Recently, we wrote here
of our growing concern about the recruitment, development and retention of teachers, within a poorly understood and increasingly volatile system in England. Our concern is to recruit and train the best teachers possible, but feel that ideology is getting in the way, with some routes into teacher training receiving preferential treatment, whereas all routes into teaching would benefit from having the same opportunities.
We received some interesting response to our blog, with people wishing to remain anonymous because of the fear of repercussions as a result of speaking out.
We learn that Teach First, which is often presented in publicity as a “premier” route into teaching, is allowed to transfer allocated training places between subjects without financial penalty. This means that quotas in subjects which are harder to recruit (typically maths, science and modern foreign languages) can be transferred to subjects where it is easier to recruit (e.g. English and history). This allows Teach First to maximise their income and claim that they are able to recruit to their ‘targets’. This is a process denied to universities, for whom over- or under-recruiting to allocated training places is punished by financial penalties, and it can then be claimed that this sector is failing to recruit to target. This seems to give a privileged position to Teach First in terms of recruitment and finance.
It seems that for 2014 Teach First are struggling to recruit in maths and in science subjects - in the case of mathematics we understand that is some areas this under-recruitment appears to be around 20%. However, Teach First has been allowed to vire this shortfall, for example, in the northwest the maths places have been changed to English training places, and original recruitment targets have been changed to accommodate this.
This information is not easily or publically available and one wonders why?
Additionally, it is suggested for 2014 that under a quarter of mathematics Teach First recruits hold a maths degree. Now, we know that many teachers have degrees which are cognate to the subjects they teach, but in the case of maths, we wonder to what extent Teach First is able to provide subject knowledge enhancement for these non-specialists. Some universities run subject knowledge enhancement courses to support trainees without the necessary specialist degree subject, and these courses typically run over several months Teach First trainees receive 6 weeks intensive training prior to starting in schools, but this covers all aspects of teaching, not just subject knowledge. Although Teach First prides itself on recruiting only the very best candidates, concerns have been expressed to us about how many of these Teach First mathematics recruits without mathematics degrees would have gained a place on a PGCE course? The information we have been given suggests that this would not the case. Like Teach First, universities also look to recruit the highest calibre trainees into hard to recruit subjects and help them attain rapid and excellent progress. Most HEIs have a good track record in this, but invest time and incur additional cost to support non-specialists’ development into effective teachers.
We know that PGCE trainees pay £9000 for their training if they choose this training route into teaching. Teach First trainees however have the privilege of paying nothing for their training. The government does, however, pay Teach First (a charity) approximately £14,000 per trainee. This is public money. Comparing the costs of different routes into teaching is complex and figures are not readily available, however it is suggested that the overall training cost to prepare a teacher via Teach First is around £40,000 in total and is far more expensive than other routes.
Teach First recruits are expected to teach for two years, after which they can choose to leave the classroom. It seems that currently about 50% of the cohort leave teaching, which would seem a significant cost to the public purse. It seems particularly inequitable that PGCE trainees have to pay back their fees regardless of whether they stay in teaching or not whereas Teach First trainees pay nothing whether they stay in teaching or not.
We also know that an evaluation commissioned by Teach First into the quality of their trainees’ teaching has recently been carried out but for some reason this report is not publicly available. We also wonder when government will publish an audit of the public money which goes into this charity and whether this provision will show value for money.
We are not criticising the work of Teach First, nor the overall quality of its provision, but at a time when recruitment into teaching is a growing concern, it seems irresponsible to privilege one route into teaching at the expense of others, especially long-established routes with a proven track record of success.