Teach first scheme flawed

Is the teach first scheme helping disadvantaged children or offering a career boost to graduates

Kate Mitchell

Kate Mitchell

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?


  1. I thought this was very well-written

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  2. What an appalling article. Look at the header: “Is the teach first scheme helping disadvantaged children or offering a career boost to graduates.” Apart from the fact that a question mark is missing here, perhaps the writer of this article could do with grammar lessons from a Teach First teacher themselves, why can’t both be achieved? Why does there have to be a trade-off here? If graduates are looking to give their careers a boost (as the vast majority of graduates are, anyone who says they aren’t clearly got a 3rd) and in turn it helps disadvantaged children then why isn’t this a good thing, regardless of which is the main motive? The disadvantaged children are still being helped. Would you rather they weren’t being helped by said graduates simply jumping onto other career paths two years earlier than they would had they done Teach First? People being helped is ultimately people being helped regardless of the main motivation behind it, and whilst the notion that everyone on Teach First is doing it for purely charitable reasons is a wonderful one, it is also massively unrealistic, and surely the more charitable efforts being made the better?

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  3. You sound like a saint, praising Teach First as helping ‘disadvantaged children’. It’s true, if Teach First didn’t exist these poor kids would being taught by people who had done PGCE’s but maybe not gone to Russell Group (Or even Millenium+, god forbid) Universities. Because obviously good teachers only come from these privileged institutions. People being taught by people with six weeks of training is a fantastic idea; let’s ignore the best European education system (Finland) where most teachers have Masters degrees and teacher training takes 2 years, and the fact that the majority of Teach First participants don’t stay in the teaching profession (and let’s ignore why that is). Long live the elite. Screw under-performing state schools, they don’t deserve decent teachers, as the kids are obviously too degenerate to have any hope of ever achieving anything. To describe TF as charitable is perhaps using the wrong word; sure it’s a fine idea, but look at it’s own mission statement; to not be needed by the British education system; to phase itself out. Get out of your bubble and onto YSIS. Or stop hiding behind your keyboard and get involved in GEMs. Either way, get yourself informed about the profession of teaching, and more broadly the importance of education to society., rather than using cheap rhetoric to try and get comment likes on Nouse.

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  4. Unlike the author of this article, who is basing their opinion on talking to one person, I have encountered scores of Teach First teachers, as I’ve been a Governor at several large Academies. Its true that many of them teach for a few years and move on; similarly, many of them have already had another job and have decided to teach for a while. They bring a welcome freshness to the classroom (and the staff room), and their results are often excellent. Every school needs some stalwarts, who’ve made teaching their life, but having 30-50% of teachers from TeachFirst brings a constantly changing dynamic to the school, and really helps to raise aspirations. Teachers aren’t just dispensers of a curriculum, they are role models and leaders, and every school that I’ve worked with that has taken some from TeachFirst has found their students more energised, with broader horizons and higher aspirations.

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  5. My opinions are based purely on class prejudice, and watching Tough Young Teachers.

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