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Teach First: regional leadership for a national success

Sheffield Institute of Education leads the £1-million-a-year contract for Teach First in Yorkshire and the Humber. The programme, which combines intensive working, studying and qualifying as a teacher with leadership development, is a major success story in teacher education.

About Teach First

Teach First is an alternative teacher training programme, created by a social enterprise which was founded to address the link between low income and poor educational achievement. It provides intensive training for high-flying graduates, who are placed in challenging schools in the Yorkshire and the Humber region for a minimum two-year placement.

Participants begin by applying via an unusually robust selection process. Once accepted, they attend an intensive six-week residential known as the ‘Summer Institute'. They are then placed in participating primary and secondary schools for the duration of the programme. All the schools involved are challenging environments – to be eligible for the scheme, at least half of its pupils must come from the bottom 30% in terms of deprivation indices.

By the end of the first year, participants will have been awarded a PGCE and achieved qualified teacher status. In their second year, they teach as a newly qualified teacher and follow the school's induction programme, while continuing to be supported by their school tutors, mentors and Teach First local and national teams.

As well as studying and practising teaching in a supported environment, participants follow a leadership development programme to give them the skills, experience and training to excel as leaders in any field.

"I was a full-time teacher gaining real hands on experience and this, coupled with a first-rate tutor who helped me master the theory of teaching quickly, ensured that I could effectively deliver in the classroom."
Joshua Fisher, Acting Head of History, Newfield School

How we got involved

Sheffield Institute of Education became involved when we were approached by Teach First, who had recognised the experience and credentials of our initial teacher training (ITT) professionals – people like Terry Hudson, an inspirational figure with 30 years' experience in teacher education.

We embraced the opportunity to work with Teach First and steer the implementation of the programme in Yorkshire and the Humber. To address concerns within the University, we positioned and implemented Teach First as a separate way to provide high-quality teacher education, with a dedicated team in place to support participants.

Supporting teachers and schools

The Yorkshire and the Humber cohort is recognised as one of the best-supported in England and Wales. Teach First participants tend to be high-calibre graduates who embrace the level of commitment required; but the programme is also different to the usual teacher training experience. It places unique demands on people, and we are mindful of the particular requirement to support, inspire and challenge them.

Participants are assigned both a subject tutor and a ‘professional development' tutor, who between them make 12 visits to their school across the year. Though they are almost never ‘on campus', they often need help because of the challenge and intensity of the experience. We pride ourselves on knowing participants individually and providing timely support – often out of hours.

Some schools were initially resistant to the idea of Teach First – understandably, as they were being asked to take a leap of faith with untested staff, and commit to their development for two years. Having experienced the programme delivered by Sheffield Institute of Education, and seen the quality of teachers it produces, many schools are now keen to work with us. It's a particularly good option for schools facing recruitment and retention issues.

While the first year is always challenging, the intensive teaching practice and ongoing support tend to pay off, with most participants making a huge contribution by the second year. Schools usually feel that the return more than justifies the initial effort. And many Teach First participants continue to give back to teaching: 56% of people who started the programme in 2009 were still in teaching four years later.

Sheffield Institute of Education's provision is regarded as a model of excellence, with a high standing in the Teach First community. We have a dedicated core team which mixes recent school experience (including former heads of department) with ITT expertise, and our associate tutors include current classroom practitioners. It's essential to work closely with schools, both to develop a deep understanding of participants' progress and to make the most of their knowledge and connections. Finally, we are lucky to be supported by administrators who know the programme inside out, and are focused solely on Teach First.

A continuing success story

Teach First is now established as a credible alternative to more traditional routes into teaching – its selection process, intensity, and leadership development helping to attract high quality graduates. While many participants do move into business or consultancy after their initial two-year commitment – a reflection of the programme's title – retention rates are on an upward trend. Over a quarter of all Teach First participants are now in school middle and senior leader positions, suggesting the programme is having a long-term impact on the educational landscape.

Sheffield Hallam University Yearly intake of Teach First students
2009 42
2010 60
2011 86
2012 120
2013 139

Five years since we started offering the programme, our provision has expanded from its original intake of 42: we expect to work with around 200 participants in 2015. We have also taken over responsibility for primary-school placements in the region.

We are now part of an exclusive group of nine Teach First university partners. Our stature is such that we have shared our knowledge and experience to help with the expansion of the programme into the North East, East Midlands and Wales.

We're delighted to have forged such a strong partnership with Teach First – a programme that helps train teachers and leaders of the future while offering immediate benefits to the schools where participants are placed. The most recent Ofsted report for our provision of Teach First graded every category as ‘Outstanding' – and we are committed to retaining this excellent external recognition.

"You are such a great example of true partnership at work... We wouldn't be where we are now without your tireless support, incredibly high bar of excellence and commitment to the vision. I can't say thank you enough"
Ndidi Okezie, Executive Director - The Regions Division, Teach First

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