Teach First is launching a new strategy setting out its plans for the future this week. Here’s what you need to know:
Why is Teach First doing this now?
Founded 16 years ago, Teach First was set up to parachute high-performing graduates into challenging schools. In that time, it has gone from a niche policy initiative to an established part of the education landscape and the biggest teacher trainer in the country.
Last year Teach First’s founding chief executive, Brett Wigdortz, stood down to be replaced by Russell Hobby, the former general secretary of the NAHT heads’ union.
When Tes interviewed Mr Hobby last year, he indicated that he needed some time running the organisation to develop his thoughts about its future. He has been in the role for over a year now, and the new strategy – which is due to span 2018-23 – is the fruition of that thinking.
The strategy is also a response to the teacher recruitment crisis, which is threatening to get worse as the number of secondary school students rises over the next few years. An official recruitment and retention strategy is expected from the Department for Education in the coming months, but Teach First is setting out its stall now in terms of the contribution it believes it can make.
Will Teach First continue to recruit graduates for a minimum of two years in teaching?
Yes. “It’s really important that we keep getting graduates in and that we have a strong presence in universities across the country,” Mr Hobby told Tes in an interview to mark the launch of the new plan.
Teach First recently received some criticism for an ill-advised tweet about one of its teachers who went on to become an investment banker. But the organisation has no intention of extending its minimum requirement that candidates should be on the programme for two years.
Mr Hobby told Tes: “It’s okay that people can look at teaching and say ‘I’m going to try it and see if I love it and see if I’m good at it’”.
However, he said it was important “we don’t just suggest that it is a stepping stone on the path to other things; that actually the time that you spend in the classroom will be the most important contribution that you can make to ending inequality".
So what’s new about the strategy?
Several things. The strategy contains three new pilots. The first – 'Time to Teach' – will target career changers above the age of 25 who are interested in training to be teachers.
A second – 'Reconnect with Teaching' – aims to attract qualified teachers who have parted with the profession back into schools through a bespoke package of support.
A third pilot – 'Teaching Assistant Fast Track' – will work with Teach First partner schools to identify high-potential TAs and support them to train to be teachers. Crucially, they will complete their training while continuing to work at their school.
Does the strategy cover anything else?
Teach First acknowledges that a key thing determining retention rates (and the continuance of its own recruits in teaching) is the environment and opportunities that are provided in school. As such, it has several projects to improve leadership development in schools.
A ‘Leading Together’ programme launched earlier this year aims to bolster leadership teams, and the strategy includes further schemes to improve career progression.
Mr Hobby told Tes: “You can get great people into the system… but unless you look after those people with strong leadership, good professional development, supportive working environments, they’re not going to make the impact that we would hope them to make, and they’re not going to want to stay for as long as we would wish them to stay.”
Importantly, these schemes will be available for all teachers in Teach First partner schools, and not just those who have come through its programme.