Economist · Teach First · Them as can

Them as can, do!

Picking up on the Politeia Report, this week’s Economist magazine gets in on the act of reporting on the quality of the teachers in education.
The organization Teach First is busy this summer training five hundred graduates to teach in some of the most challenging school environments. Named as the Education and Training Charity of the Year in 2009, Teach First has modelled itself on Teach for America, which now trains around 4,000 teachers a year.
Having been vetted for their leadership qualities and their communication skills, those recruits that manage to succeed agree to teach for two years in schools where ‘more than 30%’ of the pupils are on free school meals and in which staff turnover has been a particularly serious problem.
On a starting salary of just £15,000, the incentives are hardly financial. So how does Teach First attract good candidates? The appeal seems to be the offer of a difficult challenge and, since it started in 2003, it is reported that 60% of those surviving the first two years decide to stay on.
Will the programme be able to present itself as a serious rival to the 40,000 teachers recruited by the government each year? Finding enough highly motivated individuals to do this seems pretty unrealistic. However, Teach First aim instead to change the culture in teaching by raising the bar and making teaching more attractive to ambitious well qualified people. A spokesperson for the group is quoted in the Economist article ‘Those who can’ as saying that ‘educational inequality is a solvable problem and that the way to solve it is to get the best people teaching in the most challenging schools’.
Although there’s a lot about this initiative to admire, the research on the magnitude of differences in the cumulative experience of children from ‘welfare’ families and those from professional classes is already so great by the age of three, it is going to take a lot more than this to redress the balance.
Teach First already has its first head teacher, Max Haimendorf, and if you would like to listen to him talk about the philosophy by which he is going to be guiding the school, King Solomon Academy (Secondary) school in London, which is to open in September, go to the Economist’s webpage and click on the audio ‘Smaller Schools’.