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.


4 thoughts on “Another independent report showing Teach First as vastly expensive and ineffective

  1. New Teacher

    Does this report measure teachers who leave teaching and then return? In addition does it look at teachers in third sector organisations allied to schools? Thanks in advance

  2. Vicky

    I entered onto a PGCE as a mature student, without knowing much about the various routes, but after my placements at schools that are in deprived areas, I do have an opinion on Teach First. The first thing I noticed was that at the recruitment stage they are treated like demi-gods by senior management, these youngsters of 22 years of age, some of whom look barely older than the Year 10 pupils. After a year or so, they are also fairly over-confident themselves when liaising with other teachers. Teach First definitely implies a badge of honour, as if what I do on PGCE is that much different, only I have to pay for my tuition.
    I have every respect for their ambitions to make a difference and they are obviously capable individuals, but I am not sure as to their mature capabilities to instil in these very disadvantaged children the values that they need to progress in life, particularly with regards to discipline. They work flat out, yet the behaviour issue in these schools is so extreme that you can spend fifteen hours planning a lesson, yet if you don’t have discipline in the classroom you’ve wasted your time. And in my experience they do not have a grip on discipline at all, due to maybe a lack of training, but most definitely in part because they are very, very young and do not have that maturity and life-experience that being a figure of authority requires.
    Of course, the maturity issue goes with PGCE students too, but PGCE is cheaper to run and has higher retention rates and does not serve as a career stepping stone.
    If you ask Teach First people do they plan to stay on long-term in the classroom, very few reply affirmative. A few say they would do something ‘in education’, but as far as I am concerned we need more teachers, and definitely less people talking about teaching and theorising about what I should be doing in the classroom.
    We need teachers who will stay in the job for decades. We need mature heads of department who have been in the classroom for ten or so years.
    Also, how many people are aware that big firms sponsor the Teach First and that they run it as a recruitment fair, offering recruitment weeks away to Teach First people during the holidays, trying to lure them away after their training, because they know these people are top-notch in work ethic and other qualities they need in e.g. management consultancy? They get ready-made employees after two years and the kids lose a teacher. Not many people are aware, I think, that for many it is a stepping stone to a very highly paid job. I would definitely also make a study in what type of job they do after leaving teaching.

    1. admin Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment Vicky. Your reflections are fascinating and I know many people share your concerns too.


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