The Great Ambassador Gathering – marking 20 years of Teach First
Wow, what a day 1 July 2023 was! The Great Ambassador Gathering, a festival-style event, took place at The Totteridge Academy in London.
Around 900 ambassadors, programme members and their families connected and discussed how to make education fairer.
It was our biggest-ever gathering of ambassadors – and our first in-person, national ambassador event since COVID-19.
A musical opening
It was an emotional start with musical performances including:
- primary school students from One Degree Academy’s choir singing several songs including ‘When I Grow Up’ from the musical Matilda
- students from East London Arts and Music (ELAM) performing some of their own songs
- Orchestras for All performing ‘Fanfaresque’, which was composed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Teach First
Teach First CEO Russell Hobby and founder Brett Wigdortz outlined our journey from where we began to where we are today, and finished by looking to the future.
Totteridge Academy Headteacher Chris Fairbairn spoke about the ethos and achievements of this ambassador-led school.
And ambassadors talked about the importance of the mission and how the Teach First community has supported them in this.
Looking to the past and future
The day was split into two parts – looking back over the past 20 years of impact and looking forwards to what we need to do in the future.
Each part had six sessions covering:
- inspirational teachers
- school leadership
- place-based change
- business, social enterprise and broader community of support
- the work of Teach First
The day ended with further reflections from Chris and ambassadors.
They spoke about the connections and experiences from the day, and how they plan to build on this momentum to encourage more diversity, commitment and transformative impact for generations of students to come.
What did we see and learn?
There were so many amazing parts to the event, including:
- family activities like the forest school, library sessions and yoga
- conversations and collaboration at the networks, social enterprise and school fringe stalls
None of this event would have been possible without the support of XTX Markets.
Here are our highlights and main things we learned from the day.
1. Teachers need to combine learning and fun
“Combine learning and fun.”
This was something a student wrote in a card to ambassador and Teach First Subject Lead Cat Batch, when she was a history teacher.
Alongside others in a session marking 20 years of impactful teaching, Cat shared her journey from the Training Programme to now.
She spoke about how students need to see and feel passion from teachers to spark their engagement so they can take the subject forward.
2. Does racial equity matter in leadership? Yes.
2009 Training Programme ambassador Raza Ali, Headteacher at The Chalks Hill Academy, spoke about representation to a packed audience.
He shared key facts about the current state of representation in school leadership and considered how to achieve this.
Raza said: “The number of senior leaders in urban communities do not represent the communities we serve. In 21 years, we’ve only made 0.6% progress.”
He offered approaches to change these statistics, such as talent spotting, accountability and reverse mentoring.
And he argued that representation needs to “start at the top” with governors, trustees, directors and principals. He added that “schools need to understand the communities they serve” so that students can see diversity and themselves represented.
3. Be clear on your model when gaining funding support
In a session on place-based change, ambassador attendees were keen to understand practical models and tips on pursuing local and regional change.
Panellists shared how they benefited from different policy, business or institutional funding and their experiences of navigating relationships with funders.
- Gain funding from a diverse range of organisations, so that not one funder has sole ownership.
- Be transparent about your business model and what you’re aiming to achieve when setting up your school or organisation.
4. Can education be fair within our lifetimes?
It was a crowded tent and a heated debate for the session “Is it possible to make education fair within our lifetimes and what would it actually take?”.
The panel discussed:
- whether education alone could move a person out of poverty
- the effect of longer lifespans
- other social factors that affect fairness in education
One of the panellists, Ndidi Okezie, CEO of UK Youth, said: “I’m sure it’s really difficult and complex. What COVID showed us is if there is a burning platform it’s possible for us to do things if there’s enough pressure.”
The panellists concluded it is possible for us to make education fair within our lifetimes.
5. Our strategy in moving forwards at Teach First
In a panel session on the future of Teach First, CEO Russell Hobby described our new five-year strategy.
He talked about a focus on getting great talent into the classroom and retaining it. And he spoke about supporting the ambassador community wherever their careers take them, to support education in the broader community.
He said that whether ambassadors are in teaching or the wider community, it is about “building a coalition of like-minded people”.
Another panellist was Amy Mitchell, Chief Impact Officer at Teach First.
Amy’s teams support programme delivery and ambassador and network development.
They will be focusing on:
- saying precisely what we want to see in the next 10–20 years
- designing products and experiences to achieve this
- demonstrating the clear impact of our actions
She said: “Ambassadors are absolutely essential to change. Working together in a sustained and committed way will create systems change.”
6. Focusing energy in the broader ecosystem
Panellists in one tent focused on business, enterprise and the broader community of support.
They discussed what these sectors need to do to help students reach their potential, given challenges including mental health, systemic racism and classism, and the rising cost of living.
The ambassador panellists advised three things:
- You are the best thing and you can do this.
- Know your purpose.
- Manage the energy at different times – know when to turn the energy up to instigate and shape a movement.
7. 20 years of impact and building friendships
In the closing ceremony, 2012 ambassador and Teach First Head of Networks Tim Mobbs addressed the audience. He said this day was an opportunity to seize the moment, reignite the movement and engage as a community.
“Every single person has a story to tell of seeing that change and impact happen. When you multiply that by every ambassador, that’s 20 years of change and over 16,000 stories. Something I wanted to share with you that I really love that ambassador Kiran Gill told me in one of our inspirational stories – which I encourage you to watch – is that she sees networking as ‘building friendships’. I think that’s completely true and so powerful.”
8. Generations of impact
The day was full of advice, tips and stories about the impact of our ambassadors and trainees on students and the education system.
Here are just two examples of that impact:
- Alice Ward, Headteacher at Mulberry School for Girls, when asked what her career highlight was, said: “A pupil I had in my tutor group is now our school’s chair of governors!”
- Former army soldier Clive Hill, now a biology teacher and careers lead, shared these words from ambassador Claudenia Williams: “If I’ve benefited one person’s life, then I’ve done something useful with my life.”
Continue your connections, collaboration and action
The Great Ambassador Gathering may be over, but Teach First’s 20th anniversary year continues.
Now is the time to reignite the ambassador movement and set a path for the next 20 years as a community.
We’re here to support you in engaging with the community for more collaborative action: