George Petrou on recruiting teachers
What is Teach First?
Our core aim and vision is to build a fair education for everyone. We work with schools in areas of disadvantage that have a high percentage of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds – from low-income families and those speaking English as a second language, which are often key barriers to education.
What do you do?
We exist to put excellent teachers in schools that need inspiring teachers – where teachers can make the most impact and the biggest difference. Just 22% [pdf] of pupils from free-school-meals backgrounds go to university compared with 85% of pupils from independent or fee-paying schools. We’re trying to even that playing field and make education fair for everyone. That’s what Teach First is all about.
What training do you offer?
We offer a two-year teacher training programme that is fully funded and provides the trainee with Qualified Teaching Status and a Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) – a high-level teaching qualification. You qualify after the first year and then complete the PGDE in the second year. You’re earning from day one in the classroom, at the same time as gaining your qualification.
Who is Teach First for?
It’s a way to train to teach that particularly suits someone who is changing career. Our team helps candidates manage the transition and finds them a school that will be suitable given other commitments they might have. Our students don’t have to incur any tuition fees or return to university full-time; it’s very much on-the-job training and learning.
Where do you find candidates?
We work very closely with the Open University (OU), particularly via our “experienced hires” recruitment team. We recognise that OU students often have a really varied career history and background, and therefore bring lots of different skills and experience to the classroom.
How do you engage with the OU?
We’ve used lots of different methods to engage with OU students. They hold a virtual careers fair called TalentConnect which is a really useful way of getting in touch with students. I also recently hosted an insight day where we invited OU students who were interested in teaching to come and spend a day finding out more about our programme. We’ve hosted lots of conference calls and webinars with students to talk about the different routes into teaching.
Why OU students?
We’ve found that OU students are typically very autonomous and used to independent working, and they’re good at self-managing, which are important skills for anyone contemplating training for a new career and a qualification at the same time. Many OU students are juggling family lives and careers as well as their OU studies, so they possess excellent organisational skills. And that’s exactly what’s required of a teacher – being able to juggle lots of different priorities and remain organised and efficient.
What skills do you need for Teach First?
We don’t require any experience with children. We accept people from all backgrounds without any teaching experience, as long as you have a degree. In terms of the qualities we look for in applicants, it’s a competency-based recruitment process so we’re looking for all the things that make a good teacher – humility, respect and empathy, showing strong leadership skills and being able to plan and organise effectively.
Fozia Yamin on studying for her OU degree and training with Teach First
What was your career before you became a teacher?
I worked in local government and got very tired of it. I did not feel I was making much of a difference, so I decided to re-evaluate my career. Someone remarked that I worked well with children so I decided to investigate that further and became a teaching assistant at my local primary school. I did that for a year and became more and more convinced that teaching was for me.
How did you decide to train as a teacher?
After eliminating primary school teaching early on, I started to narrow my focus as to what subject I wanted to teach at secondary. English is a real passion for me – I particularly loved studying it at A-level – so I decided to become an English teacher. My original degree is in public policy so I decided to pursue another degree. I started my second degree in English through the OU while I was still a TA at a primary school. I did that for a year and loved it. The OU was very supportive – there is a real community element to being part of the OU – and it got me more and more enthused about teaching and especially about teaching English.
How did you discover Teach First?
I looked online and read all about Teach First. It seemed like the best route into teaching for me. They were looking for higher-level graduates and I felt I met the criteria. I decided I would trial the process – I thought I would apply, not get in and then do it properly the following year. My application was really just a recce and I didn’t anticipate getting selected. But I did, thankfully … which was amazing. It came about a bit quicker than I anticipated but I couldn’t say no to the opportunity.
How was your Teach First experience?
Intense! But Teach First offered amazing support throughout. They particularly taught me about the value of mindfulness and the importance of focusing on my wellbeing as a teacher, which is something I’d never contemplated in the workplace before. You’re waning a little bit and your reserves are depleted but Teach First gave me so much energy and sheer enthusiasm. They are so passionate about what they do and that’s contagious. I do love that.
Did you continue studying while training with Teach First?
I had completed the first year of my English degree but I decided to pause it while I was training with Teach First. The first year of Teach First is quite intense – you’re more or less given a full timetable to take care of. The OU was quite flexible and helped me with the process of pausing my studies – they said I could resume it after I’d completed my Teach First training if I wanted to. I was able to transfer credits from my first degree, too, so I didn’t have to do the entire first year.
I’ve been teaching for four years now. This my fifth year. I was lucky enough to get a full-time contract with my Teach First placement school once my training was complete. I’d like to travel in the future. I’m interested in teaching English abroad but that requires me to have an English degree, so I’ve just resumed my OU degree.
How do you juggle studying with teaching?
I don’t see studying as an additional workload. I love English; it’s the whole reason why I became a teacher. You always find time for the things you love to do. My pupils could tell you that I can talk for hours about great pieces of literature and poetry. Studying is obviously going to take up my time at home, but it’s something I love doing.