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.