One of the most common criticisms of Teach First is that many participants see it as a stepping stone to something “better” and that the state is investing in people with no long-term interest in the education system.
Our philosophy is simple – everyone joining Teach First has to commit to two years teaching in a challenging school. At the end of those two years we will support them in whatever they want to do, providing they continue to play some part in our mission to end educational inequality. The majority do so by staying in the classroom; others by working for charities; the Department for Education or initial teacher training. Those that choose to work in jobs that aren’t directly related to education will typically volunteer as a governor, mentor, or charity trustee.
To date 54% of those who have completed Teach First are still teaching. Over 70% work in education. And nearly all of the rest do something towards the mission.
There are some people that argue we should try harder to push participants to stay in teaching after two years but it has always been a fundamental principle of Teach First that we need people with experience of the education system in all walks of life. One of the most common complaints I hear from teachers is their frustration that so few politicians, civil servants, journalists and so on have direct experience of the classroom.
In practice the number of Teach First participants who choose to stay in teaching seems fairly similar to other routes into the profession. Unfortunately there is no up-to-date data that allows a direct comparison. The best we have is TDA evidence to the 2012 select committee. That shows 95% of Teach First participants achieving QTS compared to 86% going through a mainstream PGCE. It also shows that of those that achieved QTS in 2005 – 42% of Teach First participants were teaching four years later compared to 73% of those doing a mainstream PGCE. Combining these figures together suggests that 40% of Teach First participants were teaching five years after starting their course compared to 63% of those doing a mainstream PGCE.
However these figures refer back to when Teach First was just a few years old. Our own data for that 2005 cohort tallies with the TDA’s but it also shows a steady increase since then in the numbers choosing to stay in teaching. It shows 56% of participants that started the course in 2009 are still in teaching four years later. If the number for mainstream PGCE is still 63% then Teach First is very close. And that would still not be a fair comparison as all Teach First participants are placed in challenging schools which tend to have higher turnover rates.
It is great to see that more of our ambassadors want to stay in the classroom – and that may reflect improvements in the schools we’ve worked with – but we’re also proud of all the ambassadors doing incredible things outside teaching.
People like Josh MacAlister who has set up Frontline to get more people into social work. Or Laura McInerney who is currently writing on education for the Guardian alongside working towards a PHD on school reform. Or Daisy Christodoulou who leads on research and development for the ARK network of schools.
In the dry world of teacher retention statistics these three would all be considered “wastage” – but they are all making a huge contribution to the education system and the lives of young people. We believe that our investment in participants is only wasted if they stop contributing to our mission and we will continue to work hard to keep everyone involved.