The other side of the story
25 January 2013
Sam Butterfield, Participant President, Teach First
You may have seen the article in this week’s TES, Teach First survey reveals the dark side of schools. It cites some of the views of Teach First teachers drawn from a survey commissioned by the independent Academies commission, convened by the RSA and Pearson, as evidence for its recently published report on the academies programme. The article focuses on a number of concerns that the teachers surveyed have about their school or academy.
While these findings reflect the opinions of some Teach First teachers working in a wide range of schools, it is likely that some of their views are also shared by teachers who have entered the profession via other routes. Teaching is phenomenally hard work, whatever route someone’s training takes. It can be frustrating and challenging, but it is also rewarding and it does make a difference. This is shown by some of the positives articulated in the report.
For example, 98% of teachers said their development was being supported by the school. Over half thought that curriculum innovations were being used to positive effect. Impressively, 78% highlighted that attainment in their school or academy was improving. This was mainly attributed to high quality teaching and learning, continuing professional development and targeted interventions with particular pupil groups.
The teachers surveyed were between their first and second years on the Teach First Leadership Development Programme, working in schools in challenging circumstances across the country. The work that they undertake is difficult and challenging, as it is for the wider profession. Part of my role is to listen to their worries and to feed these back so that training can be refined and support structures improved.
Some of the findings of the survey did ring true for me and my colleagues, both Teach First participants and other members of staff. However, my time on the Leadership Development Programme helped me to develop the skills, knowledge and resilience I needed to address these challenges; it also helped me to be proactive in working with colleagues to identify ways in which we could have an even greater impact on the achievement, aspirations and access of pupils from low-income communities. I benefitted from having an incredibly approachable and dedicated subject mentor, two experienced university tutors who were always available and on-going support from Teach First.
Some of the findings raise questions that need to be answered, not just for Teach First teachers but for the teaching profession in general. This illustrates, above all else, a fundamental need to ensure the very best training and support for all teachers.