Five young people who’ve broken the mould

We want to break the cycle of educational inequality. Meet some pupils whose teachers have helped them to do just that. 

Young people from low income backgrounds are less likely to get good GCSEs and more likely to be unemployed or in a low-wage job as an adult. We want to break that cycle by helping every child achieve their ambitions at school.

The first kid in her school to go to Oxford

Louise Howland didn’t expect to get into Oxford. Her dad was a window cleaner and no one from her tough school in Leeds had ever gone there. “I knew people who were 100% capable, but they were very intimidated because of preconceptions about Oxford, that everyone would have gone to Harrow and Eton, and everyone would be really snobby and posh.”

Howland had the talent and a couple of inspiring teachers gave her the confidence to apply. “I had a history teacher called Mr Rand, who came to my school through Teach First. He’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, because he’s so inspiring. His methods are quite university-like – he introduced seminars and things like that. And there’s also one of my English teachers, Ms McCarthy. She’s amazing, she would encourage wider reading and different interpretations, critical interpretations.”

Thanks to her hard work and their help she made it. And does everybody come from Harrow and Eton? Not quite, but there’s still work to be done. "All my friends here have been to private schools, there are only two or three who haven’t. The field should be level, but it’s not. And it’s good that Teach First is addressing it."

The kid who couldn't do fractions

Education was a chore for Sharif, then he met maths teacher, Chris.

Remember: it's always wise to factorise

The only kid in his family to go to uni

James Tomlinson has ten siblings, his mum was an alcoholic who left home when he was 13 and his dad moved in with a new girlfriend a few days later. It wasn’t the kind of stable home life that children need to thrive. But his teachers stepped in to fill the gap.

Among them was geography teacher Joanne Wallace. “She was probably the first Teach First teacher I had. She worked really hard to get to know her students, and that was when it all started to change. It was when Ms Wallace came in to teach geography that I thought, you know what, I want to do this.” Melissa Deal, another Teach First participant, taught James religious education in years eight and nine. “She always made lessons fun. She used bonkers things to do it, but everyone was always really engaged.”

They were the inspiration James needed to get to university and fulfil his ambition.

"Others would turn to their family for role models, but my teachers were my role models. I wanted to be a teacher, and I knew I also wanted to care. Because we live in a world where not every parent does."

The kid who needed someone on his side

After his parents fled Iraq, Maan taught himself to pass his GCSEs. He obviously had the motivation to succeed, but when it came to getting into university he needed a helping hand. That’s where Edward Davison came in.

Future Prime Minister?

The kid who wants to become an engineer

A shortage of science, technology, engineering and maths teachers in UK schools is hitting kids from low-income communities hardest, with less than a third eligible for Free School Meals achieving a C grade or above in science at GCSE. But that’s not stopping Luke, who’s been inspired by his teachers at London’s Alec Reed Academy.

“My science teacher is great because he lets us work out the answers to things ourselves using experiments. Recently we made crystals using sodium and it was exciting to see how following simple instructions can help you create something.”

To be able to think that you’ve done something that helps millions of people every week. That’s what I’d like to achieve.

Now Luke has some big ambitions. "A Heathrow engineer came into my school and said that in one of his jobs he had built a motorway. I just thought that’s amazing. To be able to think that you’ve done something that helps millions of people every week. That’s what I’d like to achieve."

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