I have spent a lot of my career working in education first as a teacher and then working to involve business in education, particularly through supporting the role teachers. As Director of the Teacher Placement Service, part of the DTI’s Enterprise and Education Initiative, we took the message that “teachers are the key” to businesses across the UK, providing opportunities for over 150000 teachers to build business partnerships.
It was that belief that led me as Managing Director of Business in the Community to play a role in the establishment of Teach First in London in 2002. Based on the successful Teach for America model, Teach First secured the support of business leaders who understood the critical importance of recruiting the best possible talent into their companies. As a member of the first Teach First UK Board it was clear from the outset that this was about creating a movement of dynamic, passionate individuals that would have an immediate impact in the classroom but who would also be lifelong champions for the mission of raising achievement and aspirations.
Since 2002 Teach First in England has worked with 1000 partner schools, placing over 7000 teachers. It has been identified as one of the 4 factors that has transformed the performance of London schools since 2003. A raft of independent evaluations have demonstrated Teach First’s contribution to improving educational performance. It forms part of a global network of over 40 Teach For All countries, such as New Zealand who have adopted and adapted the model, http://teachfirstnz.org/organisation/our-impact
On returning home to Wales in 2005 I carried a torch for Teach First which finally found support through Leighton Andrews as Education Secretary who backed its introduction in Wales in 2013, along with the business community and Charitable Trusts who provided significant set up investment
Since then I have continued to provide support to Teach First as chair of the advisory board in Wales, so the recent announcement of that Welsh Government will not continue to extend funding for the programme has been particularly disappointing, particularly given the grass roots support of head teachers and the evidence from independent evaluations.
This is not to say that there have been lessons to learn from the first phase of the operation in Wales but it took a process of learning and continual improvement to achieve the scale of transformation achieved in 15 years of operation in England. Teach First is now the largest graduate recruiter in the UK, one of the largest recruiters of Oxford and Cambridge graduates, and is the 3rd most prestigious graduate employer according to The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers list. We cannot afford for Wales to be excluded from accessing such talent.
The independent evaluations of the impact in Wales have been very positive, but with important lessons for future improvement. A 100% of headteachers who have worked with Teach First Cymru for over for 2 years recommend partnering with Teach First, while there has been great support from Directors of Education, the Regional Education Consortia and leading businesses such as Deloitte.
It is hoped that this support can be the basis for the future development of Teach First in Wales, possibly focused around delivering on the improvements in educations and skills needed for the City Region strategy to be a success.
A failure of Teach First to operate successfully in Wales will be commentary on the challenges we have in improving our education system and our ability to compete to get the best talent to work with our most disadvantaged young people.