A report by the think tank, Reform, has suggested that schemes such as Teach First have led to overqualified teachers with high training costs, a high level of dissatisfaction and large numbers leaving the profession within a short time.
The think tank criticises these schemes, suggesting they are not worth the cost of the programme and that School Direct apprenticeships are better value and better fit for purpose. Reform’s report argues that there is not enough evidence to suggest that people who perform strong academically are better workers and suggests apprenticeships could provide a better skilled and diverse workforce which would also have higher career satisfaction levels. The report argues this would also lead to improved teacher retention rates.
The scheme at the forefront of this debate, Teach First, is a charity that aims to provide a high standard of teacher training for high academic achievers, giving them the skills to become classroom leaders and placed within schools with a majority of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Here they aim to inspire their students “to build a future they may not have believed possible”.
On Teach First’s website they state that more than half of those who complete the programme continue to teach. However, the website states those who don’t go into teaching often follow education orientated careers with the focus of raising standards and services within the community. In defence of schemes like these, the report does concede that the “increased cost does lead to improved outcome” which indicates that despite the cost and the retention rate, the Teach First method is suggestive of a successful teaching practice despite the low retention rate.
With government backing, in 2014, School Direct training made up around 20% of secondary teachers qualifying that year. Teach First equated to roughly 10%, and University led PGCE courses 60% for secondary education. 
It’s important to maintain alternative routes of teacher training, as it allows for diverse skill sets and preferences. One main danger with the Reform suggestion is, if school-led training were to be made the main route for teachers to be trained by, people with an academic preference or wanting a less immersive training experience may be put off, which contrary to their argument may actually narrow rather than diversify the workforce. It may imbue a culture where not enough importance is placed upon working knowledge of the subject over classroom manner. While there are benefits to teachers training directly with schools, it may become apparent that it’s as important to have academic proficiency and a depth of knowledge of a subject within an academic setting such as a school, as it is to have practical teaching skills.
This is particularly important when considering Teach First, as, although the scheme doesn’t account for a large percentage of overall qualified teachers each year, it highlights the importance of skills such as academic aptitude and knowledge but also gives value to demonstrable practical skills. Even in small quantities, such a scheme holds value for firstly, it’s ability to focus where the need is greatest, but also as it adds a layer of depth and professionalism to teaching that is currently not widely found.
Without this level of experience and knowledge that schemes like Teach First ensure are instilled into their teachers, it may become apparent that it can be difficult to achieve the best results without teachers who have the most expertise.
It seems that for the report to talk about replacing high quality schemes like Teach First with School Direct apprenticeships, would be like talking about saving cost at the expense of quality.
Rather than replacing more expensive programmes with cheaper less effective ones, it would be more beneficial to look at how to combat the higher cost of programmes that are seen to be more effective to make these more accessible.
It would also be beneficial to look at how apprenticeships can be adapted so they incorporate more elements of high calibre programmes that focus on a school centred working knowledge of a subject, allowing teachers to actively support all students through grounded knowledge that can be applied and tested at the highest levels.
Through this, apprenticeships could take on a more adaptive and professional role. When it can be ensured that apprenticeships are able to maintain high standards and progressively apply how apprenticeship programmes are used within education, as well as ensure a high level of subject knowledge, then it would be a good time to look at increasing teacher apprenticeships.
by Leon Hady
He is the former Headteacher of an ‘Outstanding’ school in the UK. He now focuses on online learning having created an online video personalisation portal; helping over 100,000 students pass exams at www.tuitionkit.com and also helping teachers become qualified alongside a nationwide recruitment agency to combat the teacher shortage in the UK www.academics.tuitionkit.com