A fast-track First for knowl­edge

Christo­pher Mid­dle­ton on the rise of the young busi­ness-class teacher

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Family & Education -

It’s Thurs­day af­ter­noon and get­ting dark, but while the rest of the pupils at Wem­b­ley High Tech­nol­ogy Col­lege are go­ing home, Melissa Parsey’s Year Seven charges have vol­un­teered for an ex­tra Re­li­gious Stud­ies les­son.

Af­ter a few min­utes, you can see why. In­stead of sit­ting with her feet up and get­ting the chil­dren to read from Leviti­cus, Parsey has pre­pared a lively les­son about the con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­ity of a real-life Puerto Ri­can gang­ster.

The les­son’s a tri­umph, not least when you con­sider that Parsey is only 22, barely two years out of a the­ol­ogy and phi­los­o­phy de­gree at Durham Univer­sity and hold­ing her own in an in­ner-city Lon­don com­pre­hen­sive where 60 per cent of the chil­dren don’t speak English at home.

There are 17 other teach­ers like her at Wem­b­ley (a quar­ter of the com­mon room): all high-fly­ing grad­u­ates who are mem­bers of Teach First, a rad­i­cal new pro­gramme that takes the cream of each year’s univer­sity crop and puts them not into busi­ness or bank­ing, but teach­ing at some of Bri­tain’s most dif­fi­cult schools.

Last year, Teach First hired 280 young re­cruits; this Septem­ber, there will be 350 new­com­ers, for­ti­fied by just six weeks’ in­ten­sive train­ing and a salary start­ing at around £16,000 (more in Lon­don).

“My par­ents were hor­ri­fied when I told them I was go­ing into teach­ing,” Parsey says, with a laugh. “My mother thought I was far too much of a princess for this kind of work.”

There’s no place for tiaras at a tough school, but the in­flux of mo­ti­vated, fast-track teach­ers seems to have worked won­ders. Since the Teach First cavalry came over the hill in 2004, the num­ber of pupils get­ting five A, B or C grades at GCSE has gone up from 40 per cent to 84 per cent — with top marks all round from Of­sted, too.

“Trainees were highly com­mit­ted to Teach First’s aim of coun­ter­ing ed­u­ca­tional dis­ad­van­tage and had a markedly ben­e­fi­cial im­pact on the schools in­volved,” con­cluded Of­sted in­spec­tors in Jan­uary, af­ter visit­ing more than 20 Teach First schools. “Their place­ment as groups of trainees en­hanced this im­pact.”

The Teach First trainees’ work is un­der­pinned by more than ide­al­ism. As well as be­com­ing qual­i­fied teach­ers af­ter a year, they are al­lo­cated pro­fes­sional “men­tors” to help them with ca­reer de­vel­op­ment and they get the chance to hear and meet high-pow­ered speak­ers from the pow­er­ful in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies that help to fund Teach First.

The re­cruits only have to com­mit them­selves to teach for two years, af­ter which they’re free to leave, in many cases to join com­pa­nies at a higher level than con­tem­po­raries who go into a busi­ness straight from univer­sity. Parsey, for ex­am­ple, will start work­ing this sum­mer with the in­ter­na­tional ad­ver­tis­ing agency WPP, partly in New York and Shang­hai: “Af­ter two years of teach­ing, I was a much stronger can­di­date for the job than I would have been be­fore.

The same goes for Teach First con­tem­po­rary Sam Wat­son-Jones, 23, who teaches English at Wem­b­ley High. “You learn so many skills as a teacher,” says the New­cas­tle Univer­sity grad­u­ate. “How to man­age your time, make de­ci­sions on the spot and to deal with 10 dif­fer­ent things and peo­ple at the same time.”

He is also leav­ing teach­ing (for the City) at the end of two years, al­though, like Parsey, he does not rule out re­turn­ing. There are no hard feel­ings on Teach First’s be­half. “If they say ‘I’ve done my bit for so­ci­ety, now I’m go­ing to tre­ble my salary,’ that’s fine,” says ex­ter­nal re­la­tions di­rec­tor Suzi Clark. “The way we see it, we’re help­ing to cre­ate fu­ture busi­ness and gov­ern­ment lead­ers who will never for­get their two years of teach­ing or lose sight of a mis­sion to help dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents. We view our­selves not just as an or­gan­i­sa­tion, but as a move­ment.”

Teach First, 14 Heron Quay, Lon­don E14, (0844 880 1800, www.teachfirst.org.uk)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.