Taking on a Teach First graduate

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Teach First recruits and trains high-quality teachers to work in schools facing the greatest challenges, using the latest research to raise learning outcomes for our poorest children. Emma Lee-Potter explains

Up until four years ago Tinsley Meadows Primary Academy struggled to recruit new teachers.

The school is in a deprived area of Sheffield, not far from the M1 motorway, and around 96 per cent of its 650 children have English as an additional language (EAL). It is in the bottom 20 per cent of deprivation on the IDACI index (income deprivation affecting children index) and 31 per cent of pupils are eligible for Pupil Premium funding.

“There are endless stories of poverty in our area,” explained Deborah Sanderson, executive principal of Tinsley Meadows. “But Teach First has brought us staff. Before this, nobody ever applied to our school. We’d get one or two people applying but that was all.”

Everything changed when Ms Sanderson and her team decided to recruit four Teach First teachers in 2015.

“I’d watched Teach First in secondary schools in London and I was dying for it to come into primary schools,” she said. “When it came into primary schools in Yorkshire I thought ‘yes’ and we haven’t looked back.”

In the intervening years, the school has taken on eight more Teach First teachers and two more will join this September. Virtually all of them are still at Tinsley Meadows and some have progressed to leadership roles. Three are now part of the senior leadership team, one is a specialist leader of education who has worked with other schools in Sheffield and another will mentor a Teach First teacher next year.

Teach First was launched in 2002. It now works with schools in every region of England and Wales and has trained and placed more than 10,000 teachers in schools in low-income areas, supporting more than one million children in the process. The first cohort of primary teachers started work in 2011, with a specific focus on raising the aspirations and outcomes of disadvantaged children.

“For many reasons, it is our work in primary schools that always leaves me feeling particularly inspired,” explained Russell Hobby, chief executive of Teach First. “Indeed, it is here that teachers have a unique part to play when it comes to tackling inequality and creating greater life opportunities for children – because if we don’t get it right from the very start, it makes it so much harder for children to catch up later on.

“That’s why we’re constantly at pains to make sure that our teacher training programme recruits and trains only the highest quality teachers to work in primary schools. These trainee teachers then work with and learn from existing staff to improve the attainment and aspirations of pupils.

“Over the years, these efforts have helped Teach First to become one of the top 10 most prestigious graduate recruiters, so entry is competitive. This gives us confidence that we will find people who will add real value to schools. We’ve been able to recruit, train and place teachers whose academic credentials are excellent – and help form a wonderful and diverse community of teachers from a variety of backgrounds. Above all though, these individuals boast a spark, a love for working with young children and an unwavering determination to make a difference to those who need it the most.”

For primary teaching, Teach First candidates are required to have a degree (2:1 or above) in a primary national curriculum subject or an A*, A or B at A level (or equivalent) in two of these subjects.

Prior to starting work the trainees take part in a five-week training programme, learning the practical skills to lead classes, such as curriculum knowledge, education theory and practice and classroom management, and doing a two-week placement in a school. From September onwards they have their own class from the first day, learning on the job and teaching 60 per cent of the time (this increases once they are established).

The teachers gain qualified teacher status (QTS) in their first year and complete their NQT placement in the second year. They earn a salary while they train and gain a Postgraduate Diploma in Education and Leadership (PGDE), worth double the credits of a PGCE. They also spend at least 20 days completing an alternative key stage placement within the five to 11 age range.

“The vast majority of our partner heads attest to the rigorous process and training we provide to find and develop great people for schools,” Mr Hobby added.

“Ninety-three per cent of heads and 86 per cent of school mentors said our training was outstanding or good. And many have told me about the passion and commitment they regularly see in the teachers we provide.”

At Tinsley Meadows, Ms Sanderson and Esther Bloomer, the school’s SENCO and Teach First lead, pay tribute to the difference that their Teach First teachers have made. “All the Teach First participants are very passionate and enthusiastic,” said Ms Bloomer. "They are very ambitious and hard-working so that has had a positive effect on the school and the children. They are also very research-based and we’ve found that their research has supported us in reviewing some of our policies and practice. Very often it has led to us developing different working parties on particular aspects of the curriculum or how we work with parents.”

“They make a real difference to the lives of our children,” Ms Sanderson added. “If you want to grow your own and you want a bright, intellectually curious teacher who’s into research-based practice I’d say, ‘go for it’, 100 per cent."

Debbie Sims, principal of Our Lady and St Benedict Catholic Academy in Stoke-on-Trent, is equally positive. Her school, in the “hard pressed” area of Abbey Hulton, has 236 pupils between three and 11, 46 per cent of whom are eligible for Pupil Premium funding.

Ms Sims was inspired by the Tough Young Teachers BBC Three series in 2014, which showed six new Teach First teachers working in schools in low-income communities. When a vacancy at her own school came up in 2016 she decided to take on a Teach First teacher. She has recruited two more since then and all three are still at the school.

“I’ve been very impressed with the Teach First teachers who come to us,” Ms Sims told Headteacher Update. “They are very motivated and they have a ‘can-do’ attitude. They stand quite proud and have an air of authority about them. They are unflappable and nothing seems to phase them. Obviously they have their ups and downs because they’re only human but whenever you say ‘do you fancy having a go at this?’ the answer is always ‘ooh, yes’.

“My current Teach First teacher in year 2 is full of bright ideas and he’s having a go at running some after-school clubs with the older boys. He’s done a term of rugby with them and he’s thinking of starting a football team next year as an after-school activity. He keeps saying to me: ‘I want to give something back.'

“You can see a real leadership ability about them. We have also found that they take feedback well. They want to do well. They are very cooperative and open-minded.”

Ms Sims admits that the trainees’ workload is “quite high” and highlights the importance of supporting them during the two-year programme. Teach First teachers are continually monitored and supported by their schools, their initial teacher training providers and Teach First itself. They all have a school-based mentor.

Like Ms Sanderson, Ms Sims has been impressed by the research projects her Teach First teachers have done: “The research they do is really relevant,” she said. “One of our teachers has just done something on how vocabulary and language thread through the curriculum. One of our senior leaders is starting to look at that for September so there’s some great research to start with. It opened up doors when we weren’t expecting it.”

Ms Sims intends to continue recruiting Teach First teachers. “It’s my preferred training route at the moment,” she said. “It means that we are able to mould our own teachers to suit our own school. The teachers come through knowing our rules, knowing how we deal with the high number of Pupil Premium children we have and understanding a lot of the social issues they come to school with. It’s ingrained in them.

“The Teach First teachers look at this as their learning opportunity. They want to be the best they can be and they are trying to get the children to be the best they can be."

  • Emma Lee-Potter is a freelance education journalist.

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This article has been published by Headteacher Update with sponsorship from Teach First. It was written and produced to a brief agreed in advance with Teach First.

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