‘The Teach First Model’: Rebranding the Public Service Professions in Need

2003 saw the first cohort of teachers entering London secondary school classrooms through Teach First, a charity aiming to break the link between a child’s educational attainment and their socio-economic background. This was an innovative new route into teaching, where graduates and career changers underwent just five weeks of intensive training before entering classroom as full-time teachers, gaining their teaching qualification along the way.

This fast-track route is a two-year contract providing teachers with the leadership skills to enter other careers, should they wish, at the end. Schools were exclusively those with children living in deprived areas, often lacking the environment to reach their full potential. Teach First’ers entered classrooms to offer a much-needed burst of inspiration helping these children reach their full potential.

Since then, Teach First has expanded across England and Wales, recruiting over ten thousand participants onto its scheme, continuing to tackle the deep underlying issues of inequality present in Britain’s education, with under 37% of pupils on free school meals achieving five A*-C grades compared to over 64% of all other pupils (2015).

It has also created a model that is now being adopted in other public services. For example, with less than a fifth of children in need achieving a C in GCSE Maths and English, a previous Teach First participant, Josh MacAlister, has since reciprocated the model for social workers, with the charity Frontline. Furthermore, with 93% of old people in deprived communities being scared to leave their houses after dark, and children in social housing being 37% more likely to be a victim of crime, Police Now recruits new members for the Police force.

These programmes recruit the best and brightest talent into challenging roles of public services, attracting graduates and career changers with effective marketing campaigns and offering hands-on roles from the beginning of the scheme. However, following this growth into varying public service roles, the model (hereafter referred to as the ‘Teach First model’) is not without its sceptics.

Teach First has raised eyebrows. Providing the funding for a two-year salary, plus a teaching qualification worth double the credits of a regular PGCE, for 40% of the cohort to then exit the profession at the end of the programme, seemingly demonstrates a poor return on investment for the taxpayer. The Frontline programme has additionally been doubted by those more experienced in the social work profession, suggesting those that are trained through the fast track scheme may lack the maturity to be an effective practitioner.

In reality, teacher retention from the Teach First route is no lower than average retention rates for the whole profession. They are also seven times more likely than the average teacher to be in senior school leadership positions. An independent study by Cardiff University comparing routes into social work also found the practical skills of those on the Frontline programme to be 16% higher than those training at even the top universities, that figure being even greater for other universities. All programmes put applicants through rigorous application processes, similar to the other biggest graduate employers in the market, ensuring they are recruiting only the most capable of trainees for the challenging roles they will face. Moreover, the Teach First model fast-tracking into public services does not aim to keep their entire cohorts in the profession. These programmes possess visions of system-wide change. And for system-wide change to occur, they need the best and brightest working all the way through the system.

Once they have experienced time on the ‘frontline’ of public service and had first-hand experience of the real issues in society that need tackling, they will take with them that drive for social change into NGOs, Government roles and more. Graduates that have worked in prisons will be more likely to have the empathy for rehabilitated ex-criminals and recruit them. Government officials will have a greater insight when making decisions on policing, mental health and social care provision if they have previously spent time in the field. Those serving as teachers in the UK’s most deprived areas will be stimulated to set up their own educational social enterprises – of which, by 2016, well over 40 had already sprung.

One must also be realistic when assessing today’s graduate job market. Limiting the schemes to two years is necessary when competing with the multitude of powerhouse graduate employers in the market to attract the best and brightest graduates. Millennials are unwilling to tie themselves to entry-level roles in excess of a two-to-three-year commitment. The Teach First model, just like PwC and the like, is responding to that. The key to the success of the Teach First model is the branding. By offering structured graduate opportunities, hands-on and challenging roles from the get-go, funded masters/teaching qualifications and links with reputable private and public organisations, the Teach First model is rebranding public services as an attractive, competitive alternative to other major graduate recruiters. The reality is that, regardless of their criticisms, they are now succeeding in bringing in genuine talent that otherwise would not consider such roles as a profession.

It may just be the answer to reshaping the attitudes towards public services, the key to widespread social change in the United Kingdom.


Sam Coffey


[Image: Target Jobs]