The can-do revolution

James Townsend

Over the past 10 years the education scene has been witness to enormous changes, the pace and scope of which have been simultaneously terrifying and exciting.

Very often, change is driven by the Department for Education, but I am extraordinarily proud of the progress made by Teach First as we reflect on our 10th anniversary this year.

When Brett Wigdortz founded the charity, he realised that a major challenge for schools serving low-income communities would be getting the best graduates to come and teach their pupils.

Since then, we have persuaded more than 4,000 of our country's top graduates to make a minimum two-year commitment to teaching at a school in challenging circumstances.

Just a few weeks ago, university leavers placed Teach First fourth in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers list. The top three places all went to accountancy firms. So if you don't want to be an accountant, the most prestigious thing you can do after university is to teach at a demanding school.

I am a relative newcomer to serious conversation about education. Ten years ago, I was beavering away at my GCSE exams. But even I can recognise that this is an extraordinary shift. We can all remember the old adage "those who can't, teach". At university campuses today, teaching is for those who "can".

As someone who has gone through the programme, I am pleased that Teach First has been a large part (though only a part) of this shift. I'm excited that so many of my peers are prepared to reject the apparent glamour and financial reward of other careers, in favour of the opportunity to make a positive difference to the lives of young people in low-income communities. That is a success not only for Teach First, but a reflection of the work of inspirational figures across the whole of the education sector.

This summer, Teach First will start training our largest ever cohort - 1,000 graduates who have each demonstrated the potential to become a transformational teacher. Such large numbers are a reflection of great recruitment success, but they are also indicative of the scale of the challenge ahead of us.

The relationship between family income and educational success is stronger in England than in almost any other developed country. That is a scandal, and yet it doesn't have to be that way. A few weeks ago I visited Dyke House School in Hartlepool. It already stands out for its successful Ofsted results, yet it still believes it can do more. By any measure it's a great school, but it continues to aim higher - striving to ensure that every child has the same life chances as those who come from the wealthiest backgrounds.

Over the past 10 years, the perception of teaching has been transformed by working towards ambitious goals and a renewed sense of what's possible. In the coming years, there is no reason that every school cannot aspire to the same goals as Dyke House; no reason why any child's educational success should be limited by their socio-economic background.

James Townsend is Participant President for Teach First, and spent his first two years in teaching at Copley High School in Manchester.

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James Townsend

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