Head of Selection at Teach First, Tallulah Bygraves
Tallulah Bygraves
Head of Selection at Teach First

Our pupils need more diverse teachers—here’s what we’re doing about it

Despite ethnic minority people being over-represented among teaching applicants, their acceptance rate is lower compared to their white peers. Teach First's Head of Selection discusses how we’ve worked hard to make our processes fairer, where we’ve made gains, and where we can get better.

New research released this week from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), conducted in partnership with ourselves and Ambition Institute, has proven that the most significant ethnic disparities are seen at the early stages of teacher’s careers. That means there’s something wrong with how applicants are selected for teacher training. It’s down to us and other initial teacher training providers to make changes to redress this. There’s a potential to make huge difference to pupil’s school experience and success.

At Teach First we’ve worked hard to make our processes fairer and have made measurable gains. This is a start and we know there's more to do to ensure each candidate has a fair experience in their application.

The problem

Lack of diversity in the teaching workforce is a persistent issue in the UK education system. We believe that schools should reflect the communities they serve, to help foster social cohesion and support pupils to grow and develop in an environment of visible, diverse role models. Indeed, we believe that having a diverse workforce is beneficial to all pupils, bringing different perspectives to the classroom and enriching their education experience as a whole. The absence of diverse educators and school leaders can make success feel less attainable to pupils from minority groups, and more broadly, can shape unconscious biases that are difficult to shift in later life.

Driven by research, practical experience and our belief in a fair education for all, Teach First is determined to do all we can to play our role in changing this. Improving the diversity of our Training Programme and ensuring the workforce is as diverse as they pupils they serve is a goal that we are committed to achieving and is integral to our mission to tackle injustice.

The evidence

The same NFER study has found that while gaps appear throughout a teachers career, the most significant ethnic disparities occur during early career stages, especially in postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT). Whilst 66% of white candidates are accepted onto ITT courses, acceptance rates fall to 57% for mixed heritage candidates and 53% for Black and Asian candidates.

This is despite finding that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are over-represented among applicants, suggesting there is no lack of ambition or interest in entering teaching among these groups.

Within this study, Teach First has been called out as an ITT provider with less disparity in acceptance rates between ethnic groups, and the only provider to see the higher acceptance rates amongst an ethnic minority group, with applicants from mixed race backgrounds slightly outperforming white applicants. While we were pleased to see trends reversing, we know gaps still exist in our programmes and we still have a way to go to reach our goals.  However, we are happy to share what we have learnt and would be delighted to hear from others should they wish to share success with us, so the sector can work collaboratively to implement real lasting change.

Our approach to diversity in recruitment

Our recruitment processes have been designed to identify potential. We want our trainees to inspire pupils, to remove barriers and to change lives. Whilst lived experience is by no means essential, it’s certainly a strength and not an attribute we want to unintentionally penalise through outdated selection processes that only skim the surface of an applicant’s potential.

That’s why our recruitment strategy embeds diversity in everything we do – including events, resources, recruitment materials and directly marketing to ethnic minority candidates on platforms such as LinkedIn. We also ensure all our recruiters receive consistent training so all of our team are able to confidently talk about the need for more diverse teachers in the classroom.

Once potential trainees apply to our Training Programme, our application process is anonymised and, unlike a traditional CV, our screeners do not see details of an applicant’s school, college or university or their employment history.  This allows us to remove bias and focus our decision on the relevant information; an applicant’s answers to our competency-based questions, and their academic record in terms of qualification type, subject, and grades.

Contextual recruitment

One of our most significant game-changers has been the introduction of contextual recruitment at the application stage, which allows a candidates’ school performance data to be considered in context. In essence, it attempts to offset the impact of socioeconomic disadvantage through statistical modelling.

We designed our Contextual Recruitment tool in 2017 through independent research and consultation with The Bridge Group.  Applicants complete a short survey within the application form, their responses are then categorised into three domains and scored according to the indicators present:

  1. Education includes school type and Free School Meal status.
  2. Home and Family includes postcode data linked to IDACI and TUNDRA, alongside parental occupation, parental education and EAL status.
  3. Significant Disruption includes time in care, asylum or refugee status and young carers.   

The relative weighting of each indicator depends on its real-world impact, determined by research. Each of the three categories appears to screeners as a red, amber or green light.  For example, if an applicant attended a non-selective, non-fee paying school and received free school meals they will receive a red flag for Education, indicating a relatively high level of disadvantage.  While applicants must demonstrate clear and secure evidence of our competencies, screeners are able to use this data for candidate’s whose GCSE or A-level grades are lower than our traditional entry level requirements, in recognition of the fact that these grades will not necessarily be reflective of potential.

The impact has been phenomenal and has accounted for a 15% increase in offers to join the programme. The value these trainees bring to the programme as authentic role models is hard to quantify but in terms of performance - evaluations shows there has been no negative impact on quality. In terms of diversity, the benefits are clear with CR supporting us to pass 22% of applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds, along with 16% of white British candidates. Over the last 4 years, just short of 1,000 trainees placed in partner schools would not have passed the screening stage without the intel provided by this tool.

Other changes to our recruitment process

In 2018 we moved from a ‘traditional’ assessment centre model to a ‘development’ centre, supporting candidates at interview stage with valuable insight into how they can improve on their performance. This provides our assessors with the opportunity to assess each candidates ability to enact feedback - critical to the success of trainee teachers.

We have also developed a range of post offer assessment tools (PAX) for candidates who have shown potential, allowing us to make conditional offers to those who would benefit from targeted intervention tailored to their area of need.  Having tracked and monitored this group for the last 6 years, we are confident that it’s a success.  PAX trainees make rapid progress on the programme, in fact those in the 2018 cohort slightly outperformed their peers.

Other activity across Teach First

  • On our Training Programme itself, we have increased the diversity and inclusion content in our training programme, frequently working with outside experts such as the Black Curriculum to ensure we deliver the best possible training in this area. 
  • For our NPQs (leadership programmes for qualified teachers), we have embedded a focus on diversity and inclusion across the leadership curriculum, to ensure that the learning we provide to leaders can fit within the diverse contexts our programme members are from.
  • We have also partnered with Mission 44, Sir Lewis Hamilton’s charitable foundation, which has set out to support the recruitment of 150 Black STEM teachers to work in schools serving disadvantaged communities in England through its Training Programme.
  • We are campaigning hard for change across the sector and in our education manifesto, called for the Department for Education to implement a range of policies which would improve representation in schools. This includes the DfE running a pilot in a large Multi Academy Trust to review their recruitment and retention procedure, paired with implementation of positive action policies; alongside the DfE to create and fund a development programme for aspiring BAME leaders in schools 

Despite making moderate gains in acceptance rates between groups, there is still disparity at every stage and much work to do. We are always reviewing, re-evaluating and improving our diversity practices to improve education environments for teachers, schools and pupils.

Yet dismantling the constructs that prevent certain groups from achieving is complex, social mobility is hampered by structural barriers and opportunity losses that are challenging to unpick, but we are committed to making education fair and diversifying the teacher workforce is an important part of that.   

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