Standing up for Teach First

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Our NQT diarist, a Teach First graduate, hits back at accusations of privilege and elitism.

I read the Guardian interview with Brett Wigdortz, founder of Teach First, with interest – last year I trained for my own PGCE through the Teach First programme.

I had been employed in a graduate research position for over a year and realised that my heart lay not behind a desk but with people. The satisfaction I gained during my degree through working for The Honeypot Charity, which provides respite for severely vulnerable children, confirmed this. Being from a working class background with no savings to fall back on and having an inner London rent to pay, Teach First was the most practical option for me.

What I found incredibly disheartening, upon reading this article, were the swathes of negative comments left below it. Teach First participants are, apparently, “from the elite”, “arrogant” and “children of the privileged”. First, how is it that well-educated people can make such sweeping generalisations about a cohort of thousands of individuals, based on what is frankly limited anecdotal evidence about the “catastrophic Teach First flop” they had at their school one year?

We are a varied and diverse group of individuals who have entered the profession for a number of different, some selfish, some not so selfish, reasons, just as the individuals who train through a traditional PGCE route, or a GTP route, are. 

When I first read those accusations of Teach First teachers being “privileged” or “elite”, I literally spat out my coffee laughing. I was educated in a state school and raised by my very hard-working, single mother. My upbringing prepared me for the world of work from an early age; at 13 I was mucking out horse stables for £2.50 per hour. I would like the people who made such accusations to go and visit my mother in her housing association home and tell her she is privileged and elite. She’d probably invite you in for a cup of tea and ask you not to mind the dogs and the mess; she is too busy working hard to support my younger siblings to do much housework.

In many ways I am one of the most privileged; my upbringing instilled morals in me and a belief that I can achieve through commitment and perseverance. I learned compassion for others, not to judge based on hearsay and to get to know each person as an individual. 

All I can assume is that those people making these judgements about me and my professional skills are not inherently stupid people; they are just feeling threatened. When people feel threatened their guard goes up and they put on a defensive attack. But they needn’t feel this way. Teach First is not claiming that teachers trained through the PGCE route are not outstanding teachers. I am lucky enough to have been able to learn from the most outstanding teachers at my school, who were trained through the PGCE route. 

Teach First is just trying to provide part of a solution to a massive, multi-faceted social problem – that a child’s parental income is the single biggest determinant on their future educational success. This is wrong. If you are a teacher who does not agree that this needs addressing, then I personally would question why you are in the profession. Do I sound arrogant? Do not confuse passion for arrogance.

Sorry if some of my arguments are not cohesively strung together properly; it is 7am and I need to get my head down to some marking before I go to the breakfast booster session that I am running at 8am for some of my struggling pupils. Perhaps some of those teachers who think their time is best spent splurging murky vibes into cyberspace should do the same.

  • Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary school.


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