This story by Helen Ward in the TES 7th February 2018

Teacher training scheme aimed at high-flyers says entry standards will be maintained

Teach First will not be lowering its entry standards, the organisation said today in response to government pleas for teacher trainers to think twice before rejecting applicants.

The charity, which markets its teacher training as a “two-year Leadership Development Programme” said that every year it receives many more applications than those it offers places to – as not all applicants meet its criteria.

But in response to a recent government letter saying that officials would be scrutinising institutions with high rejection rates, the charity said it would be maintaining its entry standards.

Change of emphasis

Nick Gibb, minister for school standards, wrote to all teacher training providers last week calling on them to do more to maximise recruitment.

The letter stated that the ITT criteria and Ofsted’s inspection handbook would be changed to “encourage universities and schools to assess candidates on their potential to meet the teachers’ standards by the end of their training”.

And he added that while it was right to reject candidates who are not suitable: “The emphasis must be on assessing applicants based on their suitability to train to teach, rather than whether they are ready to teach at the point of entry.”

The letter came just days after Ucas figures revealed that applications to start teacher training in January 2018 were down 29 per cent compared to the same period last year.

The Department for Education is concerned that candidates with the potential to become “great teachers” are among 50,000 applications rejected by teacher training providers last year

‘Maintaining standards’

But a Teach First spokesperson told Tes it stood by its “rigorous recruitment process”.

“Every year we receive many more applications than we offer places as not all applicants meet our criteria,” the spokesperson said. “We are constantly looking to improve our recruitment, including with more targeted advertising and campaigns. We have already taken steps to make sure that schools and students are not missing out on potentially great classroom leaders, including signposting unsuccessful applicants to other routes into teaching.

“We’re very happy to work with the DfE to look at ways we can recruit even more great teachers while maintaining our entry standards.”

Teacher recruitment expert John Howson, visiting professor at Oxford Brookes university, said: “The problem for Teach First, as for School Direct Salaried, is that the DfE is asking providers to consider if this person is capable not at the point they come onto the course, but by the point they have done the whole course – but this is more difficult to do for Teach First because on September 1, that candidate is going to be taking a class.

“Is the government really saying that providers are turning away people who have the desire and talent to teach physics – and who providers think they can turn into physics teachers?”

Teach First figures

Teach First was set up as a way of attracting graduates to teach in challenging London secondary schools and began by targeting graduates at elite Russell Group universities – although a 2.1 degree from any university is now accepted – attracting 1,300 applications for the first 250 places in 2003.

Since then, it has expanded out of London and now also covers primary and early years.

Provisional DfE figures show that 1,300 people started training with Teach First in September 2017, compared to 1,375 in the previous year. While across all routes 27,720 people started postgraduate teacher training in September 2017, compared to 27,053 in the previous year.

Teach First trainees are trained at a five-week intensive summer school before working in a school as an unqualified teacher for a year, which will include a placement at a second school. On gaining Qualified Teacher Status, candidates then teach as a newly qualified teacher for a further year, there is also additional training leading to a postgraduate diploma in education (PGDE) at the end of the second year.

The scheme has been criticised for its high drop-out rate, with 60 per cent leaving the profession after five years compared to around 40 per cent on other routes. But it was always designed as a way of encouraging high-flying graduates – destined for careers in other professions – to spend some time teaching first.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Last year, more than 50,000 applications to Initial Teacher Training were rejected by providers and, while it is right to reject candidates who are not suitable, we want to make sure that no candidate with the potential to become a great teacher is turned away.

“There are a record number of teachers in our schools – 15,500 more than in 2010 – and these changes will help ensure that trend continues by encouraging universities and schools to assess candidates on their suitability to begin training to teach, rather than expecting them to be ready to teach at the point of application to training courses.

“The bar for entrance to the teaching profession remains as high as ever, as parents and pupils would expect, and this is evidenced by the fact that the quality of new entrants into the profession is at an all-time high, with 19 per cent of this year’s cohort holding a first-class degree.”

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