The legacy of the Teach First operation has had a uneven past. Aiming to recruit top graduates into teaching literacy and numeracy in schools, Teach First may achieve the primary objective seen by the number of recruits but the subsequent churn rate of these new teachers ultimately abandoning the educational path is phenomenal.
The focus of Teach First is laudable. We certainly need top-flight teaching resources to turn our schooling process around. But the role of teaching is not easy. A brilliant mind in English or maths does not necessarily make a good teacher; something the recruits find out the hard way. Of all the trainees involved in the Teach First programme the vast majority have left the profession within just three years. Many used the experience as a career holding platform before launching their careers elsewhere. Some found the teaching role too arduous. Either way the real losers in this scenario are the children in school.
The recent announcement by the Minister of State for Education that the GCSE syllabus and exams are being replaced by the English baccalaureate will place an even greater strain on the teaching resources needed to support the programme. Many teachers welcome the move away from the manipulative and restrictive GCSE. But the new syllabus, giving greater scope and learning enjoyment to both teachers and students, will need a huge amount of preplanning to adopt the new regime.
Whereas one might assume teacher training courses provide the recruit with the skills to teach a particular subject syllabus, the main thrust is to prepare them in how to handle a class of 30 + children. The subject area is secondary. This is resulted in an amazing mismatch of skills. Consider a potentially good teacher who has little skill in the subject area, and a brilliant mathematician who is a hopeless teacher. Both situations can be a disaster to the both the teacher and the students.
The prevailing market conditions have had a reactionary influence. Teaching is initially seen as a safe job attracting many more recruits in the last couple of years. Indeed Brett Wigdortz, founder and chief executive of Teach First said recently many graduates are turning away from careers in the city since the financial crisis of 2007. Last year around 7,000 applicants sought the 1,000 places for Teach First opportunities.
Whether this reflects a truly altruistic move amongst graduates looking to teach in poor schools is yet to be proven. If it proves to be a success we could see the standard of teaching improve to reassert UK in the world educational league tables along the lines of Singapore and Scandinavia. These countries require teachers to hold a Masters degree in the subject area being taught. But perhaps the real challenge is to recruit the teachers of tomorrow who can replace the battle scarred battalions of existing teachers who have suffered endless changes in government policy and educational initiatives that have come and gone and mostly failed.
Maybe Teach First should be given the central remit to establish the credentials of the ideal recruit and train all teachers. There will be generations of children who would then be guaranteed an education they can be proud of, which is far from the current situation.