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.


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

  1. Misbah

    Your remarks Jonathan, aside from seeming to be a personal chip on your shoulder based on other blog posts and an ironic lack of support of innovation in teacher education, do not really delve into what happens to TF teachers. You say many leave the classroom after 5 years. Indeed after 5 years teaching, I, a TF trained teacher, left the classroom… to work in professional development at the Institute of Education, funding by the DfE to focus work on schools with below average science results. I plan to return to classroom teaching within two to three years. Not exactly leaving education is it? Nor is it leaving the mission to address educational disadvantage which is what TF is about and where it differs from other teacher training routes which do not have a focus on a subset of students. I think now to other TF I know who are not currently in the classroom – one doing a PhD in education, another doing a full-time masters, another on a gap year travelling with her newly wedded husband, one training to be an educational psychologist, others running social enterprises, working for Teach First or other charities like Kid’s Company. Many varied roles which all address the mission in the short term, or in the longer term. So you see, in this way Teach First has been successful. It hasn’t said it can solve the problem of teacher retention which is, frankly, down to the schools. I left my first school because of a bullying head teacher who I had to file a formal grievance against. (I’d be interested to see how these figures break down between schools as some TF schools often have high staff turnovers where everyone is leaving, not just TF teachers whereas it is known that PGCE students rarely choose to teach in challenging schools as survey after survey shows. Particularly not in schools in or near or just out of special measures, where the SLT can be an issue). Teach First has pledged to tackle the divide in educational attainment between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. This is a task for teachers and schools but also for many other professions and organisations; and TF is producing a large community of people who know firstly what educational disadvantage is and secondly are passionate about tackling it, whether that is through work in the classroom or by some other means. So, when we look at whether or not they are in the classroom after year 5 – a valid question – we should then ask, if they are not, where are they?

    1. Lionel D

      Your comments are certainly valid Misbah but there’s something lacking to many of us reading them, laudable though they are so please don’t get me wrong.

      But, it still reeks of the sort of “ego” that annoys many of us, it’s not as such, the view of being in the trenches as it were, trying to break down those, I accept this sounds a bit much, “barriers of oppression” that really do prevent many of these children from doing well. All I hear is a sense of “bettering myself” and through that, that it will somehow rub off on others. I fear it rubs people up, rather than inspire.

      And in truth, isn’t this the problem today: What ever happened to good old fashioned “praxis”? What’s wrong with earning your spurs and doing your time? Do the job and earn your relationship with the children! Training is essential of course, but it should always be within the class (no pun intended) system, not by darting in and out of one and by doing it signal to the children that perhaps you only actually care about them to a certain degree. Coming from the primary sector, many expert practitioners working in such tough areas will always note that being part of the school culture, for a number of years is what might finally break down those barriers.


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