Why apply to Teach First?: An interview with the UK’s largest graduate recruiter

Teach First

Teach First is a two year program that places talented graduates in schools in challenging circumstances as teachers after a rapidly accelerated six week training program. It aims to offer rapid personal development while also contributing to an important social cause. It’s similar to Teach for America in the US.

Founded in 2002, it’s now the UK’s largest graduate recruiter, hiring over 1,500 graduates in 2014, so we’re curious to learn more.

We were approached by the Teach First recruiter at Oxford, Tom Cole, and we offered to do an interview as a first step towards learning more. Teach First’s popularity is equally strong in Oxford as the rest of the country: secondary school teaching one of Oxford’s most common graduate destinations, with about 10% of the class becoming teachers, and a significant fraction of these graduates enter Teach First.

Overall, we don’t yet have firm views on the option; but my initial impression is that it’s a strong, if challenging, option for learning, building career capital and keeping your options open. This makes it an option worth considering early in your career if you have good personal fit. We haven’t yet investigated the potential for immediate impact of Teach First.

In the interview, we focus on the career capital benefits, which we’ve been told are often overlooked by people considering the programme.

The interview was conducted via email, but we met in person with Tom Cole to discuss the content.

A round of edits was made to the post after publication – see the previous version here.

The interview begins below.

What does Teach First offer

What skills do you especially gain on the Teach First Leadership Development Progamme?

As well as providing the pedagogical and classroom leadership training to equip graduates to become outstanding teachers, the Teach First Leadership Development Programme offers the opportunity to take on genuine responsibility from day one. Following 6 weeks of intensive training during the Summer Institute participants are expected to take on a full time teaching role, with all of its inherent the challenges. Participants are required to utilise problem solving, organisational and communication skills daily. Alongside this they are trained to become leaders, in education and beyond, through regular workshops which focus on a variety areas from stakeholder management to self-evaluation. Fundamentally the requirements of teaching in a challenging school provide participants with resilience, self-belief and the confidence to thrive under any circumstances. Rather than starting their career at entry level participants gain a host of skills which would usually only be gained at later stages of their professional careers.

This is what some of our corporate partners say:

‘We continue to work with Teach First because their participants and ambassadors are more than exceptional graduates – they consistently form one of our most valuable talent pools having developed their professional ability through the Teach First programme and beyond.’

‘Goldman Sachs recognises the excellence of successful Teach First applicants and values the experience and skills that are developed through their teaching experience. We take great care in identifying people who share the same qualities, including: a passion for excellence, integrity, a desire to be challenged, and the drive to make a difference in the world.’
Goldman Sachs

Where do people go after Teach First?

Around 60% of participants opt to stay in the classroom, with many entering positions of responsibility. Current statistics show that one third of participants are in a leadership position by the end of their second year and 14 Teach First ambassadors are now in Head Teacher roles. Some ambassadors opt to remain within the education sector, whether in policy, working for Teach First or through setting up social enterprises of their own. Teach First possesses its own internal Innovation Team to support social entrepreneurs and 36 social enterprises have been established by ambassadors.

Beyond education 63% of ambassadors opt to join one of our supporting partners, with 83% of these moving on to one of our Platinum Partners (Goldman Sachs, PwC, Accenture, Aldi and the Civil Service Faststream). Summer Projects are offered by various partner organisations which provide a non-teaching pathway for participants. Recent statistics from Deloitte show that Teach First ambassadors are 5 times more likely to be promoted ahead of other graduate joiners.

In what ways does Teach First help them succeed in these positions?

Teach First’s Ambassador Team provides ongoing support for those who have completed the programme. This can take the form of career advice and guidance, linking in with accelerated leadership schemes or funding for social enterprises. As stated above the programme provides participants with a skill-set which is highly valued across various industries. The Ambassador Network also provides outstanding networking opportunities and the chance to seek advice from a range of sources including business leaders, professional coaches and head teachers.

Why Teach First

What are the most common alternatives for someone interested in Teach First? (i.e. if they hadn’t done Teach First, what else would they have done?)

Some people join knowing they want to work in education and so alternative routes into teaching are often considered, including the traditional PGCE route and the newer Schools Direct scheme (read more).

Potential candidates may also opt to work within the charity sector or for similarly vision aligned graduate schemes such as Frontline.

Others might be interested in the corporate sector such as finance or consulting- often joining our Platinum Partners.

What are the main pros and cons of Teach First compared to common alternatives?

Unlike a traditional PGCE or Schools Direct, Teach First provides participants with a fully funded PGCE qualification, , and a salary from the first day of term. Unlike a traditional PGCE, participants are given full ownership of their classroom from day one. They are also provided with additional leadership development training and the opportunity to gain additional skills through workshops and summer Projects. They are also able to access the Ambassador Network which plugs them into a community of other like-minded professionals.

Teach First has been voted number 2 in the Times Top 100 employers in 2014, meaning that teaching in a school in challenging circumstances is now the second most prestigious career choice for graduates. That’s incredible.

Because, Teach First exclusively places students into schools in challenging circumstances, it allows them to make such a significant impact and offers them genuine career development, but it can result in a more challenging introduction to teaching.

Unlike a PGCE and Schools Direct, Teach First participants are placed in the schools that have the greatest need and so, although, they are able to state a locationpreference, participants are placed based on their subject skills and the needs of the partner schools.

Moving directly into the corporate sector will most likely provide students with a higher starting salary and very different challenges to teaching, However, initial training is unlikely to provide the same levels of first day responsibility and opportunities for and leadership development.

What evidence do you have that Teach First improves education outcomes?

Teach First has had a number of significant impacts, both on educational outcomes and the teaching profession as a whole. Teaching is now seen as a far more aspirational route for graduates, Teach First has climbed the Times Top 100 graduate employers year on year, reaching 2nd place in 2014. This has been achieved through providing a market leading development programme which enhances participants’ options beyond the 2 years.

London has undergone a transformation over the past 10 years in terms of education and now stands as one of the few capital cities in the developed world where education outstrips that of the rest of the country. Teach First has played a significant part in this change, and whilst it is difficult to measure its specific impact amongst a number of factors studies show that partnering schools who partner with Teach First show a positive correlation in terms of results.

Teach First is also strongly tied into higher educational access. Our Futures Programme (formerly HEAPS) offers mentoring opportunities to 6th form students. The programme has proved highly successful with almost 90% of pupils recognising that it played a significant role in supporting them to reach university.

It is difficult to measure the impact of ambassadors who leave the classroom, however 63% of ambassadors in business work for supporter organisations, and 84% of those work for our Platinum Partners. 36 social enterprises have also been established by former participants and that is a real testament to the commitment which the charity instils. Fundamentally Teach First demonstrates that it is possible to engage the highest achieving graduates in the cause of overcoming educational disadvantage, not just for 2 years but across their careers.

Who should apply to Teach First

What kinds of people should consider Teach First but often don’t?

If you are looking for a graduate scheme which offers a genuine challenge, instant responsibility and opportunities for rapid progression then Teach First is an option you should consider. The Leadership Development Programme has recently been placed 2nd in the Times Top 100 for graduate employers, a testament to the benefits it provides. More fundamentally Teach First offers the chance for participants to make a genuine impact from the very start of their career, if you are passionate about making a difference, either as a teacher or as an ambassador, Teach First will provide you with the skills and network to enact real social change.

There remains a lack of clarity around the nature of Teach First as an organisation and the career development opportunities it provides. Teach First is a charity, with a clear vision and mission; not government quango or corporation. Students who are looking to further their careers, but are keen to make a difference should consider Teach First as an aspirational option, not a step away from a career in another sector.

What would the CV of a strong candidate look like?

Strong candidates will possess and be able to offer examples of Teach First’s key competencies:
– Resilience
– Leadership
– Problem solving
– Humility, respect and empathy
– Planning and organising
– Communication and interaction
– Self-evaluation
– Knowledge and engagement with the vision

They will also resonate with our core values:
– Integrity
– Leadership
– Collaboration
– Excellence
– Commitment

These must be clearly demonstrated, the form they take and the examples they use can be hugely varied. Applicants must also possess a 2.1 degree or above, 300 UCAS points and be eligible to work in the UK.

What are the major filters that would suggest you might not be a good fit for Teach First? What are the main reasons the programme doesn’t work out for people?

Due to our rigorous application and assessment process and the strong support network, the vast majority of Teach First participants complete the 2 year Leadership Development Programme. Candidates should be committed to the programme and prepared for the difficulties associated with teaching in a school in challenging circumstances. Teaching is an emotionally draining profession and, as has been recently noted in the media, one that requires hard work and long hours. There are many motivations for joining the programme; some respond to the challenge, some the vision and others the opportunities for professional development. All however must be committed to what is rightly regarded as one of the most challenging and rewarding graduate schemes available. Candidates should also be prepared to relocate (unless they possess significant extenuating circumstances) as participants can be placed across England and Wales.

Those who fail to complete the programme do so for a range of reasons. Often issues relate to lifestyle or the emotional challenges of teaching.

What are the next steps to joining the programme?

Teach First recruits on a rolling basis throughout the year, however applying early is advised as popular subjects (such as English and the Humanities) tend to fill up quickly. If you decide to open an application via our website you will be contacted by a member of our graduate recruitment team who will guide you through the application process. Teach First provides market leading support to applicants who are given one to one advice on completing their application form and preparing for the assessment centre.