Teach First: a small blip in the victory narrative

The London Evening Standard have published a short article praising Teach First for their role in boosting the performance of London’s schools. In what must get the prize for one of the sloppiest pieces of education journalism, the article cites research conducted by the Financial Times which appears to rely on a statement by Lord Adonis that Teach First has had a role to play in boosting the performance of schools across London.

Normally, I wouldn’t bother highlighting such an article. After all, Teach First are very good at blowing their own trumpet and don’t need me to do it for them. However, the comment that followed this article was very revealing. In it, an uncle of a recent Teach First student had this to say about the programme:

You’d have to talk to my nephew, who dropped out of teaching shortly after passing through the Teach First programme. The course seemed to provide a sugar rush of boosterism, telling the applicants how brilliant they were, and how lucky schools would be to have them, then leaving them unsupported and poorly-trained when they went into the classroom after an absurdly-short programme. The effect on the morale of committed professional teachers of being bypassed by parachuted-in whizz-kids, many simply wishing to polish their CV’s before moving on rapidly, may be imagined. Getting a share of the top talent into teaching is vital, but not this way.

Again, I wouldn’t normally highlight this either – one statement doesn’t make a truth (something that the London Evening Standard reporter ought to bear in mind perhaps?). But this comment does ring true with conversations that I have had with several parents of recent Teach First participants. They are not required to toe the party line in the same way that anyone else associated with Teach First is indoctrinated into a particular perspective about their process of initial teacher education. Many of the above issues have been raised in these conversations. I am expecting to have another one of these conversations next week and will ask the parent’s permission to recount it here.

A screen grab of http://jsavage.org.uk/ – developing and applying educational research

Whilst parents (and in this case an uncle) can occasionally find ways to communicate their dissatisfaction with Teach First, for the most part there is a complete embargo on criticism of Teach First in our media. Politicians are unwilling to examine the issue (Labour initially embraced Teach First; the Coalition are sustaining them with our money); the voices of many academics, despite having serious concerns, are silenced by their concern for the reputation of their institutions that rely on generous Teach First contracts for significant portions of their income; and you won’t find many Teach First participants criticising the programme – they are far too indoctrinated for that.

Obviously, I have significant concerns about the Teach First programme. Many of these are highlighted in the comments made by this uncle. Underneath the veneer of hype and self-publicity, the Teach First programme leaves a lot to be desired and is an incredibly costly way of training our teachers. I think it is a shame that others are not prepared to come out in public and criticise Teach First in a robust way. Whilst I know that Teach First can, and does, produce a number of excellent teachers, there are far better ways to educate our postgraduate students and create inspirational young teachers.

Jonathan Savage 

This post was first published on Jonathan’s blog. The visit the blog follow this link.

3 thoughts on “Teach First: a small blip in the victory narrative

  1. Thanks for this great post Jonathan. I have had a lot of concerns about Teach First and it’s elevated status among educational policymakers, running from New Labour through to the coalition who continue to celebrate it’s ethos as part of a wider tack on teacher professionalism. This is incredibly troubling, but I’m also really troubled by the class dynamics at play here – both in the systems of privilege at work in the recruitment of Teach Frist candidates (who can be seen as the entrepreneurial, ‘talented’ confident, go-getting graduate) and the deficit notion that these teachers can somehow provide ‘better’ role models for working-class kids in urban schools. You may be interested in this paper by Sarah Smart on this very topic: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13639080802709661

  2. Interesting post Jonathan. I agree with you about the need to subject Teach First to critical scrutiny, for many of the reasons that Kim lists. As tends to happen, Teach First has been judged a ‘success’ and so now they are looking to apply the model in other contexts. IPPR have just released a policy document ‘Frontline’ (see http://www.ippr.org/publication/55/9705/frontline-improving-the-childrens-social-work-profession) that aims to apply the model to social work.

    The argument for recruiting ‘high-fliers’ to social work is presented quite baldly in the document, for example,
    ‘Of the 2,765 people starting social work masters-level courses last year, only five completed their undergraduate degree at Oxford or Cambridge , among only 150 from any Russell Group university’

    This kind of approach seeks to locate the failings of children’s social care with the supposed lack of ability of social workers, while ignoring the the huge pressures, funding cuts, social problems that social workers currently face. It’s a discourse of derision where societies problems are based on the public sector and the state.

    Thanks to @Ermintrude2 for bringing ‘Frontline’ to my attention.

  3. Thanks for this Jonathon, Kim and James(?).

    I also worry about Teach First’s over emphasis on ‘business’ within their training programmes for graduates, rather than learning and teaching. Ex ‘Teach first’ teachers are also writing ‘policy research’ using their own experience (of 2 years teaching), consulting politicians, and Price Waterhouse Cooper(!) to make their arguments about ‘schools in challenging circumstances’ (see http://www.teachfirst.org.uk/web/FILES/TFPolicyFirst201016129_860.pdf) – and thereby ignoring the voices of the young people and long term staff in the schools.

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