With ‘social mobility’ remaining prominent within educational conversation, Alice Barling Gasson of Teach First explores the difficulties and benefits of placing teachers in deprived areas

Teaching and social mobility

With ‘social mobility’ remaining prominent within educational conversation, Alice Barling Gasson of Teach First explores the difficulties and benefits of placing teachers in deprived areas

Teach First isn’t for everyone. We recruit and develop teachers to work in the most challenging schools, which means we work hard to find the right people. But it’s a challenge that’s worth it, because we believe putting great teachers where the need is greatest is vital to tackling educational inequality.

Last month’s Social Mobility Commission State of the Nation report was a stark reminder of the challenges we face to ensure every child gets a fair start in life. The report finds Britain’s deep social mobility problem is not going away. From the school classroom, through to higher education and the workplace, there is ‘an entrenched and unbroken correlation’ between social class and success.

Children from low income backgrounds are half as likely to get five good GCSEs. Only one in eight is likely to become a high income earner later in life. The problem is not just social division, but a widening geographical divide. We see many towns and counties across the country are being left behind economically and ‘hollowed out’.

Leadership and teaching

This problem will only be solved by all of society acting together, but schools can play a vital role in ensuring a child’s success is not limited by their socio‑economic background. Educators will know first‑hand that a child’s success often starts with the dedication and leadership of a great teacher. Here’s where Teach First can play an important supportive role.

Each year we train and support new teachers to work in primary and secondary schools serving low-income communities across the UK. After an initial five weeks intensive training at our ‘summer institute’, we place our participants in partner schools where they spend two years achieving a Post Graduate Diploma in Education and developing leadership skills.

To make sure we go where the need is greatest, we only partner with schools in areas that serve low income communities and where there is a significant attainment gap between these children and their wealthier peers. Roughly a third of schools in England meet our criteria for becoming a partner school.

Since 2003, we have been privileged to work in partnership with hundreds of schools in England and Wales. From an initial cohort of just 186 participants in London, this summer we passed a milestone of recruiting our 10,000th participant. They have collectively reached over a million pupils in low-income communities.

We’re certainly not a mass route into teaching, but while we account for just six per cent of all new teachers each year, we now supply over 25 per cent for schools serving low income communities. And we aim to recruit the best graduates and career-changers, with a 2:1 undergraduate degree a minimum. But they also need to be the right type – they need to demonstrate leadership potential and be committed to our mission. At a time of continued recruitment challenge, we know that schools in low income communities that are most in danger of losing out on talented individuals who could make a real difference.

While we are best known as a graduate scheme – rated 3rd best in the country by The Times – we increasingly recruit those with experience in other careers. Career changers made up 26 per cent of our last cohort – a figure that has been rising year on year.

While career changers bring valuable skills and experience to the classroom, background is no barrier. Our rigorous, multi‑stage application process tests for skills and particular competencies. We recruit name‑blind and are proud that our cohort is more diverse than the teaching profession as a whole, with a large number having been on free school meals themselves or the first‑generation of their family to attend university.

Encouraging partnership

But we are not simply a recruitment agency. Ultimately the reason we refer to ‘partner schools’ is because it is just that – a partnership. We work together with schools to ensure our participants receive effective training and are surrounded by a strong support structure.

These are some of the vital elements that help new entrants become an effective teacher and school leader. Indeed, our training was graded ‘Outstanding’ in 41 out of 48 categories assessed in our last Ofsted inspection. And our new programme from 2017 has built on years of experience and feedback to create an enhanced and simplified support structure.

The best start and support for teachers aids retention also. The majority of our participants stay in teaching after their two years on the programme, with many more return to teaching after gaining experience elsewhere. Some 70 per cent of ambassadors (those who have completed the programme) who are in teaching today are still teaching in schools that meet our eligibility criteria – evidence of their ongoing commitment to ending the education inequality experienced by poorer pupils.

It’s a sign of the effective leadership training that independent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that teachers who train on our programme are seven times more likely to attain leadership positions in schools. If Teach First and schools can nurture new recruits through the earliest, most critical stages of their career we create a strong new generation of classroom leaders. But it’s not just developing great teachers and leaders – our offer extends to other programmes that we know are priorities for schools, including our highly successful Futures programme which helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds get into top universities. From our 2013-15 Futures cohort of 376 pupils, 82 per cent progressed to university, with 40 per cent attending Russell Group institutions.

As well as our own programmes, we work in partnership with other charities and social enterprises, such as Place2Be and Jamie’s Farm, to ensure we are all able to reach the particular schools and pupils who will most benefit from our respective areas of work.

Ultimately no one organisation, charity or school can end educational disadvantage alone - by working together to develop enhanced partnerships, we all stand a much better chance of ensuring no child is left behind. Teach First’s offer to schools is routed in partnerships and building links to make a difference. We’d be delighted to hear from you if you think we can work together.

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