massive costs involved in propping up Teach First with public money?

It is difficult to know where to start with the research published today by Rebecca Allen at the IOE (and reported by the BBC here). Her paper is interesting and informative, and clearly she has identified what she sees as a benefit of this approach (albeit based on the work of a MA student who clearly has such a positive view of what Teach First are doing that he has gone to work for them). However, she has identified so many potential caveats, influencing factors, limitations to the validity of her methodology and other potential problems it is hard to take her findings seriously. At best, as she says throughout the paper, it is only an ‘estimation‘ and we should be very careful about turning an ‘estimation‘ into a ‘truth’.

Even if, for a moment, we take her findings seriously, it would be interesting to hear her views on the cost benefit analysis of Teach First and whether or not the estimated benefit of the initiative (i.e. her own estimation is that there is one grade difference in one of the pupil’s best eight subjects) is really worth the huge amount of Government funding that this organisation receives. Readers of her research should remember that Teach First have just received a new grant of £76m of tax-payers money this year to continue their work.

The costs of training a teacher on the Teach First route is massively more expensively that other pathways (around three times the cost). In other words, we could train three teachers through a PGCE programme for the cost of one Teach First participant. Further details of the Education Select Committee report (including the figures that were dragged out of Teach First) and my analysis of this issue can be found here.

In addition to this, the stringent contracts that Teach First have imposed on its numerous partner HEI are further evidence of an organisation that is paranoid about its perceived image and also not frightened to produce deliberatively misleading advertising.

Teach First has many powerful advocates in the political and business world. However, my email in-tray receives a constant stream of correspondence from normal folk, including Teach First participants, university staff and others, who are too frightened to speak out about the cultish features of Teach First and their programme of indoctrination, the preoccupation with their ‘brand management’, and the poor practice of much of its programme in comparison to other training pathways. The promotion of this company by this Government and the previous one is, in my view, disgraceful. It has had a very negative effect on the wider initial teacher education sector as a whole. If it wants to continue to work in this field, it should do so funded by its wealthy benefactors and not by the public purse.

Have you just started your Teach First programme? It's time to quit

Teach First has just begun its new programme with their Summer Institute. Judging by the busy twitter feeds, students are throwing themselves into the programme. But this letter written by Katie Osgood, aimed at those students who have just started out with Teach for America, is sobering reading and can be applied equally to those students signed up for this year’s Teach First programme.

Have you just begun your training with Teach First? If so, as she says, you should be congratulated on your acceptance into this prestigious programme, but the right and honourable thing to do now is to quit:

It is summertime, which for those of you newly accepted into Teach for America, means you are enduring the long hard days of Institute.  I congratulate you on being accepted into this prestigious program.  You clearly have demonstrated intelligence, passion, and leadership in order to make it this far.

And now I am asking you to quit.

Teach for America likely enticed you into the program with the call for ending education inequality.  That is a beautiful and noble mission.  I applaud you on being moved by the chance to help children, of being a part of creating equality in our schools, of ending poverty once and for all.

However, the actual practice of Teach for America does the exact opposite of its noble mission.  TFA claims to fight to end educational inequality and yet ends up exacerbating one of the greatest inequalities in education today:  that low-income children of color are much more likely to be given inexperienced, uncertified teachers.  TFA’s five weeks of Institute are simply not enough time to prepare anyone, no matter how dedicated or intelligent, to have the skills necessary to help our neediest children.  This fall, on that first day of school, you will be alone with kids who need so much more.  You will represent one more inequality in our education system denying kids from low-income backgrounds equitable educational opportunities. …

You have a choice to make.  TFA may ultimately benefit you personally, it may open doors to lucrative careers, help you get into prestigious law and graduate degrees, even give you direct paths into high-paid jobs in the worlds of education, business, or politics.  It may even make you feel really good.  But are you willing to participate in the destruction of the common good of public education, destroy the teaching profession, and deny needy children experienced long-term educators who would gladly take jobs filled by these TFA novices? Are you willing to do great harm to children and communities for your own personal gain?

Please make the right choice. And then join those of us on the ground fighting for REAL reform.  We need your passion and drive.  But we absolutely do not need you, without proper preparation, in our neediest classrooms.

If you truly care about the education of our most disadvantaged children, then you should spend a few minutes reading the rest of her letter. Whatever Teach First say, these children need experienced and qualified teachers – not someone like you who is just at the start of their teaching career. You have many strengths and you will, in time no doubt, go on to be a successful and inspirational teacher. But you are working for an organisation with a flawed methodology. You deserve proper preparation and training. And our neediest children deserve well-qualified, experienced teachers. Please make the right choice.