Last week I saw this video advert – “We Are Teach First”:
The generalisations were off-putting. The character of “Rachel” and her school are trite stereotypes, and the use of statistics slapdash. I know that some people are worried by Teach First, and watching this ad might not help. It’s easy to see it as patronising. But despite this broad brush-strokes advertising campaign, I think Teach First is a good thing. Here’s why.
Making teaching a competitive graduate career
When I graduated from Oxford, I was the only one going on to a PGCE with state school teaching in mind (you can read about my experiences here). Each year I return to my Oxford college for a careers forum, where alumni speak to undergraduates about where their degrees took them and offer advice to those just about to start their journeys. The first year I went to extol the virtues of teaching, I spoke to one undergraduate interesting in teaching. This year, I was told by the tutors that Teach First was the single biggest destination for graduates from my college in the past academic year. That means that high achieving, driven graduates with exceptional subject knowledge are pouring in to state schools as opposed to management consultancy firms, whereas previously they weren’t. This has got to be a good thing, for them and for the students they teach.
The sense of moral purpose
You don’t often get organisations working with genuine moral purpose, but Teach First is one. It’s setting out to make a difference and to correct an injustice. Whilst many may take issue with its methods, its heart is in the right place – on its sleeve.
They don’t just teach first
One of the major criticisms of Teach First is the name, which seems to imply that teaching is merely a stepping stone to a “proper” career, like some sort of extended gap year. Well, that’s just not the case.
What TeachFirsters did second. (Nb: they mostly teach). pic.twitter.com/NcwCOzJa70
— Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) November 10, 2014
As this from Laura McInerney shows, most of them stay in teaching. These are graduates who might not have been there in the first place, were it not for Teach First.
I’d rather have bankers that taught first
As case studies like this of Lena Khudeza show, some Teach Firsters do use the programme as a stepping stone to something else. And why not? For me, teaching a vocation – I can’t see myself doing anything else, and I don’t want to. But not everyone is like me. Why can’t teaching be something you do – and do well – for a few years before trying something else? We welcome teachers who have spent time outside of education into our schools, as they bring an enriched experience into the classroom. I’m sure the reverse is true. I’d certainly rather have bankers and management consultants who understand the impact of poverty and deprivation having seen it first hand than those who have only ever breathed the rarefied air of privilege. Maybe, when they’re in their Canary Wharf offices, they’ll think of the students they taught and make different – better – decisions.
Teach Firsters enrich the debate
Much has been made of the precociousness of some Teach First graduates, particularly on Twitter, but those arguments seem to me to miss the point. People can say what they like on Twitter (and they frequently do) – but you don’t need to listen. You curate your own timeline. What I’ve found is that many of the Teach Firsters I follow and read have really interesting, thoughtful and perceptive things to say. Who says you need to have taught for twenty years before you’re entitled to an opinion? Okay – don’t answer that. But I value the perspective of those new to the profession just as much as those who have a wealth of experience. Coming into schools fresh, from a different angle, can uncover assumptions and myths, and help us all to move forward. Being challenged about what you believe can make you re-evaluate and either change, or defend, your position. This can only be healthy. And “Teach Firsters” are no more a homogeneous group than “PE Teachers” – they come in many varieties.
The analysis shows the benefit
Teach First is expensive, there’s no doubt about it. It costs £9k to train a PGCE student (a third of which is paid by the student themselves), and around £26k for a Teach First trainee. But, given that it costs £270k to train a doctor (source), maybe Teach First is investing the right amount in training teachers, and the PGCE has been doing it on a shoestring. After all, training professionals should be something our society invests heavily in…shouldn’t it? And the recent paper from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that, for the schools eligible for the programme, the benefits were considerable:
For most routes, the net benefit to schools is small in comparison with the costs for central government. The notable exception to this is Teach First, where the largest net benefit to schools is reported.
I wish it had been around years ago
My PGCE served me well. I have read some horror stories about inadequate support, dreadful training, and incompetent administration, but mine was pretty good. I was – and am – happy with the way I was trained. But, had Teach First been an option when I was an undergraduate, I would have leapt at it.
Please also read Kev Bartle’s excellent You’re my Teach First, my Teach Last, my Teach Everything which covers this topic much better than I can!