‘…we back, Teach First, and “Teach Firsters”, who were damned as “unqualified teachers” at the time, are now responsible for securing an improvement in every school in which they operate.”’
, House of Commons, 30 October 2013
But is it really true that Teach Firsters secure “improvement in every school” they are sent to? The Education Secretary’s been caught by the use of “every” before – his Policy Exchange speech was rewritten after delivery
: “every” became “vast majority”.
If Gove is correct and “every” (or the “vast majority”) of schools which employed Teach Firsters improved, is it safe to conclude this improvement was due to their presence? Correlation isn’t causation.
Just because improvement coincided with an influx of Teacher First participants doesn’t mean any improvement was solely down to them. There are other factors which may have contributed.
Is Gove correct when he says Teach Firsters are not “unqualified”? That depends on what is meant by “qualified”. Teach First told the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA
) the definition of teacher was changing. But the ASA upheld a complaint against a Teach First ad because it hadn’t made it clear some “teachers” didn’t have Qualified Teachers Status (QTS) but were trainees.
* (2011) said “[Teach First] participants work as unqualified teachers teaching a slightly reduced timetable” until they have attained QTS.
That said, Ofsted was glowing in its admiration of Teach First. However, Teach First was not alone in receiving such praise. So did initial teacher training at Cambridge University (2011), IoE London University (2010), University of Worcester (2010), Brunel University (2011), Bath Spa University (2011)…
But Gove ignores these trainers. Instead, he downplayed university-based teacher training:
“…under its new inspection regime Ofsted pointed out that school-centred initial teacher training—SCITT—is in many cases better than higher education initial teacher training…31% of the school-centred initial teacher training centres inspected were outstanding whereas only 13% of higher-education institution centres were.”
Ofsted inspected 61** initial teacher training providers
in 2012/13: 32 Higher Education Institutes (HEIs), 21 employer-based partnerships (EBRs) and 8** school-centred initial teacher training providers (SCITTs). Gove has taken a small sample, 8, turned the number gaining outstanding (one) into a percentage and used this to “prove” SCITTs are more effective that HEIs. Four HEIs were judged Outstanding: the proportion is actually the same: 12.5%.
Ofsted judged 18.7% of HEIs “Requires Improvement” (6 /32). But the proportion of SCITTs in this category is higher: 37.5% of SCITTs (3/8) are less than good.
It is, of course, unsound to base comparisons on such small samples
. Unfortunately, Gove’s not alone. Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief HMI, claimed “School-led partnerships are leading the way in improving the quality of teacher training” based on a sample size of 21: 11 HEI, 8 EBR and just 2 SCITTs.
Perhaps both Michaels should ask Santa for a book on basic statistics for Christmas. And make a New Year’s Resolution to listen to Radio 4, More or Less.
A recent IoE paper
found Teach First had a “consistently estimated positive effect” but “not as large as the impact of other interventions to improve teaching standards.”
The authors listed “threats” to the validity of their data (see comment below 1/11/13 at 3.57). They stressed they came to no conclusion about “the relative merit” of Teach First over other routes into teaching or whether Teach First was value for money.
It was too early to say whether expanding Teach First would increase its efficacy or water it down, they wrote. Teach First’s “greatest success” was to “detoxify teaching” for high-flying graduates,
At the same time, Pasi Sahlberg, leading education campaign from Finland, told TES recruiting high-flying graduates was not a “silver bullet”.
He said a focus on exam results together with increasing competition between schools in countries such as US, Sweden and the UK had served to "toxify" education
rather than boost attainment.
Thanks to Barry Wise for pointing out the IoE paper.
*Citing Ofsted reports does not imply agreement. All Ofsted reports are downloadable from Ofsted's website
**One SCITT was inspected for its primary and secondary training separately. It has been treated as two separate trainers.