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
£50.6m (2014)[1]
408 (2014)[1]
Website teachfirst.org.uk
More London, the current location of Teach First

Teach First (also Teach First Cymru) is a social enterprise and registered charity which aims to address educational disadvantage in England and Wales.[2][3][4] Teach First 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 and an optional Masters degree.[5]

Trainees are placed at participating primary and secondary schools where they commit to stay for the duration of the 2 year training programme. 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. 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.

Teach First is the largest recruiter of graduates in the United Kingdom,[6] and was ranked 2nd only to PwC in The Times annual Top 100 Graduate Employers list in 2014 and 2015.[7][8][9]

The Teach First scheme has been met with some controversy and criticism since its inception, which has impeded its planned expansion into Scotland.


In the summer of 2001 Charles, Prince of Wales as president of Business in the Community hosted a group of business leaders and headteachers.[4] At this event Ian Davis of McKinsey and Company agreed to produce a report on the question of why inner-London Schools were not doing as well as they could do, and what business could do to contribute to the improvement of London schools for the event organisers and London First.[4][10] 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.[11] 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.[11] 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, set about developing a business plan for a Teach for America style enterprise in London.[11] 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.[11]

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.[4]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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. In the first year, participants work towards a PGCE whilst undertaking around 90% of a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) timetable, In their second year participants work as NQTs.[14] 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.[8] Participants are paid and employed by the schools they are placed at.[15]

Following completion of the two-year programme, participants become Teach First ambassadors.[14] This network of ambassadors aims to address educational disadvantage either in school or in other sectors.

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.[16]



Teach First was initially based solely in London, as part of the London Challenge initiative,[17] until September 2006 when it expanded into Greater Manchester schools. The programme was subsequently extended to cover a total of 11 local areas:[18] East Midlands, London, North East, North West, South Coast, South East, South West, East of England, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales.[19]

Teach First has not been established in Scotland, in 2013 the charity met with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (the independent body for teaching in Scotland) but was told the recruits would not be permitted to teach in Scottish schools, as the General Council will only allow those already holding teaching certificates to teach.[20] The Educational Institute of Scotland opposed the expansion of Teach First into the country with The Herald describing Teach First as controversial.[20]


Since launching in 2002, Teach First has placed increasing numbers of participants in schools each year.

Year No. of Applicants No. of Incoming Teachers Success rate of applications Position in Times Top 100 Graduate Employers
2003 186 62nd[clarification needed]
2004 197 42nd
2005 183 19th
2006 265 16th
2007 272 14th
2008 373 9th
2009 2,918 485 16.6% 8th
2010 4,994 560 11.2% 7th
2011 5,324 770 14.5% 7th
2012 7,113 997 14.0% 4th
2013 7,602 1,262 16.6% 3rd
2014 9,000 1,400 15.5% 2nd
2015[21] 1,685 2nd

Training provision[edit]

Teach First expanded from recruiting for secondary school teaching into recruiting primary teachers in 2011.[22]


Teach First is increasingly seen as attractive to young professionals and career changers with 22% of applicants in 2014 coming from these backgrounds.[23] Teach First launched a new campaign in October 2015 which focuses less on the social reward aspects of teaching and more on the challenge of a teaching career, following research by the Behavioural Insights Team.[24]


Teach First has been widely supported by politicians of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.[25]


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.[26] 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.[27]

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.[28] It is anticipated and accepted that many of them will go on to careers in other sectors (hence the name, Teach First),[29] also described as "teach first, then get a better job".[30] 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.[31][32]

Teach First has been accused of elitism,[33] and has also been accused of being biased to middle-class applicants within the application process.[29] 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.[29] 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.[33]

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.[27] 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.[27] 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.[27] 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.[27]

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.[27] 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."[27]

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.[33][34]

Teach First has also been said to place too much emphasis on schools in London, to where it places 40% of its recruits.[35] 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.[35][36] 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".[35]

The Teach First model whereby teachers enter the classroom after only a six week summer camp can leave recruits feeling their in-class levels of support as variable.[37] A Teach First recruit has said the experience left her feeling expendable, saying the Teach First leadership were more focussed on expansion rather than the experience of recruits in a "survival of the fittest" atmosphere.[37] Teach First had a 92% retention rate of recruits in 2012, with the recruit earning a "good" teacher label by observers.[37]

The so called "London effect" where the capital has seen a turnaround in educational achievement since the millennium, which has seen Teach First (and other interventions such as the London Challenge and the rise of academies) being credited with the turnaround of education in London,[38] has been analysed in an academic study as coming from gradual improvements in primary education in the capital.[39]

Similar schemes[edit]

School Direct and School-Centred Initial Teacher Training are school based schemes where participants can earn a salary during training.[40][41] 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.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Charity overview for 1098294 - TEACH FIRST". Charity Commission. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "What is a Social Enterprise?". Social Business Trust. Retrieved 13 September 2014. 
  3. ^ "1098294 - TEACH FIRST". Charity Commission. Retrieved 8 May 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Wigdortz, Brett (2012). Success against the odds : five lessons in how to achieve the impossible, the story of Teach First. London: Short. ISBN 978-1780721309. 
  5. ^ a b "Inspection Report 2011". Ofsted. July 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  6. ^ "Harnessing idealism: Think Ahead attracts good graduates into supporting teenagers and young adults with mental illness". The Independent. 29 August 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  7. ^ "The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers". Milkround Online. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Become a Teach First Partner school". Teach First. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  9. ^ "The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers". Milkround. 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  10. ^ Henshaw, Pete (10 January 2013). "Teach First: Setting the record straight". Sec Ed. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ "'Teach first' scheme is expanding". BBC News. 31 March 2006. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  13. ^ "Vision and Mission". Teach for All. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  14. ^ a b "Teach First". Institute of Physics. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  15. ^ "Teacher training options - Teach First". Department for Education. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  16. ^ "Masters". Teach First. Teach First. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  17. ^ "Transforming London Secondary Schools" (PDF). National Archives. DfES. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  18. ^ "Where we work". Teach First. 
  19. ^ "Our History". Teach First. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  20. ^ a b Denholm, andrew (30 December 2013). "Bid to recruit graduates to help teaching professionals". The Herald. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  21. ^ "2015 Cohort Profile" (PDF). Teach First. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  22. ^ Richardson, Hannah (30 March 2011). "Teach First to place teachers in primary schools". BBC News. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  23. ^ "Our response to today's growth review from the Labour party". Teach First. 1 July 2014. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  24. ^ Scott, Sophie (2 October 2015). "TeachFirst changes advertising after ‘nudge unit’ shows teachers prefer a challenge". Schools Week. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  25. ^ Twigg, Stephen (29 April 2013). "Teach First shows how to overcome educational disadvantage". New Statesman. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  26. ^ McCabe, Steve (31 January 2012). "Pupils don't deserve to be Teach First guinea pigs". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  27. ^ 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. 
  28. ^ "Centre for Education and Employment Research" (PDF). 
  29. ^ 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. 
  30. ^ 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. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  31. ^ "Teach First ‘Teachers’ on the Cheap". Education State. 10 January 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  32. ^ Durston, Becky (9 January 2013). "Letters: Spare a thought for Teach First 'victims'". TES. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  33. ^ 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. 
  34. ^ Jacobs, Emma (2 March 2015). "Teach First: both rival and finishing school for business". The Financial Times. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  35. ^ a b c Wigmore, Tim (20 August 2015). "Why do white working-class kids do so badly?". The New Statesman. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  36. ^ Wigmore, Tim (3 June 2015). "Failing schools provide Ukip with their supporters of tomorrow". The New Statesman. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  37. ^ a b c "Why I quit Teach First". Management Today. 11 July 2013. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  38. ^ "Teach First: coming to a school near you". Times Education Supplement. 27 June 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  39. ^ "Poor children in London get better grades than those outside due to improvements in the capital's schools". LSE. 30 September 2015. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  40. ^ "School Direct (salaried)". Department for Education. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  41. ^ "SCITT". Department of Education. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  42. ^ "Social work and policing A new beat". The Economist. 22 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 

External links[edit]