Teach First

What do our ambassadors do?

For me, watching Tough Young Teachers has reignited that little voice that lurks at the back of my mind about whether I should go back to school. I taught for two years (I didn’t train with Teach First), and although I do miss my time in class (I actually also loved planning lessons, marking and developing resources) I was frustrated.

I felt isolated. There was so much uncertainty and change that we all kept our heads down and focused on lessons. I didn't feel pushed to improve, because there were bigger things for my colleagues to worry about and, realistically, the expectations of high performance were just not part of the culture at the time. So I decided that if I was to stay in education it would be to change a system that allowed its front line professionals to, at times, feel that they are fighting for their pupils alone.

Fortunately, not all teachers feel this way, and 67% of our ambassadors stay on for at least a third year in the classroom. And, 55% of all of the teachers we’ve trained since 2004 are still teaching - the majority of them in schools serving the least advantaged communities. You can read more about our retention rates here.

Those that leave have a range of motivations for doing so. Like many of this generation, some want to see more of the world, and at least 122 ambassadors currently work in education in other countries. Some don't love the classroom and some are frustrated by the system, which is why 69 work in policy and almost 300 in the voluntary sector, whether directly in education or in the many social and public services that can meet the needs of young people and their communities that will help them to succeed.

Some of the ambassadors that inspire me most are those who are so frustrated by something that cannot be changed by teachers alone, that they go right ahead and try to change it themselves. It’s why 43 work for ambassador-led social enterprises focused on educational equality in the UK, looking at literacy provision, professional development for teachers, support for pupils at risk of exclusion, the recruitment and training of social workers and so much more.

At the moment, 14% of our ambassador community work in the corporate world. These people have an important role to play in raising awareness of the massive problem of educational inequality to organisations that could probably easily forget it is there. Many influence their corporate social responsibility teams to raise valuable funds and resources for Teach First (around £50,000 last year), provide volunteers directly to schools and social enterprises and 97 also volunteer as school governors and share their valuable experience with schools. Many volunteer through Teach First, too, including 259 through our access mentoring scheme, HEAPS, which saw 518 pupils mentored in 2012/13. 78% of the latest cohort of HEAPS mentees progressed to university, 34% to Russell Group universities.

My current role at Teach First is to help our ambassadors have an impact whatever they do. If they stay in schools, we support them with development and progression opportunities and great networks. If they stay in education, but want to explore careers beyond the classroom, we connect them to opportunities and experiences that will help them do so. And if they have aspirations elsewhere, we help them think about how they can use their role to influence change that will help young people from low income backgrounds to have the same opportunities as their wealthier peers.

Right now, there are more than 2,600 ambassadors and in 2022 there will be over 17,000. It's not just because of this scale that I have high expectations that they will make a real difference: it's because I have seen them do it already. There are 898 ambassador classroom leaders making a difference every day; 35,000 pupils have been reached by ambassador-led social enterprises; eight have become head teachers, with 89 senior leaders and 421 middle leaders in schools; at least 13% ambassadors were involved in delivering the Teach First Programme last year... I could go on.

But all the statistics and data aren't going to really explain the reason I work with ambassadors – for that, you’d need to interact every day with their total conviction that change is possible and their motivation to be part of it. We ask those on Teach First to dedicate their lives to educational inequality. They have an ingrained understanding of its causes and implications from their experience, which provides powerful motivation to make widespread and systemic change.

This problem is not only so huge that it cannot be tackled by teachers alone, but is also so complex that it cannot just be dealt with in schools. We've all got a role to play: to ensure businesses are responsible; to encourage media to portray young people and their aspirations positively; to hold politicians to account for serving the most vulnerable; to enable teachers and schools to be the best they can be; and to help parents and communities tackle the many barriers that can get in children’s way. You don't have to be a teacher to tackle these problems, but I believe that having been one helps.

Like my own, ambassadors’ (or other teachers’) futures aren't mapped out along one linear pathway. You can take us out of the classroom, but you cannot take our classroom experience out of us - whether we go back into teaching or not, we're working to make sure that our colleagues who do continue in this amazing, important, terrifying and rewarding job have the greatest chance of success – for their pupils and for themselves.