Teach First expands into primaries

1st April 2011 at 01:00
Scheme's backers plan to train 700 graduates a year

Hundreds of primary teachers with only six weeks' training will be injected into deprived areas from September following the expansion of the "mission-based" Teach First programme, it has been announced.

The Government hopes extending the scheme for high-performing graduates with at least 2:1 degrees into the primary sector - following its speedy growth at secondary level - will solve staff shortages and raise the status of teachers of younger pupils.

Primary heads and deputy heads, with academics from London University's Institute of Education, have designed the course.

Currently 780 trainees are on the Teach First secondary programme, which started with just 180 students a year in London in 2003.

A pilot scheme to train Teach First participants for primary schools has been running in London and the South East for the past three years and a total of 50 people - all foreign language graduates - took part. The Government and the scheme's backers say this will rise to 700 a year in an unspecified timeframe.

Louise Davies, associate director of primary development for Teach First, said the new programme would encourage top graduates to see primary teaching as a "challenging and stimulating profession".

"We realise the job is a completely different ball game from working in secondary schools so we have worked very hard to create a bespoke course," she said.

The pilot was not universally successful. Sarah McKay, a Cambridge University languages graduate, dropped out of the two-year scheme after a year because she thought the Teach First concept was ill-suited to primary schools.

Ms McKay told The TES last year the expansion was not properly planned and she was not offered the guidance she needed while on staff at Belvedere Junior School in Kent.

But those taking part in the new expanded primary programme will receive further training, teach a reduced timetable and have mentors who are teachers, lecturers and Teach First members of staff.

Teach First chief executive Brett Wigdortz said the aim of the primary programme was to help children living in poverty and to tackle shortages of heads and deputy heads. "It's an obvious thing; disadvantage doesn't start at age 11," he said.

MPs called for the expansion of Teach First into primary schools in 2008 in order to get more maths and science specialists teaching younger children. But graduates in these subjects will mostly be put on the secondary Teach First programmes to fill shortages in Northern schools.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said the course would "not suffice in the primary school environment".

GRADUATE'S VIEW - `Challenging'

Matt Lloyd, a foreign languages graduate from Cambridge University, taught at St Jude's CofE Primary School in south London. He is now employed by Teach First, developing the primary scheme.

"Primary teaching was not something I had ever thought about, but now I know what a stimulating and challenging job it is," he said. "It's certainly not about finger painting, biscuits and squeaky recorders. I really enjoyed the pastoral work.

"I also enjoyed teaching across the curriculum. In what other job would you be able to spend an afternoon in the playground building a foaming volcano?"

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