Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson
Headteacher at Anderton Park Primary School

Hiring outstanding trainee teachers with Teach First

Anderton Park Primary School is one of our partners, located in the inner-city area of Sparkhill, a multicultural community in Birmingham.

This three-form entry school has around 750 children, 85.5% of whom do not speak English as their first language. Headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson has been working with Teach First for over seven years.

In that time, retention rates of newly qualified teachers have been falling nationally. According to the DfE, only 84.7% of UK teachers who qualified in 2017 are still teaching today. In the West Midlands, where Anderton Park is located, 70% of Teach First ambassadors (teachers who have qualified with us) placed in the region (since 2003) are still teaching - three of whom are in headship roles, with another due to start this September.

We spoke with Sarah about teacher retention issues and her experiences of partnering with us.

Working with Teach First

I’ve been Headteacher at Anderton Park for almost seven years, but things were very different when I first started. Having been the deputy headteacher previously, I felt this huge weight of responsibility on my shoulders. The penny dropped that a lot would be resting with me. 

In this very uncertain first year, I came across a promotional flyer for Teach First. I was attracted to work with them because it provided a different way to recruit teachers. It was a step into the unknown, but I haven’t looked back since. 

Teach First’s streamlined recruitment process and the excellent calibre of trainees has brought a whole new dynamic to our school. In 2014 we had our first trainee, and since then we’ve had eleven more (including three in 2020, our highest intake so far). As a result, we’ve seen great impact. 

For example, Emily (2018 cohort) worked with one of our most experienced teaching assistants, who’s been at Anderton Park for over 25 years. She went out her way to tell me that Emily was an absolutely outstanding teacher who really cares about her pupils. When someone with that much experience and insight tells you that, it makes you take notice - this is a different kind of trainee teacher. 

A strong start for a strong future 

Many of our Teach First trainees have been highly talented teachers from their first day. There are going to be pitfalls along the way of course, but in the long term, taking them on has been a worthwhile investment. 

Maisie (2017 cohort) in her first year was introduced very briefly to Tier 1 and Tier 2 vocabulary in a staff meeting. The aim of this was to raise the standards of English used within the school – over 85% of pupils here don’t speak English as their first language. For example, instead of saying ‘can you please hand out the books’ to pupils, teachers were encouraged to say ‘could you please distribute the books’ - by repeatedly using this phrase, students would become more familiar with and comfortable using new vocabulary. 

Maisie quickly understood the need for this very precise teaching method. By the next morning she had implemented these small, but deliberate changes. I stood outside her classroom (without her knowledge) and heard her say: “could you distribute the books please?” - within 24 hours she had tweaked her approach, not because she knew I was listening, but because she understood the value it would being to her pupils. 

As a result of the competence and high quality of work by Teach First trainees like Maisie, in we don’t really consider them ‘Newly Qualified Teachers’ in their second year – we just think of them as teachers. I think this is very different for NQTs who have come through other routes. 

Improved wellbeing and retention  

Currently, the main reasons for teachers leaving Anderton Park has either been for promotions, retirement or a house move. We have very little staff absence and no long-term sickness. It is an amazing indicator that staff are happy, which is great to see; the wellbeing of our staff is very important to us. 

The retention of our staff who trained with Teach First has been very positive in particular. They do so much work in their first year and don’t complain one bit - I find it utterly selfless! Even though many of them uproot and move to a totally new city, have a load of admin matters to sort through, and must deal with lots of personal adjustment, they always put their students before themselves. It doesn’t go unnoticed. 

I know that Teach First prioritise wellbeing too, and I want to emphasise how much I want this for our trainees here at Anderton Park. 

Bringing out the best in pupils 

Over the years, I’ve seen that Teach First trainees share a belief that they can change things for the better and have an impact from day one. They are from all over the country, diverse in many ways with a huge range of life experiences. This can make a huge difference for disadvantaged children, many of whom in our school haven’t seen much of life beyond their own neighbourhoods. We want our children to be curious and inquisitive, and they really bring it out of them. 

Additionally, the consistency in the quality of trainees, year on year, is extraordinarily good. The mentors do a great job nurturing the trainees into outstanding teachers of the future. I have, and will continue to recommend Teach First to other schools; the absolute clarity and passion that they have for education is unbelievable. 

Making a difference for all 

When I asked our trainee Sian (2016 cohort) at the end of her first year what she wanted to do down the line, she said: “I want to make a difference to 700 kids, not just to the 100 in my year group. I want to change things so I’m having a bigger influence.” 

These aspirations are genuine, authentic and have integrity. That’s what makes them remarkable trainees. 

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