Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Teach First: the teacher education con trick

I am deviating in this blog entry from my normal focus on language and literacy, simply because the issue I am reporting today is one which makes me angry. I should say, at the very outset, that the views expressed in this blog entry are my own personal views and do not in any way reflect the views of my University or my department.

As a major UK University, with a very significant presence in the teacher education field, we were only too pleased to become involved in the Teach First initiative. The idea of a programme to attract bright graduates into teaching was, of course, very tempting. However, our experience with Teach First, and the evidence which is now building up about it, suggest that we were very wrong in our initial assessment of the programme and its potential. My thoughts about Teach First have been crystallised by the publication of the Education Select Committee’s report into attracting, training and retaining the best teachers, and I am indebted to Jonathan Savage for drawing out from that report the rather alarming (Jonathan calls them "shocking") true costs involved in training teachers through various pathways of initial teacher education. The TDA evidence about this is buried away in Volume 2 of the Select Committee report (the volume that hardly anybody will read). Page 216 of this volume contains the following table showing the funding provided for each teacher trainee on each of the major routes:

So Teach First is a more expensive pathway than the PGCE by about £7k per trainee (I know that Teach First insist of referring to 'participants' rather than trainees, but these are still young people training to become teachers). But, according to the footnotes, Teach First also receive an extra £3,834 per trainee to fund the costs of their Leadership Development programme (and have to raise an additional £4,166 form charity donations). This makes the cost of a Teach First trainee £10,973 more expensive to public funds than a normal PGCE trainee.

Of course, it could be argued that this funding bonus is justified if it does mean that Teach First makes a significant difference to the overall quality of the teaching workforce. Unfortunately, the figures from later in the Select Committe report demonstrate that in the fourth year after completing their training, 73% of PGCE-trained secondary teachers were definitely in a teaching post in the maintained sector, as opposed to 42% of Teach First trained secondary teachers.

So there we have it. The public purse (our money as taxpayers) is paying almost £11,000 extra each to train teachers, over a half of whom will not actually be teaching four years after their training. I am sorry. This is a misuse of public funds bordering on the scandalous.