Category Archives: Teach First

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.

Teach First guilty of misleading advertising

It was interesting to read about a recent adjudication by the Advertising Standards Authority that have found Teach First guilty of ‘misleading advertising’. You can read their full adjudication here.

Specifically, Teach First were castigated for their use of the word ‘outstanding’ (which, as we all know – apart from Teach First it seems – has a specific resonance in education) in the phrase ‘Teach First provides Outstanding Teachers’. Here’s part of their judgement:

We noted the word “Outstanding” used within the phrase “Teach First Provides Outstanding Teachers” could be understood in a number of ways, including a subjective description of general performance. Although not a formal qualification as such, we understood student teachers could be graded in a number of ways including “Outstanding”. In any event, we considered the use of the phrase in this instance could be understood to mean that some sort of an assessment or rating of an individual’s teaching ability had already taken place, at the point at which the participant was first allocated to teach at a participating school. However, this was not the case.

Although sponsored search results are by their very nature significantly limited by space, we considered this did not negate TeachFirst’s responsibility to ensure the chosen presentation did not mislead potential schools about the type of “teacher” being offered or their decision to find out more (and click on the link to the website). We considered the fact that schools were being invited to enter into a partnership with TeachFirst and to potentially employ a trainee teacher during their two-year training programme was a significant piece of information that was likely to affect their decision to find out more about potential teachers and the involvement with TeachFirst and that further information should have been included in the ad to qualify clearly that it was a teacher in training who was being offered. Because that information was omitted we concluded that the ad was misleading.

Let’s hope that that the Teach First marketing machine takes notice eh?

Learn to teach with Teach First and you are 5 times more likely to leave the profession after 5 years

This morning I’ve been tweeting extracts from this report, the DfE’s own analysis of the 2010 school workforce census. Whilst some might consider this excellent bed-time reading, it does contain some interesting evidence about key issues within the educational debate today, e.g. the academies programme and the differences between different routes of initial teacher education.

On academies, it was interesting to note that the average teacher in an academy earns less than their counterpart in a LA maintained school; but that academies pay the highest average leadership salaries across the age groups; teachers in maintained secondary schools are also more likely to have higher degrees that their colleagues in academy schools (I’m not sure that the two are linked though!).

However, it was the data surrounding teacher retention that really struck me as interesting. It confirms something that many of us have known for quite a while: students who train to be teachers on the Teach First programme only ‘enjoy’ short teaching careers. How short? Well, the report says this:

The teacher training route for secondary teachers played an important role in influencing the odds of leaving the profession. In particular, teachers with Teach First training had odds of leaving which were five times higher than the odds for those with post-graduate training (n = 170). This is not unexpected given the objectives of the Teach First programme to bring very able graduates into teaching for two years prior to entering another profession or occupation (although it is hoped that around one half will remain in teaching beyond two years). (p.89) 

So, train with Teach First and you are five times more likely to leave teaching than if you trained in a more conventional (PGCE) route. In fact, training to be a teacher with Teach First is the largest single factor by which teachers leave teaching early (i.e. within 5 years). Here is the table that shows the likelihood or not of leaving teaching (factors above 1 increase the likelihood of leaving; factors below 1 indicate that person is less likely to leave teaching):

tf_5_timesAs an aside, hats off to our colleagues running graduate work-based training programmes, you are more likely to still be teaching after 5 years, by a small margin (0.8), compared to a traditional PGCE route.Although the figures for teachers leaving teaching after two years are not quoted in this year, the above quote is enlightening. The best that the DfE can say is that they ‘hope’ that 50% of teachers who have trained with Teach First remain in teaching after 2 years.

I know some readers of this blog think I have a vendetta against Teach First. This is not the case. However, we all need to remember that Teach First is by far the most expensive and ineffective way to train our teachers. The sadness here is significant:

  • Tax payers money could be better spent (remember, Teach First have just received £76 million to run their programme for the next 3 years);
  • Teach First students don’t enjoy sustained teaching careers (with all the knock on effects that this has for the stability of an individual school’s workforce);
  • Other initial teacher education routes and the universities that have provided them are suffering and many have closed or will close in the future (read my post on Sir Tim Brighouse’s views on this if you don’t believe me);
  • Individual academics working in universities are afraid to speak out under contractual obligations that stifle freedom of expression and will, eventually, lead to whistle-blowing about shoddy practices surrounding programmes like Teach First (at great expense to those individuals who take that bold step).

But perhaps the thing that annoys me most, is that Teach First have the cheek to make a virtue out of such an obvious failing. Hey folks, enjoy a short career in teaching (after all, the teaching profession will be eternally grateful for your contribution) before moving on elsewhere to a proper career in industry, business or banking.

The Labour Government who facilitated the introduction of this style of teacher training, and the Coalition Government that has sustained it, should both hang their collective heads in shame. There may be a political consensus here at the moment, but I suspect history will not be such a kind judge.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this and if you feel strongly like me, please write to your MP about this shocking waste of money and the detrimental effect it is having on the wider ITE sector.

And if you work on a Teach First programme and are too frightened to speak out about it publicly, please feel free to contact me in confidence about your experiences.

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse speaks out the ‘Government’-induced crisis’ in Initial Teacher Education

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse is a teacher, professor and educator to whom everyone should listen. His experience of education across the UK is second to none, and he has done a range of jobs that most of us could only dream about. He is also prepared to call a spade a spade, which is a refreshing change for an academic in my experience. On the view occasions that I have heard him speak live, I have been impressed by his vast knowledge and wisdom, his ability to bring humour into different discussions and also his compassionate humanity.

For all these reasons, the publication of this statement by Sir Tim is an important marker in the current political debate surrounding initial teacher education. I would urge you all to read it carefully. For those of you that feel that I’m sometimes provocative, intemperate (just too grumpy) and perhaps prone to exaggeration, I’d encourage you to listen to this highly informed and well respected voice. These are some of the key points that Sir Tim makes:

  1. There is a Government-induced crisis in Initial Teacher Education. It is not the fault of the sector itself. It has been caused directly by ill-informed and careless handling of educational policy by Gove and his new puppet Charlie Taylor;
  2. There is no one person or central agency that can ensure a sufficient supply of of trained teachers nationally, or an efficient local distribution of training places covering all subject areas. The distribution of places is now ‘startlingly haphazard’;
  3. QTS is no longer seen as a necessary requirement for becoming a teacher in the English state education system (unless you work for a LA-maintained school);
  4. Charlie Taylor, the new Chief Executive of the Teaching Agency, is overseeing a new system (Schools Direct) that Ofsted believes produces significantly fewer outstanding courses in teacher education;
  5. Many universities have now lost all their PGCE provision and are wholly reliant on schools choosing them to partner with for School Direct places (and what happens when they don’t);
  6. Many universities have, or will, withdraw from the provision of ITE and PGCE type provision because it is both financially and politically too unstable and too risky to carry on their involvement;
  7. Partnership approaches between universities and schools have been the bedrock of the UK’s provision in this area for years, but this is no under threat. HEIs bring much of value to this partnership that, once undone, will not be easily replaced.

I expect that Gove will dismiss Sir Tim’s paper as more ‘yada yada’ from a leftist academic. However, I would encourage you to read Sir Tim’s paper carefully. It comes from a responsible and respected pillar of the UK education system whose opinion we should take very seriously.