Opinion: Is training provider Teach First tanking?

With crumbling schools and 9% of teachers leaving the profession in a year, Britain’s education system is in crisis.

And Teach First, a programme which trains “high-potential” university graduates to become teachers, seems to be struggling too.

In February, it was revealed the teacher training provider missed out on bonuses of up to £2 million after missing recruitment targets by 20% for the year 2022-23.

Founded in 2002, Teach First operates mainly in schools in disadvantaged communities, and 9% of its partner schools are in the North West.

Recruits embark on a two-year programme, with pay from day one.

The programme certainly isn’t cheap to run. From 2021 to 2027, the provider will receive £169 million in government funding. And the cost for training each teacher is 65% higher through Teach First than the average initial training costs for teachers.

But does Teach First improve Britain’s education standards?

Two reports were published by the National Foundation for Educational Research in July, reflecting on the past 20 years of the programme.

The first discusses the impact of Teach First-recruited teachers on pupils. Here are the headlines:

  • Pupils taught in secondary school departments which recruited at least one Teach First trainee scored marginally better in their GCSEs. The difference was very minimal – only 0.01 standard deviations. The report does suggest, however, this could be an underestimate
  • There was no difference in pupils’ grades at A level between Teach First schools and non-Teach First schools.
  • Pupils in departments with a Teach First teacher were 2.5% more likely to attend university.
  • There were no clear regional variations in the impact of Teach First at GCSE or A Level.

The second report focuses on Teach First’s impact on teacher recruitment and retention.

  • Teachers recruited through Teach First earned 3.3% more a year in the North West after qualifying than those trained on a PGCE course
  • Teach First recruits were more likely than teachers from other routes to progress into leadership roles. However, this gap narrowed in recent years.
  • But, Teach First teachers were more likely than other teachers to leave the profession after qualifying.

The retention rate for Teach First teachers a year after completing their NQT was 69%, compared to 87% for teachers who qualified through higher-education routes.

What do Teach First recruits say?

Teach First is clearly very divisive both among trainees and experienced teachers.

It only takes a glance at Indeed to confirm this. One review suggests the programme to be “very vision orientated”, while the following criticises the “toxic culture and lack of support”.

Indeed, a report by Jane Tillin, published in July, compared the support and teaching offered to trainees from universities compared to Teach First’s training programme. It found that many felt universities offered more comprehensive teacher training.

One trainee even said that Teach First training: “felt wishy-washy compared to the academic focus of UCL [University College London] … Teach First training days almost seemed … like … something they had to kind of tick off … it was less substantial.”

So what is the answer?

Our education system is clearly at breaking point. Anything we can do to recruit talented teachers and support them in the profession is massively important.

However, given the high costs of Teach First and the marginal benefits it has been found to have, questions remain about whether the scheme offers valuable for money.

Surely, it would be more beneficial to address the reasons why so many teachers are leaving the profession – overwork and underpay, for example.

Feature image: ©Katerina Holmes, Pexels.

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