Pat Black: Teach First collaboration helps raise standards

Throughout my career, I have been motivated by the power education has to transform the lives of young people, especially those from poorer backgrounds.
Schools should embrace the new approach. Photograph: GettySchools should embrace the new approach. Photograph: Getty
Schools should embrace the new approach. Photograph: Getty

Every child deserves the best start in life, and the importance of having the best possible leadership and teaching in the classroom has been shown time and time again. In schools, excellence matters and we should all aspire to the highest quality teacher training.

My current role as Head of Teacher Education at the Institute for Education at Bath Spa University, has allowed me to draw together tackling educational inequality and teaching excellence.

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Bath Spa has been training teachers for 70 years and we are proud of our exceptionally high standards.

I was born in Scotland and am Scottish at heart. Therefore, I’ve been impressed, with the clear statements from the Scottish Government to make tackling the attainment gap and improving education outcomes their top priority.

There is determination across the education sector to maintain Scotland’s high standards, particularly in how it recruits, trains and accredits new teachers. However, that determination must go hand in hand with a flexibility to adopt innovative approaches, which have been successful elsewhere.

At Bath Spa, we offer a range of routes into teaching, one of them being with Teach First. Our experience of working with them has been hugely positive. Crucially, the teacher education programme we operate with Teach First has been complementary and not in contradiction to our other teacher education pathways.

What often strikes me about the people Teach First recruits is that they may not have been attracted to the more conventional routes into teaching. This means a group of people are joining the profession, who had never been targeted before.

We have successfully worked in partnership with Teach First for five years, and have recently worked with them and several English universities to co-create an innovative training model built on a two-year PGDE qualification for participants. This has included Bath Spa working with Cardiff Metropolitan University to place Teach First participants in Welsh schools.

This equates to the qualification offered by Higher Education providers in Scotland and is double the academic value of a standard PGCE teaching certificate in England.

The programme is a partnership harnessing the unique expertise of the university, Teach First and the schools themselves. We each have a crucial part to play and can learn from one another to make sure we’re producing talented teachers.

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The evidence shows that the partnership is working. Independent research has shown that two years after school departments partnered with Teach First, they outperformed other departments in the same school by 16 per cent. Additionally, Teach First teachers could be adding as much as 30 per cent of a grade per student.

As Scotland considers its next steps in improving educational standards, I would suggest that policymakers are motivated by that kind of evidence. Not least by improving outcomes for those children who are least privileged.

We know how motivated the teachers we train are in tackling inequality. Three years after they enter the profession, Teach First teachers have been shown to be three times more likely to be working in schools facing the greatest challenge. I’m proud that we are delivering results when it really matters.

Scotland is rightly proud of its educational heritage and is home to some of the best universities in the world. It is well placed to build for a future founded on high teaching standards and proven new approaches. Higher education institutions have much to gain from being part of this drive to attract a new generation into the classroom and will be part of a long-overdue increase in status for the profession.

At Bath Spa’s Institute for Education, our traditional routes into the teaching profession are high quality and very successful, but that does not reduce our enthusiasm for new approaches that are proven to work. The debate about Teach First is an important one for Scotland to have, as the outcome has the potential to improve the lives of those children who deserve it most.

• Pat Black is Head of Teacher Education at the Institute for Education, Bath Spa University

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