Managing Risk at Teach First

Following on from @miss_mcinerney’s blog on the myths about Teach First it struck me that many of the conversations in response focused around whether or not Teach First a risk to the education of young people.

In the interests of transparency I thought I’d set out what happens when it goes wrong within a school and what’s done at each stage to mitigate risks and manage issues. I explained the processes below to each head teacher before making a placement – it’s also set out in writing for schools too.

The first mitigation is the recruitment process. Entry criteria, an application form, a full day assessment centre (which include some teaching to assessors) all of which look at collaboration, interaction, commitment, knowledge, resilience, excellence, self-evaluation, planning & organising, integrity, humility, respect & empathy, leadership and problem solving. There is then a subject knowledge audit from university tutor and safeguarding checks. Getting it right starts when the application goes in.

Once through this the second mitigation against poor performance in the classroom is a six week intensive summer school where you’re worked hard and tested further. You teaching, academic ability and the competencies listed above are assessed by Teach First staff, the HE team (drawn from over 14 universities across the country) and the head and staff at your own school. The six weeks is the last part of the recruitment process and if you don’t pass you don’t go into school.

So we’ve tested and tested some more. We now have a group of recruits who understand the basics and are ready to go. The third mitigation is the extensive system of support given to each participant. As a minimum (and many schools go way beyond this) a tutor from the university makes at least 17 visits over the year, a mentor from within the school has time protected on their timetable for 1 to 1 meetings each week and conducts further observations on top of that and Teach First staff (also qualified teachers) made additional pastoral visits. This team around the participant is flexible and responds to the needs of each individual. Is it perfect? No – often one of those support strands doesn’t do what it needs to and so in that case the others flex to pick up the slack until the problem (whatever that might be) can be resolved. It was my job to make sure I knew where these problems were and ensure they were resolved quickly.

The fourth mitigation is the ‘participant support process’. This kicks in when someone is struggling and not making the progress that’s needed. For maybe 10% of participants, at some point, one of the team (or the participants themselves) flag up an issue. This could be anything – they can’t control their class, they can’t differentiate up and down, they can’t keep on top of the workload are most common in my experience. Once flagged the mentor, tutor, participant and I are around a table within 48 hours and, if necessary put together a ‘support plan’. This lasts for six weeks, has targets and additional support, a mid-point review and a final review. It recognises that some people just need a bit of extra help here and there and about 10% of participants in my experience need one. Everyone throws in some additional resources and energy and about 80% of the time we succeed and the participant moves back into the mainstream.

But what happens to the 20%? The fifth mitigation is ‘Cause for Concern’. This is the business end. It’s a final action plan like the one above, usually 4 weeks that says look – this is serious,  you need to make some progress or you’ll fail the course and leave the school immediately. It’s the safety net for schools and means they aren’t stuck with staff who aren’t having the impact they need. Now we’re dealing with smart people here – we’ve recruited them because they are reflective and have empathy. They know it isn’t working and it’s not for their lack of trying. Often when it gets to this stage the school and teacher have an amicable conversation and part ways before it gets anywhere near 10 weeks (6 on support plan and 4 on CFC).

So there you have it – start to finish – but does it work? When I left in 2012 93% of participants gained QTS having started the summer school. 7% either didn’t make it through the six week summer school, reached the end of cause for concern without making the required progress or parted ways with their school before they got there. What was always most interesting is that it was often me kicking myself when it didn’t work (it was by far the worst part of my job) and not the school. Heads are a sensible bunch, they understood the risk, they understood the process and when they sat it alongside their recruitment for any other staff members it measured up. If it didn’t Teach First would have vanished long ago.

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