It is the teacher training programme placing high-flying graduates in disadvantaged secondary schools. Now an education charity is to branch out into the region’s primary schools, writes Kat Keogh
An inner-city school classroom is a far cry from the hallowed halls of Oxbridge, but for Lindsey Mannion, there’s nowhere else she would rather be.
While her peers contemplated careers in law and medicine in London, Cambridge history graduate Lindsay upped sticks and moved to Birmingham after winning a place on the Teach First leadership development programme.
The charity targets high-achieving graduates who wouldn’t normally consider a career in teaching to become “inspirational teachers” and leaders.
According to regional director Jo Graham, the programme aims to give children the best education available, regardless of their family income or education background.
The two-year school places graduates in secondary schools deemed to be in challenging circumstances – where more than half of their pupils are in the lowest family income bands – and has been credited with boosting exam results.
A study by the University of Manchester found secondary schools with Teach First teachers see pupils improve their grades by an average of a third of a GCSE in every subject they study.
More than 180 graduates are working in 49 schools across authorities including Birmingham, Sandwell, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Warwickshire and Worcester.
The programme, which is funded by schools, sponsors and the Government has now teamed up with the University of Warwick to train 15 new primary school teachers to work in the region.
One of those selected to work in primary schools was Lindsey, who has been teaching a class of six and seven-year-olds at Tindal Primary School in Balsall Heath since September.
The 21-year-old said: “Some days can be extremely challenging, but when you see that light going on in a child’s head when they understand something it makes it all worthwhile. It’s not the easiest job in the world, but I can’t imagine any other profession that gives you such satisfaction.”
The move into primary schools at the start of term is an effort by the charity to help tackle education disadvantage early.
Figures published by the Department for Education earlier this year reveal just under a third of secondary school students who are eligible for free school meals end up achieving the benchmark five or more GCSEs including maths and English, compared to 58 per cent of pupils do not.
Brendan O’Driscoll, who manages Teach First’s primary programme across the Midlands, said it was a “very logical progression” to go into primary schools.
He said: “We don’t have the monopoly on all good teachers out there, but we want to add to the pool out there Part of our rationale is that quality teaching is part of raising children’s aspirations for the future. It is about improving the quality of teaching and giving schools access to expertise.”
As well as Tindal Primary School, Teach First graduates are also currently teaching in Al-Furqan Primary in Tyseley and Erdington Hall Primary School, as well as secondary schools including St Alban’s Academy in Highgate, Yardleys School and Harborne Academy.
“The first term is always going to be very challenging for people who are new to teaching, but they are knuckling down,” added Mr O’Driscoll.
“We set the academic barrier very high, but we look for a very high level of commitment to the mission of working in schools that are challenging. They are not just academically able – we are looking for people with leadership potential and who can get on well with children, staff and parents.”
For Lindsey, who is coming to the end of her first term at Tindal Primary School, teaching is a long-term career.
She said: “I’m from Ascot and living in Birmingham is so much bigger than where I grew up that I feel like I’m learning something new every day about different cultures and backgrounds.
“Teach First isn’t about saying that teachers haven’t been doing a good enough job, but this is about coming into teaching and having higher aspirations and helping to change attitudes.”