Teach First exposed: top graduates placed in successful schools

10th July 2009 at 01:00
Secondaries with some of the highest GCSE results are taking part in initiative meant to help poor performers

Top graduates recruited for a corporate-sponsored scheme to tackle educational disadvantage are working in some of the country's most successful schools, according to new research.

The study shows Teach First is not operating in the worst-performing secondaries in London, and in many cases graduates are in schools where the GCSE results are above the national or local average.

The research raises questions about the purpose of Teach First, which is supposed to put graduates from the UK's best universities into schools where less than a quarter of pupils achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, or where more than 30 per cent of pupils can claim free meals.

John Howson, managing director of Education Data Surveys, has analysed the results of all the schools involved in Teach First and has found 15 of the 79 London secondaries - 19 per cent - have GCSE achievements above their local authority average, and 17 schools had results above the national average. At St Marylebone School in Westminster, 83 per cent of children gained five good GCSEs, including English and maths.

In the North West, five Teach First schools, or 23 per cent, have exam results which are the same or better than the local authority average. In the Midlands, results at five schools, or 18 per cent, were the same or better than the local authority average and two had results at or above the national average.

"Teach First is very expensive and is meant to help schools with difficulties. So if schools with GCSE results up to 80 and 70 per cent are taking part, it raises the question of why they need to be involved," Professor Howson said.

"If their involvement reflects the fact that schools with worse results don't want to be involved, someone needs to be clear about why this is. If this is the case, why is the programme due to expand?"

Sonia Blandford, director of leadership development at Teach First said exam results were not the "whole story" of the initiative, and the number of children claiming free school meals was as important in selecting schools to be involved.

"Teach First selects the schools into which it places exceptional graduates through consideration of a range of criteria that indicate the level of challenge experienced at the school, including the percentage of free schools meals, the exam results at GCSE, staff turnover and the difficulties experienced by schools in recruiting new teachers," Professor Blandford said.

At St Saviour's and St Olave's School in Southwark, south London, around 55 languages are spoken by the pupils and 40 per cent claim free school meals, but 61 per cent achieve five A* to C grade GCSEs, including English and maths. Teach First trainees have set up Duke of Edinburgh awards and run enrichment activities.

Irene Bishop, the headteacher, thinks Teach First students have played an important role in school improvement, but she doesn't consider them any different from her other trainees.

"We do get better results than others, but there's not much point in putting Teach First participants in schools where they will not get the right amount of support and training," Dr Bishop said.

"Teach First trainees are thrown in at the deep end from the first day. They are young and energetic, but don't always understand how tiring teaching can be."

ELITE INITIATIVE

- Teach First started operating in London in 2002 and has now spread to some regions.

- It has previously been criticised for its high drop-out rate and the high cost of training its teachers.

- Participants receive six weeks' training in a summer school before starting work in the classroom, and training continues for two years.

- At first, trainees work a reduced timetable in school while also studying leadership development.

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