Category Archives: Teach First

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.

This Government is failing in its duty to manage teacher supply

Back in December 2014, I wrote about a looming crisis in teacher recruitment for September 2015. Here we are a couple of days away from September and that crisis has well and truly emerged. Figures published by the Government, quietly and secretively on a busy news day, reveal significant shortages across the board:


Considered in total, there is a 10% shortage in total applicants, and this is the third year in a row  that the Government has failed to secure enough new entrants to the profession.

John Howson, whose blog has chartered these things in detail over the years, has written about the reasons for and consequences of this Government’s failing to look after teacher supply in today’s Observer.

This crisis has come about because of:

  • Depressed wages in the public sector, making teaching look unattractive compared to other career paths;
  • The perception [in 2011] that we had enough teachers due to falling pupil rolls;
  • The imposition of a complex and constantly changing bursary scheme that has muddied the waters around who pays what for a teacher training course, and has resulted in the vast majority of students having to pay £9k for their studies;
  • The introduction of School Direct, a shoddy and ill-conceived attempt to impose a free-market training systems run by schools. This has resulted in the closure of some university teacher education courses .

The immediate results of this are that courses, like those we run at MMU, will open in a week or so with unfilled places. In most subjects, this is unheard of in my experience.

Moving ahead to September 2016, headteachers will find it difficult, or impossible, to recruit enough teachers in  subjects such as physics, design and technology, geography, business studies and even English. Headteachers will be forced to ask existing teachers to teach subjects where they do not have specialist subject knowledge. Or, perhaps more worryingly, they will be forced to remove certain subjects from the curriculum. We have seen this happening in Music in many primary and secondary schools in recent years.

What will parents make of all this? As some readers know, I have five children. Three are currently attending three different schools in our local town – one academy, one free school and one LA -maintained primary school. Sadly, I have to specify which types of schools these are as I can’t rely anymore on them being taught by qualified teachers with appropriate qualifications. As this crisis in teacher recruitment begins to hit the public consciousness, parents should be holding headteachers to account for the decisions they make about who is teaching their children. If answers are not forthcoming, then Freedom of Information requests should follow. Our children deserve to be taught by qualified teachers.

As for the Government, they are in denial. Nick Gibb is quoted in yesterday’s Guardian as saying that:

“These figures show that teacher recruitment is improving, with 3% more people due to start postgraduate teacher training than this time last year. We have already exceeded our target for primary school trainees and are making sustained progress for the secondary sector – including in key subjects like English, maths, physics and chemistry, where we are ahead of last year’s performance”.

None of these things are true. I’m with John Howson on this one, when he writes that ‘unless it [the Government] recognises the scale of the problem and acts soon, it will become the worst teacher-supply situation since the dark days of the early 2000s. That is no way to create a world-class education system’.

Is the crisis in initial teacher education and teacher recruitment beginning to hit the public consciousness?

It’s taken a while, but I was pleased to see at least one MP begin to question some of this Government’s policy in respect of initial teacher education and teacher recruitment this week. Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, has written this article in the Yorkshire Post that explores some of the key issues that I’ve been raising in this blog for a number of years.

Chief amongst these are, of course, the inadequacy of the Schools Direct model in terms of contributing the numbers of teachers that is required for the country as a whole, their geographical spread and subject specialism. She also questions the efficacy of Teach First as a model (and, I would add, the immense cost of sustaining a so-called charity with public funding).  She also mentions the huge costs involved in paying for supply staff to cover the gaps left in schools who are unable to recruit full time members of staff.

It seems to me that as headteachers in many schools face up to this crisis that, eventually, the public consciousness of these matters will begin to hit home. Sadly, by then, it will be too late for many schools and parents, who will find that their children are being taught by non-specialists, supply staff or, even worse, unqualified teachers with minimal, if any, teaching experience and little professional support.

The system of initial teacher education in this country is in a perilous state. The recently announced policy of unrestricting allocations to HEI will not help. It will only fragment further the issues of geographical spread and subject specialism. Year on year, there is a decreasing number of students opting for teacher education courses, with Schools Direct the worst culprit by far in failing to fill allocated placed. These trends have been analysed superbly by Professor John Howson over many years with his most recent observations on the current state of play published last week. Whilst organisations like Teach First play around the edge of the sector, contributing little sustained benefits and with the majority of their student teachers leaving after two years, the organisations that can and should be empowered to drive forwards quality in initial teacher education are being marginalised at every turn.

Almost every headteacher I speak to tells me that universities should be leading initial teacher education across the country. They know, better than anyone probably, that schools (with a few exceptions perhaps) are not wanting or willing to lead programmes of initial teacher education. The system implemented by this Government is falling apart. The NCTL has been shown as incompetent in managing the sector as a whole. Schools Direct is a complete farce. Teach First is propped up by public funding and making minimal impact in a national context. As pressure mounts, one can only hope that headteachers and parents will put pressure on the Government to rethink their approach before permanent damage is done to the infrastructure of the current and future teaching workforce.

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.

DfE announce an ‘independent’ review into initial teacher training

The DfE has launched what it [laughably] calls an independent review of initial teacher training courses within the UK. You can find full details here. I say laughably, as the review is being led by an Andrew Carter (and don’t forget his OBE), who is chair of the review. Carter’s qualifications for undertaking this role are that he is a primary school head teacher (at South Farnham School, a very good primary school by all accounts), leader of a school-centred ITT provider and ITT lead on the Teaching Schools Council. He’s also a DfE favourite, having acted in an advisory role for schools wishing to become academies (following his own lead in re-designating his own school as one of the first primary academies). Given this experience, I’m struggling to see how he could be an independent chair in any traditional understanding of the word ‘independent’.

The other funny thing about this is that we already have an apparently independent organisation that undertakes an annual review of initial teacher education, following detailed inspections of various providers of all shapes and sizes – Ofsted. Clearly, Gove does not like what Ofsted report, namely that HEI-led partnerships have consistently outperformed school centred, School Direct, Teach First and other school-led programmes over many years. They will continue to do so whatever Carter and his team may report back to Gove.

The review will begin its business shortly and report back to the DfE by the end of the year. When the review team is appointed I’ll let you all know its constituency alongside any further news about the way in which it is going to conduct its work.

Celebrity Teachers: Tough young teachers, social class and inspiration


I really enjoyed reading this post by Heather Mendick today. I would encourage you to read it and follow up on some of the references contained within. Heather argues that Teach First is a form of social class reproduction. This occurs through:

  • the accumulation by participants of additional social and cultural capital;
  • the reproduction of middle-class values and stereotypes of the working-class ‘other’;
  • the obscuring of middle-class advantage through discourses of ‘natural ability’.

The broader politics around Teach First are also explored. In her research, Heather recounts  ’TF participants referring to themselves as ‘fire fighters’ and ‘saviours’’ and she asks hows this influences the position and perception of all of the other teachers in our schools (as well as  what it says about how Teach First and its teachers view the young people with whom they work?).

In terms of cost, I’m in agreement with Heather when she states that:

In an age of austerity, it is clearly an ideological choice that has led politicians of all stripes to robustly support Teach First, by far the most expensive form of training, while Gove destroys the best value and most effective form of initial teacher education, within universities. As the series has progressed, we’ve seen the ‘tough young teachers’ improve, and the inclusion of a second year teacher who is more self-assured, signals this developmental narrative thread that supports the effectiveness of on-the-job training and thus the move of teacher education into schools.

Thanks for such an informative insight into your research Heather.

Dealing with a ‘Caleb’?

In light of my previous post, it was interesting to read this blog from a head teacher over the weekend. I haven’t got time today to write a response, but I found this paragraph very telling:

[This is why] proper training is important. You’re not dumped straight in at the deep end without the professional maturity to deal with challenging behaviour appropriately. Of course no aspiring trainee teacher is either…but we learnt through placements and lectures how to do it. Our hands were held along the way. Our mentors weren’t out of our sight as we completely messed up telling a child off, letting  a child off, missing what that child over there was doing and their feedback only made us stronger. We became used to feedback and reflections so that in our NQT year, when the stabilisers were off and we were really on our own, we could cope when getting further advice (we didn’t need to compose a song in the toilet).

I feel waves of sympathy towards these ‘ToughYoungTeachers: I couldn’t have dealt with Caleb after six weeks; after six years I probably would still have needed help. But then I flip and feel a bit cross – where is their support? Many TeachFirst folks have answered my queries on Twitter and assure me that support is in place and it’s really good. I hope so, if only so in years to come, the leaders of Teach First can sleep at night.

Whatever support may or may not be in place, it is still my argument that these teachers are woefully underprepared because the notion of gradualism is weak in Teach First’s course structure.

The Importance of ‘Gradualism’ in Initial Teacher Education

Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve been watching the series Tough Young Teachers. I’ve enjoyed following the journeys of the six student teachers and their various trials, tribulations and successes. I take my hat off to anyone who trains to be a teacher, let alone one who decides to train with TV cameras in their classroom capturing every moment for public broadcast! Well done guys and girls!

I think that one of the key features that marks out a PGCE programme from the programme offered by Teach First is the notion of gradualism. By this, I mean the gradual process by which students are carefully and systematically introduced to the teaching of whole classes of children. Much play is made in Tough Young Teachers of  Teach First students beginning teaching from the outset of the academic year with 400+ pupils to teach each week. Personally, I think this is more often than not a recipe for disaster and does not help the Teach First students develop their skills in coherent, systematic or sustainable way. They suffer, and their pupils suffer (sadly) as they are experimented on week in, week out, until improvements are made (which they will eventually in most cases). Continue reading

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.