One initiative that really does seem to be making a difference
Centrally driven initiatives in education often fall short of expectations. But one scheme, Teach First, introduced by the last Labour Government, and inspired by the US based Teach for America programme, and now continued enthusiastically by the Coalition government, is proving a success. The idea is to get high achieving graduates, after some basic teacher training, to teach in challenging schools and it works to address educational disadvantage by transforming these graduates into effective, inspirational teachers and indeed leaders in all fields. Over half who join ultimately choose teaching as a career, but for those who don’t, the scheme provides them with a greater understanding of and insights into the challenges faced by teachers, schools and the education system more generally, and supports the development of skills that can help them in their future careers. Teach First targets high calibre, motivated graduates who would not normally consider a career in teaching and works to place them in challenging schools while supporting them to become innovative, high impact teachers teaching for at least two years.
Launched in 2002, Teach First, a charity, has recruited and trained increasing numbers of participants – 560 entered the programme in June 2010, more than double the 265 in 2005 – and is working to place 1140 graduates per year by 2013. It has developed an growing ambassador community (alumni) of over 1,100 working to improve educational, and life, outcomes for hundreds of thousands of children. It is anticipated that this community will grow to around 1,500 in the next academic year. In 2009, Teach First was ranked 8th in the coveted league of Times Top 100 Graduate Employers. The latest independent research on Teach First from Manchester University has found that schools in challenging circumstances which employ Teach First teachers have seen a statistically significant improvement in their GCSE results. For the years this report refers to 2008-2010 ‘challenging circumstances’ was defined as schools where less than 25% of pupils achieved five GCSE at grades A* – C (including English and maths) and/or where at least where at least 30% of the pupils were eligible for free school meals. Teach First updated its schools eligibility criteria in 2010. The research was conducted over two years and found that the more Teach First teachers were placed in a schools, the bigger the improvement. Called the Maximum Impact Evaluation, the research is the final stage of a three year Maximum Impact Programme, funded by Goldman Sachs. The Programme’s remit was to measure and improve the development and impact of Teach First teachers in schools and, in doing so, improve the life chances of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The main findings of the research included:
A significant correlation between participation in Teach First and improved pupil achievement, which appears one to two years following the first year of partnership with the school. A positive relationship between the number of Teach First teachers in a school and pupil achievement at Key Stage 4, with schools with more Teach First teachers performing better than those with fewer Teach First teachers. Observations that the teaching practices of Teach First teachers in their first year are good to excellent – in international comparisons they were generally on a par with or ahead of more experienced teachers. Other teaching staff describe Teach First teachers as creative, enthusiastic and prepared to listen and learn from others. Where significant, partnering with Teach First explains between 20% and 40% of the between-school variance in pupil performance at GCSE. This difference – the researchers estimate – equates to approximately a third of a GCSE per pupil per subject. Compelling evidence from a range of evaluation routes that, when combined, show that Teach First teachers have a positive impact in schools. Evidence that the positive effect Teach First is having on achievement has strengthened over time suggesting that the Leadership Development Programme is becoming more effective. Michael Gove the Education Secretary is unstinting in his praise for the scheme He said in September this year “I believe we have the best generation of teachers ever in our schools, and one of the most dynamic factors behind that has been the phenomenal impact of Teach First.”
There was a not too dissimilar scheme operating in the British Army in the 1970’s, the Short Service Limited Commission. School leavers with a guaranteed University place , and having been passed by the Regular Commissions Board (Officer selection) after three weeks training at Sandhurst would serve with Regiments, often abroad as nominal platoon or troop commanders for between six and eighteen months .Around 50% would eventually join the army. The rest would take up other careers equipped with leadership skills, learnt in the Army and with a better understanding of what makes the services tick.