England's Teach First scheme is studied by Scots

3rd August 2012 at 01:00
Glowing report into fast-track training scheme also raises spectre of `division'

A controversial fast-track teacher training scheme used widely in England has received enthusiastic praise from inspectors in a report requested by the Scottish government.

The report warns, however, that introducing the Teach First programme to Scotland could produce a "two-tier system" and "division in the profession".

Teach First participants, top graduates parachuted into schools after six weeks of training, were essentially student teachers, paid a salary, said the inspectors. In contrast, student teachers on traditional teacher training courses were placed in schools unpaid, they pointed out.

The report was produced last year by HMIE before it became part of Education Scotland and was obtained by TESS under a Freedom of Information request.

Former senior chief inspector of education Graham Donaldson recommended in his report into teacher education in 2010 that a Teach First model should be investigated as a means of increasing entry routes to the profession.

Experts on the Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group - charged with improving performance in science, engineering and maths - called earlier this year for the creation of a Scottish version of Teach First to improve the number of "high-quality science graduates" entering teaching.

The HMIE report is glowing in its praise of many aspects of the Teach First programme, describing graduates as "a very enthusiastic, able group of young people". It goes on to say: "Scotland would welcome this high quality of recruit."

Scottish education faculties could learn from Teach First's centralised assessment centre approach which "is very thorough and effective in selecting the `right' people" and where candidates undergo a full day of activities designed to select those who demonstrate the right skills, it adds.

They could also learn from the way Teach First focuses on developing leadership skills; "actively promotes a positive image of teaching as a first choice for highly achieving graduates"; and the "highly effective" way the organisation monitors participants' progress and improves its provision.

The report acknowledges, however, that the gap that Teach First was established to plug in England - the need to staff schools in deprived areas - is "not a major issue" in Scotland. It adds that Scottish teacher standards, regulated by the General Teaching Council for Scotland, are a "serious barrier" to the introduction of Teach First.

The report also highlights retention rates as a problem, with many Teach First graduates opting to leave teaching.

"It is difficult to see how a model in which, essentially, a student teacher is paid a salary, would sit with Scotland's current model in which student teachers are placed, unpaid, in all types of schools as part of their PGDE course. This might engender a perceived two-tier system which favours `outstanding' candidates, and be viewed as unfair. This presents the opportunity for division in the profession."

Teach First told TESS it was at the "very early stages" of assessing whether "a distinctively Scottish approach to Teach First" would be viable.

James Westhead, director of external relations, continued: "If it is, then the training programme would be delivered in Scotland in partnership with Scottish universities and in line with Scottish standards."

The GTCS, meanwhile, said it had held a number of meetings with Teach First to suggest ways it might assist its graduates to develop professional qualifications equivalent to those of Scottish teachers.

A spokesman continued: "We understand that a number of Teach First providers and graduates may now use this advice to meet Scottish standards."

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emma.seith@tess.co.uk.

TEACH FIRST

The Teach First programme was set up in 2003 in England and picks bright young graduates with a 2:1 or first class honours degree from what it calls England's "top" universities. The programme lasts two years and has an emphasis on leadership training, with much of the course spent "on the job" in secondary schools.

Photo credit: Katya Evdokimova

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