Has Teach First had to rely on the ‘redbricks’ for growth?

Teach First is the premier teacher preparation programme when it comes to publicity. This week it managed to convince the world it recruits more graduates than any other employer. The DfE as the ultimate paymaster for School Direct, let alone the higher education route into teaching, must has managed a wry smile at the hyperbole created by Teach First’s marketing department.

However, there is something of a more complex picture when you look more closely at the data on applications for Teach First across the first decade of the programme that were revealed in a parliamentary answer recently. In order to compare the original applicants to Teach First back in 2003 with those applying in 2012 you have to strip out the four universities that only joined the Russell Group in 2012, after transferring from the 1994 Group. Between 2003 and 2012 the number of applicants from the original Russell Group of universities for the Teach First programme increased from 873 to 3,563, or an increase of just over four times. The bulk of the increase came after 2009, and the 2012 cohort of applicants will largely have applied for Teach First in the autumn of 2011 when the graduate labour market was still feeling the full effect of the economic recession.

Nevertheless, not all Russell Group universities have seen the same level of increased interest in the programme. Although Oxford and Cambridge attracted applications from 11% and 10% of their average finalist classes in 2012, and could have filled a sizeable percentage of Teach First positions, their shares of total Teach First applications fell by 8% in the case of Oxford and 7% for Cambridge between 2003 and 2012 to just 7% each of the total of original Russell Group applications in 2012 as the programme expanded and sought more applicants. Manchester University took top spot in 2012, accounting for 10% of all applicants from the original Russell Group universities.

However, it is the behaviour of students at the London institutions of Imperial, LSE, University College and Kings College that is possibly the most interesting. Of these four institutions, only Kings College has a School of Education, so undergraduates at the other three institutions are not affected by any loyalty to their alma mater when it comes to deciding where to train as a teacher.

% share of applications to Teach First

2003                       2012

Imperial College                               8%                          2%

University College                            8%                          5%

LSE                                                  4%                          2%

Kings College                                   5%                         3%

In the case of Imperial College, although there were 106 applicants as recently as 2010, the number had declined to 68 in 2012, just one more than the 2003 total. At the other three institutions in London the actual growth in the number of applicants has been healthy between 2003 and 2012, but it was still only around six per cent of the average finalist class size at each institution. The importance of Imperial College as a source of future science teachers probably cannot be overstated, so the relatively poor figures from that institution that mean only one in 20 graduates at Imperial choose to apply for teaching as a career in 2012 through the Teach First route may be worth further consideration. If it reflects the fact that overseas students have not been excluded from the figures for finalists then, on the one hand, the picture may not be as bad as presented here; on the other hand it might raise other issues about the future supply of science teachers.

Outside of Oxbridge the largest percentages of Teach First applicants now come from two of the Russell Group’s newest members: York and Durham Universities. As might be expected, three of the four Russell Group universities outside of England have the lowest percentages of finalists heading to Teach First, although Edinburgh University had six per cent applying to Teach First in 2012 compared with only two per cent from Glasgow University.

Seemingly, if Teach First is to grow much further it will need to either refine its marketing to some Russell Group students or start to cast its net even wider. Perhaps we will soon see Russell Group applicants accounting for around half of all applicants to Teach First rather than 60% of the total as in 2012.

The figures for Teach First applications for 2013 will also be especially interesting to see whether these trends have continued in the face of the wider introduction of School Direct that also offers school-based training, and in some cases is closely modelled on the Teach First approach, but reduced to one year of training.

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