One of the government's favourite educational charities, Teach First, does not send its graduates to some of the country's most educationally disadvantaged schools, new research has found.
A study released today by the influential Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has shown that Teach First would be able to better target the areas most in need if it changed the criteria it uses to select schools. At present, the charity does not send its recruits to about 100 of the poorest secondary schools in the country, the research says.
Teach First, which commissioned the study, has said it aims to send people with "leadership potential to become inspirational teachers in schools in low-income communities", winning it supporters on all political sides.
Last year, education secretary Michael Gove gave the nod for Teach First to dramatically expand the number of "exceptional graduates" it trains. The government has pledged to double its funding to pound;33.5 million, with the charity expected to deploy around 2,000 trainees a year by 2015-16 - making it the biggest single provider of new teachers in the education system.
Schools are eligible to receive Teach First recruits if 50 per cent of their students live in the poorest communities as classified by the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index.
Researchers behind the IFS study, however, said that Teach First should instead select schools where at least 30 per cent of students have received free school meals in the past three years.
"The fact that this (free school meals) measure is a better predictor of underlying educational disadvantage.suggests that Teach First may be able to better target schools with high levels of educational disadvantage by adopting this alternative measure instead," the research states.
Ellen Greaves, a research economist at the IFS and one of the report's authors, said that by using the current criteria Teach First is missing around "100 secondary schools with the highest proportion of pupils likely to be educationally disadvantaged".
"While Teach First's criterion works well, looking at the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals at any point in the last three years is the best measure available," she said.
Teach First started in London in 2002 but has since spread to other areas of England. The charity has also announced its intention to include Wales from this September. It does not send recruits to schools in special measures.
St Saviour's and St Olave's School in South London was one of the first schools to employ Teach First graduates. Head Irene Bishop said that more than 30 per cent of her students receive free school meals. But she added that it would be "very hard" for the charity to send its graduates to schools in more challenging circumstances than it currently does.
"There is no point putting Teach First teachers into a school that's in special measures or one that requires improvement. They have to learn their trade," Dr Bishop said. "The way they do that is by going into inner-city community schools where they can be around good people and see good leadership."
Sam Freedman, Teach First's director of research, said: "We're pleased that this report finds (we are) using an effective method to identify schools. We already use our discretion to help the very small minority of schools that may just miss out on eligibility but would be accepted under slightly different criteria.
"Free school meals are due to be reviewed by the government ahead of the introduction of Universal Credit. As a result we do not currently feel we could use this as an alternative criterion."