Top graduates training under the Teach First scheme are less likely to be placed in London schools as the education charity ramps up its coastal expansion.

New figures seen by Schools Week show the overall percentage of Teach First graduates in London, where the programme began, fell from 44 per cent in 2013 to 39 per cent last year.

Figures for 2016 are not yet known, but it is expected the percentage will continue gradually to decline.

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

But the heightened focus on regions outside the capital follows Teach First changing its eligibility criteria in 2014.

Instead of looking solely at the percentage of a school’s intake from the poorest communities, the charity now also factors in educational underperformance.

While London has a high number of disadvantaged pupils, it regularly outperforms other areas in government performance measures.

Sam Freedman (pictured), executive director of programmes at Teach First, said: “We’re trying to focus on schools where we know there are disadvantaged economic areas – [which was] picked up in the white paper.”

He pointed to regions with “serious deprivation” such as Hastings, East Anglia and Blackpool, all areas in which Teach First has a growing number of teachers.

“We made a decision to prioritise these areas. We’ve been moving out [of just London] for a long time. It will continue to fall, but not by huge amounts.”

The move has won supporters for a scheme that is known to divide opinion, with critics saying it is too expensive to run and that too many trainees are leaving after completing their mandatory two years in the classroom.

Supporters, however, argue that most Teach First graduates end up in education and are great advocates for the profession, should they move into other sectors, such as politics.

Jacqueline Russell, acting chief executive of The Future Leaders Trust, said that placing “good staff into struggling schools will have a positive impact on students and communities”.

Andy Buck, a leadership consultant and former director at the National College for School Leadership, said London schools found it easier to recruit, while coastal schools would “love to attract more top-flight graduates”.

While the percentage of Teach Firsters in London is dropping, its recent growth in trainees (from 1,261 in 2013 to 1,685 in 2015) has ensured that numbers in London are rising.

A total of 553 Teach First teachers were sent to London schools in 2013, compared with 665 last year.

“We don’t want to pull out support from schools we’ve been working with for a long time,” Freedman said.

But the charity’s expansion meant that it was regularly oversubscribed with requests.

“It’s not easy for us to go beyond what we recruit – it’s never been our goal to be a huge part of the supply.

“We were always supposed to be a focused route into teaching. There are no plans for huge growth.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said they were pleased to hear the organisation was sending “more and more trainees to rural and coastal areas.”

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