Every day working at Teach First I am reminded why the charity’s work matters.
It’s never clearer than when speaking with those whose lives have been changed by a Teach First teacher. This week I had the chance to listen to a recital of a poem written by a pupil at a secondary school in West London. They wrote it about their teacher, a Teach First teacher, because this teacher unlocked that student’s love of poetry during their English lessons. When this student’s passion for poetry unfurled itself in class, the teacher encouraged the student to enter the Busta Rhyme competition – a competition for the finest young poets in England and Wales and potential Poet Laureates of tomorrow. The student will now share their poem at a future Teach First event.
Another pupil performer spoke passionately for several minutes about how their life had changed because they now had a teacher who was ‘on their side’. It was a powerful performance – the sort that leaves your hairs on end.
In just three weeks at Teach First I have met a great number of remarkable people – teachers, ambassadors (former participants in their Leadership Development Programme) and staff – all working to change the reality that a child’s ability at school and in later life is often limited by their socio-economic background. In practice, this means that kids with poorer Mums and Dads begin life facing obstacles to their success that their wealthier peers simply do not encounter. This vision is compelling, and this collective commitment to achieving it is inspiring and infectious. After all, who would disagree with these aims?
It also resonates personally for a few different reasons. Namely, because: my Mum is a teaching assistant; her parents were both teachers. Neither of my parents went to university, I did (though I wasn’t always sure I would). I have a select few leaders at school to thank for me being here at all, writing this daft blog.
And, reflecting as I have on the eve of an important election day, I’m inclined to make this political – or, rather, to underline with thick, black permanent marker some of the reasons I think there has never been a more important election in terms of ensuring education and social mobility issues remain at the heart of our political agenda. If you haven’t, check Teach First’s manifesto – the document clearly proposes a few achievable targets for the next government that will go a long way in securing a quality education for low-income students. It’s a good start. Education Executive and TES both offer important further reading on what this election means for education, if you’re interested.
Social mobility, the Teach First manifesto argues, is an economic as well as a political imperative. My key takeaways and personal highlights from it are:
• Expert careers advice should be provided in every school – every school to have a leader dedicated and trained to support young people’s futures and employers should offer one day a year voluntarily to support schools’ careers advice;
• More early help should be offered to students on getting to university – UK-wide support for disadvantaged pupils for considering and going to university, starting before age 16. This support needs to be in every part of the country, especially where there are no universities.
• Erase student debt of teachers working in challenging schools and shortage subjects – clear up to 50 per cent of student debt after five years for any new teacher working in an area facing challenges, or in a shortage subject such as science and maths;
• And, finally – to implement a national fair funding formula – giving schools with students from disadvantaged backgrounds and low grades their fair share.
These bold proposals will go some way in helping ensure our schools are properly funded and that young people receive quality education as a fundamental human right (while we still have them). I urge you to read through them in full and consider the decisions being taken locally in your area and use your imperative to act. The first step we can take to is elect representatives that genuinely care about these issues too.
Education is too valuable to be ignored or stripped down. Whatever your vote today, please ensure our politics continues to debate and act on the issues that matter.