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Next step - How do I become ... A Teach First teacher?

Teach First teachers have their work cut out. But if you have a social conscience and a thick skin, it could be for you

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For new graduates looking for a challenge, and the chance to make a difference, Teach First could be the perfect opportunity. Every year, the programme, run by an independent charity, recruits hundreds of graduates and places them in urban schools where less than 25 per cent of pupils get five A*-Cs, or where more than 30 per cent are on free meals. The idea is that recruits teach there for two years, before deciding on their next move.

It might seem risky - taking students who've only just finished their degree, and throwing them straight into tough schools. After all, PGCEs are there for a reason. But these aren't just any old graduates. Competition for places is fierce, and the selection process rigorous. And there's intensive training, both the summer before you start, and throughout your two years. "I've had a brilliant mentor, who's taken me under her wing," says Sara James, a Teach First RE teacher in Birmingham. "She's given me advice, encouragement and generally played the mother role. When I arrived I thought other teachers would think `who do these Teach First people think they are?' But the truth is no one wants to see you fall flat on your face - you get great support."

Before deciding if Teach First appeals, you need to consider the principles behind it. Schools in deprived areas can be challenging places to work, so sometimes struggle to attract the best teachers, meaning their students are further disadvantaged. It's a tough cycle to break. By putting outstanding talent into these schools, Teach First aims to level the playing field.

In other words, you should be motivated by your social conscience, and not by your own ambitions, or the chance to skip teacher training. "I grew up in similar circumstances to the kind of children Teach First aims to benefit," says Pete Matherson, who finished his placement last year. "But I was lucky enough to have an amazing mum and some fantastic teachers who inspired me to go to university and increase my life chances. I wanted to do the same for others."

Ms James agrees that the right motives are important. "It's not just a career move. The people behind Teach First are on a mission to tackle inequality. You have to be able to sign up to that."

At the end of their two years, Teach First recruits aren't necessarily expected to stay in the classroom. About half of them take their new skills and head off to enjoy flourishing careers in business or Government - all the while acting as Teach First ambassadors and using their growing influence to tackle educational disadvantage in whatever ways they can.

On the other hand, no one's going to force you out. Teach First teachers achieve qualified teacher status at the end of their first year, and go through newly qualified teacher induction in their second year, so they can stay in teaching or come back to it in the future. All Teach First graduates have the option to do five days in the classroom each year, whatever job they end up doing.

Teach First is open to final-year students, and those who've graduated in recent years but haven't had much workplace experience. The first step is an online application form. After that, there's an assessment day, where you'll be given problem-solving tasks and asked to teach a mini-lesson. Ms James' advice is to be yourself, and be honest with yourself.

"The application form asks you to talk about different challenges you've faced. If you've nothing to say, it probably isn't for you. But if you can tick all the right boxes - then go for it."

Next week: Literary co-ordinator


- Salary Between Pounds 16,734 and Pounds 19,827 in your first year, rising to between Pounds 20,627 and Pounds 26,000 in your second year. Exact salary depends on location. The scheme currently operates in the East Midlands, London, North West, West Midlands and Yorkshire.

- Qualifications A good degree, usually a first or 2:1. But personal attributes are just as important.

- Key qualities Drive, charisma and a thick skin.

- Next steps Teach First representatives visit university career fairs throughout autumn and spring. Check the website for events in your area. The deadline for applications is Friday, April 3.

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