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The Teach First advert trivialises teachers and teaching

teach firstI read the Teach First advert spoof by @HeyMissSmith  and had a good snigger. @HeyMissSmith has form in this area.

And then I saw the advert and stopped laughing.

The main premise of the advert is that there is such a thing as “inequality in education”. It quotes figures about inequality in society and then uses those figures to make their point about education. Apparently poor people stay poor. Who knew?

But worry not fellow eduBloggers and eduTweeters because Teach First has a cunning plan. It intends to resolve inequality in education. The plan doesn’t address the issues in society that cause inequality. No, that would be too easy. This is a proper cunning plan. So, you ask yourselves conspiratorially, what is the master plan?

Well I can tell you. The “cunning plan” involves training graduates who have no experience of teaching, and mostly want to do something else, and let them teach in a poor school. After a couple of years they leave the poor kids to work in marine biology. Fifty per cent or more depending on who you believe leave leave the poor kids to work in marine biology.

Aha you say, is that it? Where’s the cunning in the cunning plan? And after you’ve said that, marine Biology, why always marine biology…..?

But no that’s not it.  The good bit is that after becoming a big success in marine biology they go back to the poor kids and teach them science. I know I know it’s the most cunningest plan ever planned. It’s like Baldrick on some super new neuro drug capable of maxing out cognitive cunningness.

mooo ha ha ha ha and after that; the world!

keeerpppppluuunk_______________________________________________ !

Meanwhile in the real world it seems an unlikely resolution to the problems of inequality. In fact the cunning plan is more plan than cunning. The most shocking aspect of the advert is its honesty. It basically suggests that good teachers don’t want to work with poor children and as a consequence poor children don’t achieve in life. If it’s true, policy makers need to find a solution. The claim being made that graduates of a certain class, and personal ambition, are the solution to the issue even if their real ambition lies elsewhere is pretty ludicrous. Actually it’s quite ridiculous.

The sentiment is very neo-Thatcherite. In the Teach First world there is no society and what matters is the knowledge, ambition and personal attributes of individuals. It’s a discourse that underpins the pedagogy of neo-traditionalist educators. If only poor people knew the stuff that we know they could be just like us. Being just like us is the key because in a world with no power relations the only difference is cultural, them and us.

Basil Bernstein once said that education cannot compensate for society but it can reproduce the cultural inequalities that exist in society.  Bourdieu writing about cultural capital suggested that understanding the transmission of inequalities helps us to recognize the cultural characteristics of individuals and groups that are significant indicators of status and class position.

Think of cultural capital as being like a masonic handshake. Knowing how to shake the hand of a mason would gain you entry to their world not knowing how to do it would exclude you. Knowledge of  masonic hand shakes don’t imbue you with intelligence. Knowing it is not the point; the point is that you are not supposed to know it. You are not supposed to be just like “us”.

Bernstein’s famous work on the reduced language coding of the working classes attempted to show that as a consequence of reduced language coding the working classes were excluded from the power relations of the ruling classes. It doesn’t pass comment on the relative value of working class discourse or indeed that of their supposed “social betters”.

I suppose, if nothing else, Teach First does give the powerful yet another excuse for not addressing the real social issues that cause inequality: zero hours contracts, low pay, an ever increasing pay gap between management and workers, the reduced influence of trade unions, disappearing collective bargaining, the dismantlement of state education, the deifying of the individual at the expense of society. I could go on, no doubt others could add a few more to the list. In the brave new neo-liberal world social enterprises solve problems, only no one has yet quite figured out how they do that.

The most annoying thing about that Teach First advert is not the insidious assumptions about poor people, or that new graduates can teach challenging classes better than more experienced colleagues, or even the implication that somehow the problems of society are caused by teachers and can therefore be solved by them.

No the real problem with the advert is the feeling that it trivialises teachers and teaching.

Related reading

Bernstein, B. (1996). Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity: Theory, research, critique
London: Taylor & Francis.
Bourdieu, P. (1973). Cultural reproduction and social reproduction. In R. Brown (Ed.),Knowledge,  education, and cultural change(pp.pp. 71–112). London: Tavistock.
Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J. C. (1977).Reproduction in education, society and culture. London:Sage

 

Other Links
Andrew McConney, PhD, Anne Price, EdD, Amanda Woods-McConney, PhD Centre for Learning, Change and Development School of Education Murdoch University Perth, Western Australia New Zealand Post-primary Teachers Association http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED529919.pdf
D Muijs, C Chapman, A Collins, P Armstrong – 2010 Maximum Impact Evaluation: the impact of Teach First teachers in schools – Paywall
Julian Vasquez Heilig, Teach for America : A return to the evidence University of Texas http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/tfa-return_0.pdf
Rebecca Allen Jay Matched panel data estimates of the impact of Teach First on school and departmental performance Rebecca Allen Jay Allnutt http://repec.ioe.ac.uk/REPEc/pdf/qsswp1311.pdf
TFA Teachers: How Long Do They Teach? Why Do They Leave? By Morgaen L. Donaldson and Susan Moore Johnson, Phi Delta Kappan http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/10/04/kappan_donaldson.html
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12 thoughts on “The Teach First advert trivialises teachers and teaching

  1. You know what “stuff” poor kids really need to know in order to be a huge success? They need to know the right people. If you read around enough this turns up as a casual aside. So obvious that it barely needs to be mentioned. I noticed it first in an article that was critical of IDS, fact mentioned in passing, his new assistant was a friend of the old one. People are often given their first job by friends of family. This happens in all walks if life. I can understand it. You’re getting a known quantity, you have informal means of leverage & redress if there are problems. But it does need to be acknowledged. Even if TF does give poor kids knowledge & ambition, it doesn’t give them contacts.

    1. Great comment thanks. That is true but does Teach First have a monopoly on being ambitious for students. Many of us experienced teachers were once graduates. Does our experience count for nothing?

      If aspiration is an issue then that can be improved. Poor schools are often caused by weak leadership and not bad teaching. New graduates can’t resolve that issue. In fact the whole premise is ludicrous as far as I am concerned.

      And you are right who you know is more important than what you know. Education cannot resolve many of those issues but good experienced teachers working with good leaders can improve students ability to get good jobs and offer the right careers advice for their personal circumstances.

  2. I’ve made it a bit of a personal rule not to comment on Teach First matters. Whilst I can understand that some feel aggrieved with one training route celebrating its successes, I find that defending attacks on TF only cause further division and vindicate those who wish to convince others that teach firsters think of themselves as ‘different’ to other teachers, which in my experience is simply untrue.

    Anyway, I’ve decided to break my rule, because I found your article quite hurtful in its vitriol. There are many teach first teachers who, having finished their first term, will log on to twitter to seek support, advice and guidance from the community. They will find this article and I find that quite sad. I would humbly request that you use your analytic mind for positive means, as opposed to disparaging organisations doing their best to address a multi-faceted and complex problem.

    With this said, I wanted to rebut what I take to be some of the things in your article that I found to be either distasteful, exaggerated, or false:

    1. Starting at the end, you argue that your chief complaint with TF is that it trivialises teachers, before concluding that teachers have no role in solving any problems in society. I find this to be a spectacular own goal, and wrong. I personally believe that teachers (to be clear ALL teachers) have played and continue to play an integral role in solving many of society’s ills, including making a contribution towards the ongoing eradication of discrimination in all of its forms, and helping social mobility.

    2. You say that TF applicants have no experience of teaching. This is untrue. Many of the best trainees spent a year or two as teaching assistants before applying. Many others spent time in more informal teaching roles (volunteering as mentors or coaches, for example). I have met hundreds of Teach Firsters, and have yet to meet one that had no experience of working with children. Indeed, I believe that it would be almost impossible to gain a place on the programme without it.

    3. I find it distasteful how you refer to the schools Teach First works in as “poor schools”.

    4. Teach First don’t claim that graduates of ‘a certain class, or personal ambition’ are the answer to anything. And TF’s recruitment statistics on trainees from FSM and BAME background are enviable to most.

    5. The social problems you state are indeed big, deep-seated problems, and undoubtedly drive much of the social inequality that we see played out in schools. I’m not sure why TF should be criticised for not trying to solve those, though. Firstly, these problems have existed more or less indefinitely. One charity surely can’t be criticised for not solving wealth inequality. In fact, with our economic system it’s arguable that this is a goal that can simply never be achieved. But secondly, sovling wealth inequality isn’t what Teach First claims to do. They train teachers and place them in schools who struggle to recruit and retain staff. They place teachers in schools with larges numbers of children who, statistically, perform less well in exams than their peer group, on average. They try to ensure children from these schools do well enough in their exams to give them equality of opportunity. The rest of the root stuff can, and should, be going on underneath, but whilst it is, TF simply try to help the children going through the system as it exists.

    Have a lovely Christmas break and a happy new year.

    1. Thanks for the comment appreciate you taking the time to clarify your position.

      1. Starting at the end, you argue that your chief complaint with TF is that it trivialises teachers, before concluding that teachers have no role in solving any problems in society. I find this to be a spectacular own goal, and wrong. I personally believe that teachers (to be clear ALL teachers) have played and continue to play an integral role in solving many of society’s ills, including making a contribution towards the ongoing eradication of discrimination in all of its forms, and helping social mobility.

      I didn’t quite say that. What I said was that TF claim to resolve unfairness in education. The point I was trying to make as that it’s not clear that there is unfairness in education rather that education simply reflects the unfairness in society and that the unfairness in society is intractable. Further down you agree with this point.

      TF describe the unfairness in education as a national scandal. I find it unhelpful and inaccurate hyperbole.

      2. You say that TF applicants have no experience of teaching. This is untrue. Many of the best trainees spent a year or two as teaching assistants before applying. Many others spent time in more informal teaching roles (volunteering as mentors or coaches, for example). I have met hundreds of Teach Firsters, and have yet to meet one that had no experience of working with children. Indeed, I believe that it would be almost impossible to gain a place on the programme without it.

      It took me 5 years to become a good teacher. I have worked with probably 30 or so NQT’s and not one of them became competent in less than two year. Most took 5 or so the same as I did.

      3. I find it distasteful how you refer to the schools Teach First works in as “poor schools”.

      Ditto I find it distasteful that the words “local comprehensive are used to denote a failing school in the advert.

      But I can see that would be offensive. It was supposed to ironic

      4. Teach First don’t claim that graduates of ‘a certain class, or personal ambition’ are the answer to anything. And TF’s recruitment statistics on trainees from FSM and BAME background are enviable to most.

      The advert uses the phrase “really motivated, talented and committed teachers”. That’s the TF concept isn’t it? What else is there?

      You see the issue. We are all motivated, talented etc (we hope) but this problem goes beyond personal attributes

      5. The social problems you state are indeed big, deep-seated problems, and undoubtedly drive much of the social inequality that we see played out in schools. I’m not sure why TF should be criticised for not trying to solve those, though. Firstly, these problems have existed more or less indefinitely.

      Exactly it needs a co-ordinated policy approach not delegating to social enterprises.

      6, One charity surely can’t be criticised for not solving wealth inequality. In fact, with our economic system it’s arguable that this is a goal that can simply never be achieved.
      I criticise TF for the very argument you present. You cannot use intractable problems to beat up education.

      Given our economic system why present unfairness in education as a “national scandal” it’s downright dishonest.

      The advert is dishonest for the very reasons you give

      7. “But secondly, sovling wealth inequality isn’t what Teach First claims to do. They train teachers and place them in schools who struggle to recruit and retain staff. They place teachers in schools with larges numbers of children who, statistically, perform less well in exams than their peer group, on average. They try to ensure children from these schools do well enough in their exams to give them equality of opportunity. The rest of the root stuff can, and should, be going on underneath, but whilst it is, TF simply try to help the children going through the system as it exists.”

      No it doesn’t. It presents the education system as failing and a national scandal. It is not an ordinary charity it is a sizeable enterprise that just has the words “social” stuck on the front of it because it is convenient.

      The problem needs a properly co-ordinated policy approach. Teach First is consciously or unconsciously part of a broader move to delegate down social policy issues to social enterprises and private companies. It cannot work.

      The problem is simply too big. I’m sorry if it upset you but I see it as a political issue not a personal one.

      We are probably never going to agree on this, and other issues, no doubt but I appreciate the way you’ve gone about debating.

      Have a peaceful Xmas and a prosperous New Year

      1. Thanks for taking the time to reply to my rather long winded response. I would post another rejoinder, but to be honest I can see that Michael has covered most of the points that I would make.

        I would reiterate his plea to you to check out the Fair Education Alliance (http://www.teachfirst.org.uk/about/working-partnership/fair-education-alliance), though, of which Teach First is a founding member. I assume that you are unaware of it, as I think it invalidates the central premise of your blog post (its opening lines are: “The underlying causes of educational inequality are complex and interconnected, and they need to be addressed across the education system and society. No single organisation has the knowledge, resources or expertise to bring about the changes we need to make our education system fair for everyone.”)

        Perhaps this is unsatisfactory. I am worried that you are simply preaching a counsel of despair. In which case, I think that it might be time to get out.

        Maybe Teach First is plucky and idealistic, but surely that is preferable to cynical and defeatist.

  3. I was encouraged by you on Twitter to respond in a blog post, but forgive me for posting a comment instead. (https://twitter.com/EdSacredProfane/status/547150949807312896)

    There are several points I think that misrepresent the aims and methods of Teach First in a way that’s worth highlighting and questioning.

    First, you suggest that Teach First is somehow copping out of solving societal inequality:

    “The plan doesn’t address the issues in society that cause inequality. No, that would be too easy. This is a proper cunning plan.”

    You later specify what you mean by “the issues”, and to them I would add inequality in distribution of wealth, work experience opportunity, maybe also transport links, as well as the regional and societal inequalities you mention. Teach First is a teacher training route and suggesting that it is somehow shirking a more important duty and not being a teacher training route seems illogical: that is simply not what it has been set up to do. And yet, it kind of is doing just that: http://www.teachfirst.org.uk/about/working-partnership/fair-education-alliance Teach First may well be trying to work to improve education through its teacher training activity, but it is also working with lots of other charities and organisations to address other societal inequalities and (frankly) crises (housing, children in care, career pathways etc.). What is crucial to note – which your post does not – is that it is doing this in partnership with others, not alone and certainly not, as you explicitly state, to promote a neo-Thatcherite agenda where all that counts is the individual etc.

    Second, you question the existence of educational inequality, despite the fact that inequality does exist in education. Poorer students do worse at school than richer students. There are exceptions – and they are the ones we should be looking to to learn more from. Experienced teachers are not being denigrated by this being said – it is a statement of fact. As a profession we should be strong enough, in my view, to be honest about this.

    Your post also makes two other claims: that most TF teachers want to do something else, and secondly that there is a lack of respect for working class culture. On the first point, there are several rebuttals that can be made, but, yes, TF is presented as a two-year commitment. The dropout rates during those two years are low, and once qualified the dropout rate is similar to other teacher training routes. However it is worth looking at where they go on to work – it is not a corporate supply chain as you might think. Many work for other charities. Another significant number are returning to the classroom having done something else for a while. I think you misrepresent the organisation by not mentioning these facts. TF is highly selective (I think about 7 candidates apply for each place) which suggests that many want to apply to this teacher training route, and by my reckoning that would suggest that those who are recruited really do want to teach, and teach in schools that serve the most disadvantaged communities in the UK where possible.

    Regarding the disrespect for working class culture – I am afraid this risks sounding like a conspiracy theory. It ignores the demographic of the cohort of trainees and teachers within TF which is very diverse. It misrepresents completely the training that we have received. I would urge you to consider very seriously whether your ire on this score is aimed in the right direction. You should not be criticising an organisation that *only* works with non-selective state schools which in turn only serve the poorest communities in the country. This is infighting and divisive.

    As for the point that they have “no experience of teaching” – well on that point you are (on the most part) correct. But that is why Teach First is a teacher *training* route that awards a PGCE (in partnership with HEIs) to its participants. For organisations that seek to improve schools by placing more experience members of staff into schools that serve poorer communities, you should be writing about Future Leaders, Challenge Partners and others.

    Finally – on a personal note – I think the advert would have recruited me. I applied to TF in my final year of university after a presentation on the milkround which made me feel that (a) teaching (NOT TF – TEACHING ITSELF!) was the most challenging and rewarding thing that I could do with my time, and (b) that every child deserved an excellent education and I should help contribute to that by going to teach in communities where educational outcomes were not as high as elsewhere, or that were very poor. It was inspiring to train alongside others (not all of them that young!) who felt the same. The two years appealed to me because I wanted to keep my options open and a route to a PGCE through an HEI seemed like it would be much more of an active decision to embark on a career for 40 years. Did this make me less committed? Absolutely not. I am no longer in the classroom on a daily basis, but that is because I found another issue in education that I wanted to tackle. Will my next job be in the classroom? Quite possibly.

    I hope you take this comment in the spirit in which it is meant – that I feel you misrepresent a charity which many people really respect, and which is not set up to promote an agenda other than improving education for young people.

    Sorry for writing such a long comment – maybe a separate blog would have been better after all. 🙂

    1. Michael thanks for posting on here. I’m sorry if I have annoyed you and am now going to do it again. Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree.

      Happy Xmas and a Merry New year to you both.
      _____________

      I’ll answer both Jon’s last post and Michael’s together. Partially because I don’t want to get into circular arguments and also I don’t really understand the cycle of doom comments.

      I think I would point Jon back to his own post and the fact that he clearly contradicts himself. Teach First cannot solve the intractable nature of social issues by itself or in partnership with other charities and social enterprises. Each of whom has their own agenda. What they lack is the infrastructure and relationship with other agencies to pull this together to really resolve the problem. I think we all know that…!

      I don’t regard Teach First either as plucky or idealistic. I see it as cynical and part of a political ideology that exists to de-stabilise the education system.

      I do question the existence of educational inequality on the basis that education merely reflects social issues. And as Jon says they are long standing and intractable. Indeed Jon says that given our economic system that is unlikely to change.

      That is why I think the TF advert is so shameless and manipulative. It lays the he problems of society onto education knowing full well that education cannot solve those problem.

      I also agree with Jon (I presume) that what is shameful is the economic system.

      The glaring obvious point that Jon cannot seem to see is that deferring social responsibility from the state to social enterprises is part of that economic system. It’s an ideological driver of it.

      More than all that I just see the whole Teach First concept as trivial If it was just An other charity I would still see it as trivial but well meaning. TF though has a political agenda as do other charities / social enterprises.

      Putting the TF issue to one side the issue of under achieving schools still needs resolving and that needs serious thought from policy makers not social enterprises with really stupid adverts.

      ____________________________

      Apologies if that offends you. And yes I am jaded old windbag…..!

  4. I cannot comment on the accuracy of TF data or the claims you make here on your blog, but what I can comment on, is that TF have got the marketing content of their advert wrong.
    This is no way to entice a potential teacher, nor a campaign to celebrate the work alongside existing colleagues and schools who support – like me – the TF programme. It’s a shame the advert has caused such a fuss, rather than pull us altogether to promote teaching as a fantastic job!

    1. Thanks Ross. Not sure I make any claims here other than my personal opinions on the advert and it’s wider context.

      You are right it’s not a helpful advert. Thanks for taking the time to comment

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