Teach First or Teach Second. Just Teach!

Saw this on my timeline today

Teach First. The Future?
Teach First are now the biggest graduate recruiter company in the UK. For clarity this is as a company. It is not the biggest graduate recruiter for education. Thousands of graduates do go into schools and not via the Teach First route. Some of the media have got a bit carried away with the headline so I think it only fair for readers to understand what this means.

For those who don’t know who Teach First are here is some background. For my overseas readers it is similar in many way to Teach for America. A charitable organisation committed to seeing that “no child’s educational success is limited by their socio-economic background”. They recruit some of the highest achieving graduates in the country , according to stats some 80% from Russell Group universities, to teach in schools in economically deprived wards. Or “disadvantaged” schools. (I put that in speech marks because I hate the phrase disadvantaged.)

Now from the get go I will declare that I have worked with Teach First. I have ran workshops at all but their last annual conference around student engagement and presentation skills. I was part of a workshop that explored how they could engage more black and minority ethnic graduates into their cohorts. With a 16% proportion of their cohorts now representing that demographic they are truly making inroads into this. I admire their drive and ethos. Their commitment to being one of the vehicles to address the imbalance of social mobility through education by providing recruits to the teaching profession is admirable and has had impact.

This does not mean like a good family that Teach First does not deserve critiquing when the time is right.
I will come to this.

What’s wrong with traditional routes
My wife and I had a deep discussion a number of years ago. She posited that there were a lot of people who entered the teaching profession with no sense of the outside world. They had spent all their lives as students in education and then were expected to impart wisdom to students having had no experience of the wider world. To an extant I agreed that there were many who probably needed experience in the wider world to give a sense of what their learning could lead to but it goes much deeper than that. I suggested if we only see school as a conduit for future careers and exclude it as a place where citizenship can be taught and demonstrated and learning could be done for learning’s sake then we have missed a trick. She jokingly suggested that maybe I should set up a charity called Teach Second for people who had worked for ten years in industry and then be fast tracked into education.

That banter aside the role of Teach First in education has been polarising for some.
Some who have gone the traditional route see it as just a way for some of the graduates who come this route as a means to buffer their CV in tough economic times before jetting off to some high flying job in industry.
Some suggest that the proportion who only stay in the profession for the two year duration do a disservice to those students who would love to see such inspirational figures stay longer.
Others still have a hang up with the fact that such graduates are placed in schools after an intensive six week training to then teach whilst those going the traditional PGCE route aren’t afforded this.

Now there are flaws in all three of those. To assume that graduates only use this for a buffer is based purely on opinion and not any evidence. Whilst I have known of two or three who told me this in training they were by and large a small minority
The second point about teacher retention is not purely a Teach First issue but across the profession as a whole. Whilst it would be easy for many to just blame Michael Gove, the current education secretary, the issue has been going on long before he arrived.
As for the training, most teachers can tell you it is not as straight forward as it seems although they will say the academic rigour (see what I did there) provided by the PGCE is something that is essential to the longevity of teachers who wish to stay in the profession and make a longer term difference to the students.

My own personal concerns centre around how much government funding the charity has received. I am always dubious when the government will jump all over a specific charity. For comparison as much as I love Kids Company the charity run by Camila Batmangelidgjh I know of many charities with wider reach and impact in the same sector who felt aggrieved when she was able to use her political advantage to gain funding. This does not mean that Teach First are exactly the same but there are other educational charities some with bigger reaches to address poverty and social mobility who are left scratching their heads as to how Teach First would have secured a £32m grant while they have had longer track records and have struggled to raise funding from such influentials. It does not feel as independent as before.

Where to Next?
Students don’t actually give a shit if you were trained from Teach First, Graduate Trainee Programme or the new Schools Direct (sounds like insurance). What students and us parents want are good teachers. We want people who have both the intellectual and emotional capactity to deal with helping them to learn.

I thought it fair from my experience to address both the positives and concerns that I have about the charity but the picture is much bigger than one charity. Teach First is not a silver bullet. They have their place and I think noble intentions to address social inequalities that exist in education. That said so do a lot of teachers who came into the profession by other routes. I think it becomes unfair when we don’t look at all parties helping to contribute to addressing this. Here is a truth.

We live in a classist society. We just need to take a look at those in power and leadership and realise that in the main they all have a certain schooling and educational pathway that they followed. And the class groups they now sit in. As long as such differences in schooling remain it will be hard to shift the status quo. No matter how many academies, free schools or educational charities we create to tackle it. As a parent I personally don’t want to take a risk with my children’s educational chances and made choices that would improve both of my daughter’s chances of a great education and as such opportunities in life.

I recognise we also live in a culture where huge assumptions are made about race, religion and ethnicity. We can never be Finland, Singapore or any of those other countries we are constantly looking to in order to change our system. We are the UK. Even when we start to tackle social inequality in education the fact remains that institutions such as media, police, criminal justice systems, local government and housing still perpetuate social and cultural differences. Kids see this. This is their reality when they leave the temporary safety of the school day. Does this mean we should stop doing what we do? Of course not. My own educational company, like Teach First and many great teachers around the country want to show young people what the options are for them. The rules of the game if you please and as such offer them opportunities to be able to at least have a go at that game. It is a tough one but I reiterate students don’t care where you come from as long as you can help them to see possibilities and help them where they are going.

For that I salute Teach First. For that I salute I host of teachers up and down the UK whether in deprived or flush economic wards. I salute parents who invest time and energy into ensuring their children see that. We have flaws all of us, but if the bigger picture is about empowering and educating our children for a better life then what does it matter what label we put on it?

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