I’m suffering from a slight disadvantage this afternoon because I’ve been I think what’s called parachuted in at the last minute. You’ve been here all day presumably, discussing these issues. So trying to catch-up with where you’ve been is always a bit challenging. I was fascinated to hear the report backs just now. Clearly a lot of very valuable discussions have taken place. Dame Julia Cleverdon whose idea this really was has been taking copious notes while everybody has been speaking. I suspect some very valuable lessons and hints would have been picked up as a result of all your discussions and your contributions today. I must say I’ve just come in from talking to some of the Teach First teachers and some of the students who have told me how much they’ve benefitted by this approach within their own schools. I must say I can only congratulate Sam Nassiri on giving such a marvellous idea, from his own experience, of what Teach First had done for him and what he hopes it’s going to do when he gets to university when he passes the International Baccalauréat (IB). Having been the past President of United World Colleges, when I came across that IB then it terrified me. You’ve got to be jolly clever to do it I think.
For me it’s been fascinating to watch the progress of Teach First. When it first started only a few people showed much interest but now it really is remarkable how many graduates have seen the point and are really turning their teaching experience to good effect. It was riveting hearing from them earlier about just how rewarding it is for them and also how valuable the mentoring process can be for young people who perhaps haven’t had the original aspiration but as has been said today, when it’s explained and made clearer ....I thought the point made just now, about making sure that the private sector in particular indicates the kind of courses you need to study to get to the jobs, is a very important one. Otherwise you hear so often about people doing courses at university who then find when they get out into the wider world that they actually have to go through a process of re-education because in fact that course wasn’t necessary always relevant to what they wanted to do.
I need hardly say that as Patron of Teach First, I really am delighted to have this brief chance to attend this higher education seminar and also to hear how schools and businesses and universities can support Teach First in getting some of our brightest students to our best universities. I am enormously grateful to you all for giving up so much of your precious time to think through how we can build this partnership and sooner rather than later.
As always, being in Cambridge brings back happy memories of undergraduate days over forty years ago, especially as the Master of Corpus Christi and his wife and I were here at exactly the same time! I am enormously grateful to Stuart Laing for his generous hospitality today and for the College’s extensive help to Teach First. It is this College, as you may know, which had the foresight to support the residential course to encourage top university applications by those pupils who Teach First teachers have identified as brighter than they were at the same age and stage! So we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to this college in particular.
I have just had the opportunity to meet some of those young people who have gained so much from their contact with Teach First over the last few years. All of them have attended schools in challenging circumstances, often with a history of low academic achievement, in some of this country’s poorest communities with high percentages of low income backgrounds. They told me of the difference that great teaching from inspiring teachers has made to their future.
I have to say that this was music to my ears as both Teach First and my Teaching Institute aim to encourage and foster powerful teaching, characterized by subject depth. In 2002 I began an initiative to try and re-inspire subject teachers, the Education Summer Schools we started, which has grown into the Prince’s Teaching Institute and which by 2010 has had teachers from more than twenty per cent of all English secondary schools on its courses. We started with summer schools focussed on English and History, as I was determined to ensure that Language, Literature and an understanding of where we have come from, which represent a common inheritance, did not just end up as the preserve of a few determined enthusiasts. And Teach First, of course, is ensuring that a wider access to the best universities is made increasingly possible.
Recruiting and inspiring subject teachers who see teaching as leadership has been the mission of Teach First for the last nine years. The fact that so many have applied to teach in the most challenging schools this year (nine per cent of Oxbridge final year students just to make a small and rather parochial point!) is illustrative of what can be achieved, and underlines the degree to which so many of the University Admissions departments and Careers Services have provided such marvellous assistance.
As President of Business in the Community, I am proud to have played a very small part in commissioning the McKinsey review which brought Teach First into being in the United Kingdom and Brett Wigdortz to be the Chief Executive. I must say, I can only congratulate Brett and his team on their immense achievement in driving forward this initiative which now aims to recruit more than 750 teachers this year, and to have Teach First teachers in fifty per cent of all challenging secondary schools in England by 2015. But I think we all owe a very particular debt of gratitude to Dame Julia Cleverdon for what can only be described as the magnificent result of her extraordinary determination and enthusiasm.
If you want a classic example of the remarkable added value of Teach First, then I would draw your attention to Bethnal Green Technology College, which I visited three years ago when they came out of special measures and achieved thirty per cent A to C’s, only to find that they have now reached sixty-nine per cent, including English and Maths, with thirteen Teach Firsters in the staffroom and an inspirational Headteacher!
What has been spectacularly achieved in transforming results in the most challenging schools should perhaps encourage us all to redouble our efforts to ensure that an exceptional university education is available to all those who really deserve it and can benefit from it. Many universities are doing their best to reach out, attract and consider a wider range of applicants. Equally, schools are trying hard to prepare pupils from low-income backgrounds to apply. It seems to me that using Teach First teachers, who are in these key schools in increasing numbers, as talent spotters could well be advantageous, particularly in partnership with business, who can play such an important role through programmes like Business Class.
Having said all this, I just wanted to say how grateful I am to Lord Adonis, who saw the point of Teach First from the early days and who, I am delighted to say, has become a trustee of Teach First. Needless to say it has been fascinating to hear some of the workshop conclusions and I much look forward to further discussions about the next steps in this Teach First University partnership, and to hearing the results of today’s deliberations. Thank you so much for all your involvement. It is absolutely crucial.