TeachFirst recruitment presentation

Although I work in Initial Teacher Education, I don’t really know very much about TeachFirst. I’ve picked up a bit from bloggers and Tweeters but am aware that sometimes I’m not clear who came through TeachFirst and who trained via one of the other routes. Laura MacInerney (who also helpfully collated some relevant posts), Kris Boulton, Joe Kirby, Harry Fletcher-Wood (not absolutely sure but think he was TF) and Daisy Christodolou are visible presences online and, whilst I certainly don’t always agree with some of these folk, there’s no doubting either their commitment to education or, for those still on the front-line, their commitment to improving their own classroom practice. I’m also aware of some of the data: Teach First achieve a similar 5-year retention to other routes (and of course that’s in some tough schools), Ofsted have graded their provision Outstanding in all categories, there is some evidence that schools engaging with Teach First outperform those that don’t (although whether that’s a reflection of the impact of the teachers, or of the school’s leadership is uncertain), and the 7:1 applicant to trainee ratio, and academic level of trainees is encouraging (although Teach First have unique requirements around subject specialism that skew this figure significantly). Prior to last night, my views about Teach First were limited by having no direct experience of the programme, but were generally positive with a couple of concerns. The very last part of my blog on the Carter Review will show you where I was at, with a more specific comment about subject knowledge on Kris Boulton’s post here.

After attending the recruitment presentation organised by PhySoc (University of Southampton Physics Society) I am not so sure. Now, I appreciate that a recruitment campaign is not the same thing as a teacher training programme but I was genuinely shocked by the way Teach First was presented.

The first bit of the presentation was a clear description of the fundamental issue of educational outcomes for FSM pupils in England followed by a call to arms. There was a slight sense of the priviledged and academically able going into the slums to save the deserving poor but I think that is probably justifiable salesmanship. What came next just wasn’t. In a fifteen minute presentation I reckon the ‘classroom teaching’ bit got less than 30 seconds. Not once was there any suggestion that wanting to work with children was a pre-requisite for teaching. Not once was there any suggestion that children might have anything to offer. In fact, really the only time that working in schools was dwelt upon was to flag up that in 15 years, 14 TFers had made headteacher (or it might have been 15 headteachers in 14 years), along with a statistic about the faster career progression for Teach First trained teachers. There was a fair bit of emphasis on the main details of the two year Leadership Development Programme, though. I cannot believe that the two years it takes to go from novice to the end of the NQT can be marketed as Leadership Development – wouldn’t Teacher Development be more appropriate? Maybe not when the details are as follows:

  • Six weeks residential training described as a cross between Freshers’ Week and something else (sorry can’t remember what but I guess it was less contentious).
  • Some teaching
  • Internships with major international companies like Deloitte, PwC, Goldman-Sachs, Civil Service Fast Stream… there was a list. I paraphrase but “This isn’t just about making the coffee, your leadership potential will be developed and you will have the opportunity to be involved in real projects during this time.”
  • A bit more teaching
  • Enrolment in a Learning Network – to develop your problem-solving skills
  • The opportunity to complete a Masters degree (sadly this is no longer free but is still heavily subsidised at £500/year). Bloody hell – that is cheap!
  • Become a Teach First ambassador. I think the possibility of continuing in education got mentioned here (presumably as some sort of senior leader although I assume the reference to eight, third year teachers, having headships is a typo) but mainly this was about the opportunities with Teach First Platinum Partners – that’s PwC, Goldman-Sachs etc. again. More info on the Teach First website.

There was an overview of the programme on a little flow diagram; the two teaching bits were the same size as each of the other bits. Do I need to say any more?

Anyway, I’m pretty clear that one recruitment presentation isn’t a basis on which to judge a programme that puts large numbers of keen new teachers into schools in socio-economically deprived areas, but it has given me pause for thought. This presentation was absolutely clearly suggesting that a couple of years of teaching was a way to get a massive leg up on the career ladder. This is the criticism that has been consistently levelled at Teach First and now I know why. I’m perfectly happy with teachers having alternative career options; I’m not happy about this short-selling of teachers and teaching.



6 thoughts on “TeachFirst recruitment presentation

  1. Having not seen the presentation, I can’t comment exactly, but I can understand your concerns. I would say, from my experience:
    – The internships side of things is part of the sell, but, I think, attracts only a small minority of TF recruits (I didn’t do one while I was part of TF, and nor did a lot of my friends).
    – The acceleration into leadership is pushed harder than I feel comfortable with – I’m not always convinced people are ready for such big leaps – I saw a lot of people who’d entered teaching with me running departments in their second and third years. That said, while many were ambitious, a large number were stepping into vacuums, where there wasn’t a head of department or where they were genuinely the best person for the job (not just because they were young workaholics).
    – I think (I hope) the overwhelming majority of TF teachers see their teaching as their main priority… Again, personal experience says most are incredibly conscientious and the data is improving on the quality of their impact on classrooms.
    – I was on record as telling someone quite senior in TF in my second year that I didn’t want to be a leader, I just wanted to be a teacher. I changed my mind over time, and I think the emphasis on leadership is important: part of it, for example, part of it is about ‘classroom leadership’ – how do you motivate and challenge (often unwilling) students. Likewise, it’s worth understanding how and why you might influence colleagues (as someone without a formal leadership post for my first few years, I spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of ‘teacher leadership’). So I can live with the idea of a leadership development programme.

    I think the bottom line to me is that the sell ‘great opportunity, really prestigious, etc’ helps encourage a lot of good people in. Many, who might well not have taught otherwise, then stay. Friends of mine who taught and left have stayed involved in education/their old schools: one who became a lawyer mentors students from our old school; another who who went to some big corporate firm gets groups of students in for careers days.

    I should add that I’m not paid to defend TF (nor to market them!) and, as someone who’s mostly obsessed with improving my own, and others’, teaching, I would love to see that promoted more by TF.

  2. Thanks for contributing Harry. My hunch is that everything you’re saying about the difference between the marketing and the reality of TF in schools is true across the board and I don’t have a problem with a marketing approach that makes applicants feel that they are keeping their options open (that’s a real contrast to most of our trainees who are all expecting teaching to be a long-term career choice and are commiting £9000 – on paper at least – on this basis). I think this business of keeping options open is probably quite fundamental to the success of TF in recruiting a whole load of academically successful graduates who wouldn’t otherwise have chosen to teach and I wish the other routes could offer this too. What I would like to see in the TF marketing, though, is some sense of the good things about teaching and working with children, and some sense that TF teachers might be contributing to excellent work already occuring in many schools, rather than the sense that TF teachers are coming in to bail out the impoverished and unloved. My emotional response to the presentation is the same as when well-meaning middle-class school groups go off to Africa at great expense to build a school or something, as if African people aren’t capable of laying blocks and painting their own walls. Just a couple of video clips of happy classrooms, and a senior teacher inviting folk to join in with all the great things that are already happening would probably satisfy me. Best wishes.

  3. I sympathise entirely with what you’d like to see. Most TFers realise in very short order that they are coming in dependent on the support of colleagues who have been plugging away in often difficult situations for many years, without being particularly lauded… I saw a wonderful video clip of happy classrooms recently pulled together from a range of Teach First classrooms – I don’t know if they have permission to share it externally, but I’ll pass it on if I can track it down!

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