Yes, they’re young and inexperienced. But Teach First participants have the right stuff

Rebecca Allen

Today, Jay Allnutt and I published a new piece of analysis (PDF) showing that schools taking on Teach First participants have achieved gains in their GCSE results as a result of the programme. Our analysis tracks the performance of these schools in the first three years after they join the programme and compares them to changes in progress at a set of schools that look identical, except for their Teach First participation in that year.

We make sure this comparison set of schools have the same pupil demographic profile, the same prior levels and trends in GCSE performance, are in the same region of England and are all schools who will choose to join Teach First at some point in the future (formally this is known as a matched difference-in-differences panel estimation). Overall, school-wide gains in GCSE results are in the order of an improvement of about one grade in one of a pupil’s best eight subjects. This estimate is a fraction of the size claimed by the only other quantitative evaluation by Muijs et al (PDF), but is still large enough to be of value to schools.

Like many, until I wrote this research I was sceptical that Teach First participants could possibly have any sort of transformative effect on schools. The academic research tells us that we don’t know much about what good teachers look like before they join the profession. We just know they are likely to be relatively ineffective in their first year of teaching, compared to their second and subsequent years. So, to my mind, setting up a scheme that legitimises exit from the profession after just two years seemed like lunacy.

Furthermore, to someone who trained to become a teacher for a whole year and still found my first year in the classroom extremely exhausting and challenging, it did seem rather reckless to place young graduates into challenging classrooms with so little time to prepare.

But on reflection, I now think Teach First provides important lessons for recruitment to the teaching profession as a whole.

I believe Teach First reminds us of the importance of selecting the right teachers at the outset

Even in the depths of recession in 2010 there were just 3 applicants for each place on a traditional graduate training course (PGCE, PGDE and GTP). By contrast, at the same time Teach First was processing about eight applications for every place. Without needing to make claims about the relative qualities of the respective pools of applicants, it is easy to see how Teach First is able recruit an intake with greater potential, provided their sifting process can do a reasonable job of spotting those with the drive, resilience and stamina needed to succeed in the classroom.

Recent academic papers from the US explain that getting this initial selection of teachers right is critical because, whilst a first year novice teacher is less effective than they will be in year two, the improvement in teaching quality gained through experience is actually relatively modest compared to the very wide variation in teacher quality at the outset. Furthermore, those who are weak teachers in year one improve their practice at a slower rate than others, thus widening gaps in effectiveness in years two, three and four.

Giving graduates an exit path after two years may be an important recruitment device

It is hard to really know whether you’ll love teaching before you try it. The great pleasures of teaching are rather strange compared to other graduate jobs and many 21 year old graduates will have had little contact with young children in recent years. Given this, while many graduates hesitate about training to join the teaching profession (forever?), they may feel more able to join a scheme with a straightforward exit route after two years. If they find they need to (which most don’t), they can walk away with a sense of completion rather than as a ‘failure’ or ‘drop-out’. And the greatest success of Teach First takes place when a graduate who fully intended to move onto a job in the City or in Law completes their two years and finds they are unable to rip themselves away from the delight and gratification of educating the next generation.

“The impact of hiring Teach First participants on school and departmental performance: matched difference-in-differences and pupil fixed effects estimation”, by Rebecca Allen and Jay Allnutt was presented to the annual BERA conference today. Part of the analysis in the paper is based upon Jay Allnutt’s MSc dissertation, which was written whilst he was a secondary school teacher in London. He now works for Teach First. Teach First did not fund the research.
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Posted in Teachers and teaching assistants
9 comments on “Yes, they’re young and inexperienced. But Teach First participants have the right stuff
  1. behrfacts says:

    Thanks for this and your 2 lessons are interesting. It is about understanding the loops feeding in and out of the teaching pool and their relationship with the large pool of graduate careers. This is of relevance to subjects and how they link with associated professional routes.

  2. It is difficult to know where to start with this. Your paper is interesting and informative, and clearly you have identified what you see as a benefit of this approach (albeit based on the work of someone who clearly has such a positive view of what Teach First are doing that he has gone to work for them). However, you identify so many potential caveats, influencing factors, limitations to the validity of the methodology and other potential problems it is hard to take your findings seriously. At best, as you say throughout the paper, it is only an ‘estimation’ and we should be very careful about turning an ‘estimation’ into a ‘truth’.

    Even if, for a moment, we take your findings seriously, it would be interested to hear your views on the cost/benefit analysis of Teach First and whether or not the estimated benefit of the initiative (i.e. your own estimation that there is one grade difference in one of the pupil’s best eight subjects) is really worth the huge amount of Government funds that this organisation receives. Readers of your research should remember that Teach First have just received a new grant of £76m of tax-payers money this year to continue their work.

    The costs of training a teacher on the Teach First route is massively more expensively that other pathways (around three times the cost). In other words, we could train three teachers through a PGCE programme for the cost of one Teach First participant. Further details of the Education Select Committee report (including the figures that were dragged out of Teach First) and my analysis of this issue can be found here:

    http://www.jsavage.org.uk/the-true-cost-of-training-one-teacher/

    In addition to this, the stringent contracts that Teach First have imposed on its numerous partner HEI are further evidence of an organisation that is paranoid about its perceived image and also not frightened to produce deliberatively misleading advertising (http://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2013/5/Teach-First/SHP_ADJ_219549.aspx)

    Teach First has many powerful advocates in the political and business world. However, my email in-tray receives a constant stream of correspondence from normal folk, including Teach First participants, university staff and others, who are too frightened to speak out about the cultish features of Teach First and their programme of indoctrination, the preoccupation with their ‘brand management’, and the poor practice of much of its programme in comparison to other training pathways. The promotion of this company by this Government and the previous one is, in my view, disgraceful. It has had a very negative effect on the wider initial teacher education sector as a whole. If it wants to continue to work in this field, it should do so funded by its wealthy benefactors and not by the public purse.

  3. […] is difficult to know where to start with the research published today by Rebecca Allen at the IOE (and reported by the BBC here). Her paper is interesting and informative, and clearly she has […]

  4. Education_Researcher says:

    This seems convincing evidence Teach First works a bit and some progress towards understanding how it works from the frankly silly Mujis (2010) but parts of this analysis may not disprove some key hypotheses about how it works?

    The possibilities about how TF participants might influence schools and pupils seem to include:
    – Being better at teaching
    – Chiding jaded colleagues out of their complacency
    – …or represent other things dynamic management are doing that has nothing to do with TF participants

    It immediately seems implausible TF participants directly impact total or departmental school attainment by their better teaching as there are only around 4 are in each secondary school (2 per year) out of an average 125 members of staff (DFE). It seems most unlikely four teachers (two rubbish in their first year) can raise the attainment of a school or department single handed by teaching their pupils better, not least as they simply do not teach enough pupils.

    The paper claims to separate out the individual influence of TF participants alone from the effect of dynamic management by comparing the results of schools participating with TF with a control group of schools that are yet to join but subsequently do. Thus these two groups of schools are supposed to have the same level of managerial dynamism that might be doing other things that explain rises in school results. However, it seems possible that managerial teams that are ‘early adopters’ are a different calibre to ‘followers’ who catch up with trends after it starts to look cool. Also the later adoption of TF might come about because of changes in management personnel/style of governance/academisation impetus. So the one grade in best eight difference in performance between early TF and late adopters might still be caused by longer standing higher managerial chutzpah of the early adopters doing others things nothing to do with TF that cause results to rise.

    Analysis showing that departments with TF participants do better than departments without in the same school, as the authors say, offer a better indication of the impact of TF participants as all departments are under the same senior management, making management influence equivalent. On top of this it allows sight of the effect TF participants have on colleagues they work closely with and less closely. So, it seems the main effect of TF is influencing colleagues they work closely with to raise their game.

    It seems inexplicable that the UK is unable to find the data to assess the impact on the main expected effect of a major initiative, the impact of TF participants on the pupils they teach, after 12 years, £94 million of public money over the last three years and with the UKs much more coherent schools data. Which teacher taught what is in schools MIS if you know where to look.

    As an aside why don’t people write these things for non-specialist readership; how many Educationalists and Teach First senior management have degrees in econometrics needed to follow this stuff, and why write this way just before presenting it to a conference on widening the impact of education research?

  5. […] large amount of feedback on the paper, via a seminar presentation at BERA conference, comments on a blog I wrote, twitter and email. Rather than simply present these research findings at researched2013, I showed […]

  6. lofalearner says:

    What an interesting attribution of this small change in performance. It’s the Teach First participants, not something in the school and its culture. One possibility in the latter is something that many Teach First participants enthuse about when it goes well for them: the mentoring they receive. This could be an explanation in terms of its wider ripple effect in the school.

    But why are we getting excited about a tiny increase in exam results? What sort of vision is that? As one of the TeachFirst participants wrote this year: “I would go even further in my critique of the Teach First vision: is it really possible to enrich younger lives and create rounded human beings regardless of their socio-economic background if the main success criteria is test results rather than personal enrichment?”
    I do find myself impressed with many of the Teach First participants: one I met said he was going to leave the grammar school where he was being lined up for Head of Department soon. What are you going to do? Go and teach in Africa.

  7. […] be, and to have a year of supportive training before bearing the full brunt of it can only help. Teach First candidates may be driven and idealistic, but surely they would be able to do even better if they had the opportunities to develop as […]

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