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Schools Minister Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP delivers speech at Teach First 20th anniversary Gala

On Thursday, 8 June, the Schools Minister delivered a keynote speech at our anniversary Gala dinner, highlighting the positive impact Teach First teachers have made on the education system.


Minister Gibb Speech

Teach First 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner

Thursday 8 June 2023

Thank you Russell [Hobby] for that introduction. It is a pleasure to be here this evening to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Teach First. Its success owes much to your leadership, and to the extraordinary vision of Brett Wigdortz who is here tonight.

Like others here this evening, I have been reflecting on the journey that Teach First has been on over the past 20 years. I recall the situation in the early 2000s where teaching was not considered an attractive career choice for top graduates, with less than 3% of Russell Group graduates going on to apply for any sort of teacher training course – and certainly not ones where they were expected to teach in the most challenging schools. Contrast that with the situation today where Teach First has been ranked as a leading graduate employer for more than a decade by the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, with more than 1,500 graduates a year choosing to join the teaching profession through Teach First.

This has been a journey of Odyssean proportions, with challenges at every stage – not least at the very beginning. In his book “Success Against the Odds” about the creation of Teach First, Brett recounts the early scepticism he faced. When discussing with the head of a careers services at a top university his idea of setting up an organisation focused on getting top graduates into challenging schools, the response he received was that their graduates weren’t really interested in “those sorts of jobs”. They were looking for something with more “prestige.” Aghast, Brett writes: “Why would anyone think that sitting in an office pouring over spreadsheets was prestigious, while leading young people and changing lives wasn’t?”

And that captures the key ingredient that has made Teach First such a success over the past 20 years. Through focusing on the moral purpose of teaching, Teach First has attracted over 16,000 people to the classroom with a belief in the emancipatory power of education, and an unwavering commitment to doing everything it takes to improve the life chances of the poorest children in society.

Teach First’s impact can be seen here in London, which has undergone a transformation over the past 20 years. In 2002, only around 42% of children in Inner London schools achieved five standard passes at GCSEs, compared to over 50% nationally. Contrast that to las year, where 74% of pupils in London passed English and maths GCSEs, compared to 69% nationally.  Crucially, this impact in London has particularly benefited children from low-income backgrounds, with the attainment gap in London now smaller than anywhere else in the country.

The hard work and commitment of Teach First teachers has been a major factor in this improvement. And since 2010, many Teach First teachers have been integral to the success of the Government’s free schools reforms across the capital, with schools like Michaela Community School in Brent and King Solomon Academy in Westminster disproving the fatalistic assumption held by some that the attainment gap between rich and poor is inevitable. These schools have acted as pioneers for others across the country, helping to build an understanding of what it is possible to achieve in schools serving disadvantaged communities.

Standards have been rising in our schools, and the proportion of schools graded good or outstanding has risen from 68% in 2010 to 88% in 2023. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the disadvantage attainment gap – whilst still stubborn – had been closing. But there is no doubt that the disruption wrought by the pandemic has dealt a huge blow to progress, with the disadvantage attainment gap growing and pupils in areas of high deprivation the worst affected.

I know that recovering from the impact of the pandemic is an immense challenge for our teachers and school leaders, but I am optimistic that we are building back on strong foundations due to the revolution in evidence-based teaching practice we’ve seen over the past decade. Proven practices, such as the use of systematic synthetic phonics in the teaching of early reading, mastery approaches to teaching mathematics, and the teaching of knowledge-rich curricula across all subjects, have helped to close the disadvantage attainment gap in the past, and will be key to making sure that children and young people can recover from the impact of the pandemic.

The Government has built a national teacher development system to support teachers and school leaders to use evidence-based approaches in their schools. Teach First is playing a vital role here as a lead provider for the Early Career Framework programme, and for the expert teacher and leadership courses leading to National Professional Qualifications.

As we look ahead to the next 20 years, we must all be focused on the mission of ensuring every child gets the education they deserve. Tonight, Teach First is asking everyone to make a personal commitment as to how they’re going to support this mission. I am committed to continuing to work with teachers to raise standards across the country, and I look forward to seeing Teach First continue its vital work in recruiting and developing brilliant teachers and leaders.

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