Teach First-style programme in the pipeline for Wales

Proposals divide union opinion at a time of teacher redundancy

Darren Evans

Welsh politicians have announced plans to replicate the Teach First programme, which places high-flying graduates in challenging schools.

Last week, education minister Leighton Andrews announced a new teacher training programme offering on-the-job training to "outstanding graduates", to help improve the results of pupils from poor homes.

Recruits to the Additional Training Graduate Programme will teach on a reduced timetable while being fully trained to acquire qualified status. According to the literature, they must have strong leadership qualities and perseverance, and will be expected to deliver improvements "quickly and effectively".

The plans have split opinion in the profession, with some welcoming the idea and others attacking the government as being "out of touch with reality".

Gareth Jones, secretary of heads' union ASCL Cymru, said that it may be one of the "experiments" from England that Wales should replicate. "Teach First, which involves the recruitment, training and placement of the very talented, has been a success in raising standards in challenging school contexts," he said. "As to whether the Wales version will be as successful, we must wait to see the details of who has gained the contract and base a judgement on the results."

Dr Philip Dixon, director of the ATL Cymru teaching union, said that the impact of similar schemes had been positive, but warned of the danger of poor retention rates as participants are lured away from teaching by other careers. "A lot of the success of Teach First has not been down to the fact they have cracked the mode of teacher training, but because the candidates are so high calibre," he added.

But the NASUWT teaching union has claimed that the proposals are "wholly inappropriate" at a time when teachers across Wales are facing redundancy. General secretary Chris Keates said it would be expensive to implement and added that it would be more cost-effective to retrain current teachers. "Teachers across Wales would be forgiven for thinking that the Welsh government is increasingly out of touch with the reality of the issues being faced by teachers," she said.

James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said that the programme would succeed as long as existing teacher training institutions were involved. "If the training is accredited and done in conjunction with existing university teacher training centres, it could be an effective way of getting excellent people into schools," he said.

Details of who will administer the programme or how much it will cost are not yet available. The government said it would be an additional training route used flexibly as and when required. An education department spokesman said that it was not intended to be a "general" training option. "It would be a small-scale, targeted and limited improvement programme to support young people who face educational disadvantage," he added.

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Darren Evans

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