Teach First should shun London to boost social mobility

Teach First should shun London to boost social mobility

Training provider Teach First should ditch London and instead place its top graduates into schools in the country’s ten lowest-performing local authorities, says the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

The recommendation formed part of the commission’s fourth annual “state of the nation” report, published this week.

It said the government’s current approach to school-led teacher training was “not working” and called for the government to run a single “front end” to send trainee teachers to schools.

The commission claimed a widening divide between “the big cities” and areas left behind economically and “hollowed-out socially”.

The commission wants the government to focus future contracts for teacher training providers, including with Teach First, on “areas of greatest need” and highlighted ten areas where more than one-fifth of children were in failing schools: Blackpool, Knowsley, Northumberland, Doncaster, Reading, Stoke-on-Trent, Oldham, Bradford, Telford and Wrekin, and Central Bedfordshire.

Teach First – which recruits university graduates with 2:1 degrees or above – exclusively sent its teachers to London schools when it was set up in 2002.

More now go to regions outside the capital, but the provider still has firm roots in London.

Brett Wigdortz, its chief executive, said he agreed some areas in England had been “left behind for too long”.

The commission claimed a widening divide between “the big cities” and areas left behind economically and “hollowed-out socially”

But he added that Teach First was already working with schools in most of the areas identified by the commission.

Teach First changed its eligibility criteria in 2014 to ensure trainees were sent to struggling regions.

Overall, the percentage of Teach First graduates in London fell from 44 per cent in 2013, to 39 per cent last year.

The commission’s report also called for a new national system to provide central marketing, applications, screening and initial interviews for school-led training.

At present, prospective applicants must apply to each school that has vacancies.

The report said: “The provider of this service could work with school partners to develop a process matching schools to candidates, heavily involving the schools themselves and ensuring a fair distribution of quality candidates.”

Russell Hobby (pictured), general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed the proposal as “central management and co-ordination would be helpful”.

However, he said the system needed to retain a “diversity of ways into teaching”.

Martin Thompson, executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, also warned that one was in to school-led initial teacher training would not be able to “carefully consider local and regional teacher supply needs”.

The report also recommended that student loans should be written off for teachers after they had worked in challenging schools for five years and that schools in the ten struggling council areas should be forced to take part in improvement programmes so that none was rated “inadequate” by Ofsted and all progressed to “good” by 2020.

Education secretary Justine Greening announced in October a £60 million pot for school improvement, teacher support and other schemes in six social mobility “coldspots” – Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, Scarborough, and West Somerset – only two of which overlap with the areas identified by the commission.

A government spokesperson said it would consider the recommendations.