Teach First

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Teach First
Founder Brett Wigdortz
Type Company limited by guarantee and Registered Charity
Registration no. Company ref 04478840
Charity ref 1098294
Focus Education
Area served
England and Wales
Key people
Brett Wigdortz, CEO
John Colenutt, COO
Paul Drechsler,[1] Chair
£16.6m (2011)[2]
188 (2011)[2]
Website teachfirst.org.uk
More London, the current location of Teach First

Teach First (also Teach First Cymru) is a social enterprise[3] registered as a charity[4] that aims to address educational disadvantage in England and Wales. It coordinates an employment-based teaching training programme whereby participants achieve Qualified Teacher Status through the participation in a two year training programme that involves the completion of a PGCE along with wider leadership skills training.[5]

Trainees are placed at participating primary and secondary schools where they commit to stay for the duration of the training programme.[5] Eligible schools are those where more than half of the pupils come from the poorest 30% of families according to the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index.[6]

Following completion of the two-year programme, participants become Teach First ambassadors. This network of ambassadors aims to address educational disadvantage either in school or in other sectors. Since launching in 2002, Teach First has placed increasing numbers of participants in schools each year with 163 joining in 2003, up to 997 in 2012. As of 2012, the Ambassador community consists of more than 2,000 people.

Teach First was listed in 3rd place in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers list for 2013.[7] Participants are paid and employed by the schools they are placed at.[8]


In 2001 McKinsey & Co. were commissioned to create a report on what business could do to contribute to the improvement of London schools. The report highlighted the problems with the quality of London’s schools, particularly in inner London. It confirmed the link between poverty and educational outcomes and noted that the proportion of pupils on Free school meals in inner London was three times the national average. The report also highlighted how the scale of pupil mobility was inhibiting the progress of many young people. Fifteen per cent of students attending inner London schools were entering school, leaving school or changing schools during the school year. This cycle was affecting student performance at age 16.

In terms of potential solutions McKinsey & Co. reinforced the value of a school being well led by a high quality head teacher, but also highlighted the importance of the quality of classroom teaching. The number of excellent teachers was, they reported, one of the strongest predictors of improved pupil performance, especially in challenging schools. Good teachers made an impact on pupil performance because they:

  • Increased pupil motivation
  • Improved knowledge transfer
  • Provided good role models
  • Gave more individual support to pupils
  • Monitored pupils’ achievements systematically

However, the high vacancy and turnover rates in London were making it difficult to build a group of skilled teachers. Salary levels were also part of the problem – but only a small part of it.[9] Poor management, inadequate resources, long hours, taxing duties, poor student behaviour and a lack of professional opportunities also contributed to the large numbers of teachers leaving the profession.[9] Building on the experience of Teach for America (which had been formed in 1990) McKinsey & Co. proposed creating a programme to recruit and train the best and brightest graduates and place them in London’s disadvantaged and underperforming schools.

Brett Wigdortz, Teach First founder and CEO

One of the consultants involved in compiling the report, Brett Wigdortz, was gripped by the findings and set about developing a business plan for a Teach for America style enterprise in London.[9] In February 2002 Brett took a six-month sabbatical from McKinsey to develop a business plan for what was tentatively called Teach for London before it evolved to become Teach First.[9]

Teach First officially launched in July 2002, in Canary Wharf with a team of 11 committed employees led by Brett Wigdortz as CEO and Stephen O’Brien CBE & George Iacobescu CBE as co-chairs of the Board of Trustees. Canary Wharf Group and Citi become the first corporate supporters of Teach First.

Teach First’s first cohort of participants started to teach in 45 secondary schools in London. Haling Manor High School in Croydon was the first school to sign up to Teach First. It was based solely in London until September 2006 when it expanded into Greater Manchester schools.[10]

In 2007, Teach First collaborated with Teach for America to create Teach for All, a global network of independent social enterprises that are working to expand educational opportunity in their nations.[11]

Recruitment process[edit]

To be eligible to apply to the Teach First Leadership Development Programme candidates need to have:

  • a 2.1 degree or above, 300 UCAS points (or equivalent, excluding General Studies).
  • a degree or A-levels that satisfies Teach First's Teaching subject requirements.
  • Grade C (or equivalent) in GCSE Maths and English (Grade C in one Science GCSE is also required for Primary teaching eligibility).
  • flexibility to teach within any of the Teach First regions.

The recruitment process begins by registering interest and then submitting an online application (within 12 weeks). If the online application is successful, candidates are invited to attend a one-day assessment centre consisting of a competency-based interview, a group case study exercise and the delivery of a sample teaching lesson. There are eight competencies assessed throughout the recruitment process. If successful at the assessment centre, candidates are then made a conditional offer to join Teach First dependent on a subject knowledge assessment and classroom observation period.

Teach First Programme[edit]

Participants teach in the same school throughout the two years.

Summer Institute[edit]

Before entering the classroom, participants attend a six-week Summer Institute. Half of this time is spent in their region and half at a residential course where they learn about the organisation's mission and develop their understanding of educational theory and practice to prepare them to begin teaching in the following September. Participants spend time training in the region in which they will teach, usually with an observation period in the school they will join after the summer. They then attend a residential course together as an entire cohort.


Participants receive support in many areas of their training:

Tutors All participants work with one of Teach First’s university partners towards a PGCE and QTS (qualified teacher status) during their first year teaching.

Mentors Partner schools allocate mentors to assist their trainee’s development as a teacher.

Leadership Development Officers Teach First Leadership Development Officers are all qualified teachers – and often ambassadors – and provide invaluable experience of both the programme and the school context. They support and challenge participants throughout the two years.

Leadership Development[edit]

Throughout their two years teaching, participants have access to a range of leadership development opportunities. The two-year Leadership Development programme is designed to enable participants to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes for use inside and outside the classroom. This training is delivered through workshops, panel events and one to one coaching. For example, participants have access to qualified teacher-led training sessions to provide them with tools and strategies they can apply in their classrooms. They will also attend workshops and reflective seminars to help them develop a good understanding of their strengths and areas for development . In addition, they will have the opportunity to have a coach to help them overcome the challenges they face, as well as business school training to teach them to fundamental aspects of business theory and practice which they can apply to their school context.

Participants also have the opportunity to apply for to undertake a one-three week mini-internship during the school holidays – known as a Summer Project. These provide an opportunity to join one of Teach First’s supporting or partner organisations to complete or contribute to a short-term goal or objective.

Recruits also have the opportunity to complete a Masters degree, starting in their second year on the programme through various partner universities.[12]

Regional expansion[edit]

Teach First was initially based solely in London, as part of the London Challenge initiative,[13] until September 2006 when it expanded into Greater Manchester schools. The programme was subsequently extended to cover a total of 11 local areas:[14] East Midlands, London, North East, North West, South Coast, South East, South West, East of England, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales.[15]


As part of the Teach For All network, Teach First is subject to many of the same criticisms levelled at its main partner organisation Teach for America, and offshoots such as Teach First Danmark, Teach First Norway and Teach First New Zealand.[16] Criticisms have been raised about the cost effectiveness of Teach First, with training costs seen by some to be higher per participant when compared to other training routes.[17]

Teach First asks for the graduates it recruits to give two years of teaching, and so retention rates for Teach First have been claimed to be lower than other routes into teaching, forty percent of Teach First participants stay in teaching after 5 years compared to much higher percentages coming through PGCE and GTP programmes.[18] It is anticipated and accepted that many of them will go on to careers in other sectors (hence the name, Teach First),[19] also described as "teach first, then get a better job".[20] The higher turnover rate and rapidly increasing cohort size of Teach First has been alleged as allowing schools to reduce their costs by employing teaching staff at unqualified teacher pay scales, it has been alleged that Teach First has been targeted by some academy school chains because of this.[21][22]

Teach First has been accused of elitism,[23] and has also been accused of being biased to middle-class applicants within the application process.[19] Teach First participants interviewed as part of an evaluation were predominantly middle‐class, possessing social and cultural capital which had facilitated their access to the Teach First scheme.[19] A Study by London Metropolitan University found some recruits displayed patronising middle-class attitudes, coupled with a belief that they as graduates of prestigious universities, have much to offer but nothing to learn from low-income communities.[23]

In 2009 it was reported that Teach First participants were being placed in schools where GCSE grades were above the local and national averages, and not in the worst performing secondary schools.[17] Education Data Surveys analysed the results of all the schools involved in Teach First and found 15 of the 79 London secondaries (19 per cent) had GCSE achievements above their local authority average, and 17 schools had results above the national average.[17] In the North West, five Teach First schools, or 23 per cent, had exam results which were the same or better than the local authority average.[17] In the Midlands, results at five schools, or 18 per cent, were the same or better than the local authority average and two had results at or above the national average, raising the question of why schools with GCSE results up to 80 and 70 per cent were taking part.[17]

In response Teach First said that exam results were not the "whole story" of the initiative, and the number of children claiming free school meals was as important in selecting schools to be involved.[17] Stating "Teach First selects the schools into which it places exceptional graduates through consideration of a range of criteria that indicate the level of challenge experienced at the school, including the percentage of free schools meals, the exam results at GCSE, staff turnover and the difficulties experienced by schools in recruiting new teachers."[17]

Teach First's relationship with businesses and deferred entry schemes has opened it to suggestions that it operates as an elite graduate scheme for them to recruit from.[23]

Teach First has also been said to place too much emphasis on schools in London, to where it places 40% of its recruits.[24] It has been subject to criticism that London and larger cities are able to attract the best graduates, but coastal and rural communities struggle to attract these graduates.[24] Brett Wigdortz in response said "“We made the same mistake many implementations make – starting in the place where it's easiest to implement things, the big cities, and taking a while to get to the areas which really need it”.[24]

Similar schemes[edit]

The Teach First model has also been applied in other areas of public sector recruitment with Frontline for children’s social work, Think Ahead for mental-health social work, and Police Now a two year graduate leadership programme of the Metropolitan Police.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Teach First appoints new chair". Teach First. 30 September 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Charity overview for 1098294 - TEACH FIRST". Charity Commission. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  3. ^ "What is a Social Enterprise?". Social Business Trust. Retrieved 13 September 2014. 
  4. ^ "1098294 - TEACH FIRST". Charity Commission. Retrieved 8 May 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "Inspection Report 2011". Ofsted. July 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  6. ^ "Become a Teach First Partner school". Teach First. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  7. ^ "The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers". Milkround Online. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  8. ^ "Teacher training options - Teach First". Department for Education. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c d http://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/the-simon-round-interview/92758/brett-wigdortz-teach-first-man-who-transforming-britains-s%7Ctitle=Brett Wigdortz, the Teach First man who is transforming Britain's schools
  10. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4865574.stm.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  11. ^ http://www.teachforall.org/about/vision-and-mission.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  12. ^ "Masters". Teach First. Teach First. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  13. ^ "Transforming London Secondary Schools" (PDF). National Archives. DfES. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  14. ^ "Where we work". Teach First. 
  15. ^ http://www.teachfirst.org.uk/about/our-history.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  16. ^ McCabe, Steve (31 January 2012). "Pupils don't deserve to be Teach First guinea pigs". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Maddern, Kerra (10 July 2009). "Teach First exposed: top graduates placed in successful schools". TES. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  18. ^ "Centre for Education and Employment Research" (PDF). 
  19. ^ a b c Smart, Sarah; Hutchings, Merryn; Maylor, Uvanney; Mendick, Heather; Menter, Ian (2010). "Processes of middle‐class reproduction in a graduate employment scheme". Journal of Education and Work 22 (1): 35–53. doi:10.1080/13639080802709661. 
  20. ^ Simon, Jane (9 January 2014). "Tough Young Teachers is a show that sounds like another TV gimmick - in fact it's anything but". The Mirror. 
  21. ^ "Teach First ‘Teachers’ on the Cheap". Education State. 10 January 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  22. ^ Durston, Becky (9 January 2013). "Letters: Spare a thought for Teach First 'victims'". TES. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  23. ^ a b c Wilby, Peter (29 October 2012). "Teaching's man with a mission to free young Britons from 'slavery'". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 July 2014. 
  24. ^ a b c Wigmore, Tim (20 August 2015). "Why do white working-class kids do so badly?". The New Statesman. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  25. ^ "Social work and policing A new beat". The Economist. 22 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 

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