Do Teach Firsters improve “every school” they work in? And do stats show school-based teacher training is better? Gove says, Yes, but is he right?

Janet Downs's picture
‘…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.”’

Michael Gove, 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.

And Ofsted* (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.

UPDATE 16.14

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, they wrote.

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.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 01/11/2013 - 15:09

You might want to check this out:

Matched panel data estimates of the impact of Teach First on school and departmental performance. Rebecca Allen and Jay Allnutt.

Study analyzed - with link to paper - here:

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/11/2013 - 15:57

Thanks, Barry. I’ve had a look at the paper. It 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 noted “threats to validity” such as heads recruiting Teach Firsters being “particularly dynamic and so presiding over improving schools” AND other interventions to raise results were running concurrently with Teach First (ie the “other factors” I mention above).

The authors stressed they don't comment on “the relative merit” of Teach First over other teacher training routes OR about whether it’s value for money.

The report recognised problems associated with “higher teacher turnover” produced by Teach First. Retention rates had improved but the authors didn’t know whether this reflects the changing composition of the intake or other reasons such as high levels of graduate unemployment due to the recession.

Teach First’s “greatest success”, the authors said, was to “detoxify teaching” for high-attaining graduates.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/11/2013 - 16:10

From this week's TES:

"Schemes such as Teach First in the UK and Teach for America in the US have won plaudits from politicians for recruiting more high-flying graduates into teaching. A recent research project for Teach First concluded that the initiative had raised exam results in the schools where it operates."

"But a focus on exam results, as well as the move to create competition between schools, in countries such as the US, Sweden and the UK had served to "toxify" education rather than boost attainment, Mr [Pasi] Sahlberg [leading campaigner and government official in Finland] argued."

Recruiting high-flying graduates was not a "silver bullet".

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Fri, 01/11/2013 - 19:53

It costs Teachfirst £38 k to produce a teacher ( according to Mary Bousted). The drop out rate after two years is 50% when they scuttle back to their blue-chip destiny ( so £76 K to produce a teacher lasting more than 2 years).

Teachfirst are great at spin...the drop-outs are restyled on the Teachfirst website as "Teach-first Ambassadors" who , it is postulated , will champion British education from within the ivory towers of Price Waterhouse, BP etc etc. However , reading between the lines , most of the ambassador profiles basically describe how training with teachfirst didn't hamper their prospects outside of teaching ( well what a relief!!) .

What would be interesting would be to carry out a BEST-VALUE exercise between teacher training providers to see who delivers the most resilient i.e long -lasting staff at a reasonable cost.....I don't think it would be Teach First.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Fri, 01/11/2013 - 20:02

...and another thing......the report cited by Janet D says that they can't analyse the impact of the individual teach first teachers as England does not have matched teacher-pupil data.
It wouldn't take much to ask the schools concerned to provide the data from their own in-house pupil assessment trackers would it?

papaalpha's picture
Sun, 24/11/2013 - 17:35

Its notable how many times in speeches over the past year that Gove has praised the likes of Daisy Christodoulou, Kris Boulton and Matthew Hunter who are all Teach Firsters, for the impact they are having on the world of education, particularly within the edublogosphere. Ms Christodoulou is the author of a controversial book about teacher training, which Gove has lauded many times. Ironically, Daisy quit teaching after three years and is now CEO of Future's Academy group.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 02/11/2013 - 08:43

Rosie - thanks. A report from Buckingham University (2012) said:

"Teach First brings a number of well qualified graduates into teaching who might not otherwise have considered the profession, but it is small and retention is low. It is a catalyst, not a miracle cure."

It also contained this warning:

"Currently the Graduate Teacher Programme is the most successful route in terms of providing teachers for schools. In our view, the government is taking a risk in stripping it of its identity by merging it into School Direct and funding it less well."

So, the Government closes what Buckingham found to be the "most successful route" and pushes Teach First, which only trains a small number of teachers despite expansion, as an "elite" track.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.