We’re all painfully familiar with the modern phenomena of the ‘Gap Yah’. That strangely middle class inclination to send your offspring on a rite of passage to ‘Africah’ or ‘Indiah’ to ‘really make a difference in the world’. Or more likely to regale their stories to the oh so willing ears of their new housemates come fresher’s week.
In recent years we have left this stereotype to the realm of comedy; dismissing it as maybe helping, maybe hindering, but ultimately irrelevant.
However, the airing of the new fly on the wall documentary ‘Tough Young Teachers’ this week draws some uncomfortable parallels. Just maybe, this foreign outlet for the guilt of social privilege and the bright eyed, bushy tailed Oxbridge graduates, tripping off to see how the ‘other half’ live, aren’t so very different after all.
Despite the absence of any official statistics concerning their intake Teach First are open about their policy to only recruit the country’s ‘Top’ students.
Speaking to the first ever student from University of York to secure a place on the scheme, Laura O’Sullivan, made me even more convinced of their inherent elitism. Recounting her experience of the interview in London, Laura described how “at least two thirds of the people there were from Oxford or Cambridge. And there was absolutely nobody from a Met.”
This singular focus on academic success may be appropriate for some professions, but I can’t help but feel that a first in microbiology from Cambridge isn’t going to be all that beneficial for teaching 11 year olds about the plant cycle.
Despite their claims to prioritise ‘humility, respect, and empathy’ above all else, a quick glance at their application criteria would ward off anyone without qualifications to rival Stephen Fry.
The whole Teach First program seems oblivious to the fact that intelligence does not always correlate with an ability to connect with children.
The elitist aspect of the recruitment process is concerning for another reason too. A look at the Teach First website reveals Goldman Sachs, PwC and Google to be among their sponsors; with all these companies offering exclusive employment opportunities to graduates of the Teach First programme.
With this in mind, the Teach First assessment program begins to look suspiciously like a filtering system for these multinational corporations.
Although it is undoubtedly not the case that every candidate is using Teach First for its connections, a worrying statistic reveals that only 54 per cent of graduates actually pursue a career in teaching after their obligatory two years. In much the same way as the ‘Gappies’ do their bit for the needy, and then move on with their ‘real lives’, are the Teach First candidates just teaching first; before their real careers begin?
The impact of these short term teachers on our most children is difficult to measure. Reminiscing about my own school days, some of my most endearing memories are of my teachers. Several of whom were prominent figures in my life from the age of 11 to 18.
Now, a phrase which you couldn’t watch ‘Tough Young Teachers’ without being so struck by its repetition as to consider using it as the basis of a drinking game, was the teachers’ constant insistence that ‘we’re learning just as much as the children’. The reason my own teachers were able to command so much respect and affection was because of their consistency. Both in the quality of their teaching and their involvement in my life.
Everyone remembers the feeling of abandonment upon discovering that a beloved teacher is moving school. Even with a stable and happy home life, young people form strong attachments.
Bearing this in mind, the flaws in Teach First’s vision are glaring. Placing young, inexperienced teachers, likely to soon move on, in such an important position in the lives of our country’s most vulnerable children.
What is the true purpose of this charity? To give disadvantaged children a chance; or ambitious graduates a stage?