Written evidence submitted by Teach First


Teach First evidence submission: Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

About Teach First


Teach First’s mission is to build a fair education for all. Our challenge is to unlock the potential in all children, not just some. We do this by developing teachers, school leaders and connecting schools to supportive networks so that schools and pupils can thrive.


Our activities include:









About this submission


Teach First believes every child deserves an excellent education and the chance to develop their skills and talents. When some children are systematically left behind it indicates a failure in society, and one we all have a responsibility to correct.


Differences in attainment between different ethnic groups exist. They are worth investigating as we could uncover challenges specific to different groups of children and increase the chance of providing effective support. On average, white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have some of the lowest grades at the end of secondary school, with less than 40% passing English and maths. But it’s important to remember that the factor uniting pupils performing worst in school is not the colour of their skin. It’s poverty. Among every ethnic group, except Chinese, children eligible for free school meals are less likely to pass English and maths than white children not eligible for free school meals.1






1 Department for Education, Key stage 4 performance 2019 (revised), 2020





White disadvantaged children are not alone in having the low average attainment; less than 40% of disadvantaged children from Black Caribbean and mixed white and Black Caribbean background pass English and maths.2 And as with any label used to describe groups of the population, white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds represent a range of cultures, experiences and perspectives. But there are reasons for concern; between 2003 and 2014 white children eligible for free school meals saw smaller increases in attainment than children from other ethnic backgrounds eligible for free school meals.3


There are various studies investigating the differences in attainment by ethnic groups and deprivation. They point to a number of factors, including parental attitudes and geography. White disadvantaged families are more likely to live in what the Local Trust has described as ‘left behind areas’, characterised by low levels of investment, therefore lacking services and facilities enjoyed in other parts of the country.4


We have interrogated the challenges particularly prevalent in majority white working-class areas, but we believe the solutions we propose would raise standards in education across the country. Nothing we say in this submission detracts from the urgent need to tackle the unique disadvantages of racial discrimination and injustice. And the most effective policies will benefit all young people who face disadvantage. It is not a zero- sum game between young people of different races and heritage; we can benefit them all.


We draw on our experience in training and developing teachers and leaders in these areas, and on conversations with five headteachers at Teach First partner schools. Thank you to:



We would be delighted to arrange a session for the committee to engage directly with headteachers who can share further insights from their extensive experience of supporting pupils to achieve against the odds.


1.    Helping pupils think about the future


Many white working-class areas are either far from metropolitan centres or lack affordable transport to easily allow commuting. There are a number of qualitative studies, notably by Professor Tanya Ovenden-Hope and Dr Rowena Passy, that suggest young people in coastal communities especially feel there are limited future career opportunities in their local area.5 This can make it harder for pupils to see where a good education can take them, especially if they don’t want to move far away and their families don’t want them to either.




2 Department for Education, Key stage 4 performance 2019 (revised), 2020


3 Department for Education, A compendium of evidence on ethnic minority resilience to the effects of deprivation on attainment, 2015


4 Local Trust, Left behind? Understanding communities on the edge, 2019


5 Tanya Ovenden-Hope and Rowena Passy. Coastal academies: Changing school cultures in disadvantaged coastal regions in England, 2015





Development and support of local economies are therefore at the core of improving education standards. More good jobs locally could increase engagement in education from children and families.


But within current contexts, there are initiatives that can help schools. In her Derby secondary school, headteacher Jo Harlow has made sure careers guidance is at the heart of everything they do, and that it starts in Year 7. According to her, this is the only way to “show students they can be anything they want to be.” In Jo Harlow’s school, this means engaging with businesses, such as maths mentoring from Rolls

Royce. They also bring in coaches to practice job interviews with students. At the school they have a deputy headteacher responsible for pupils’ personal development and they are currently training a careers leader for the school. This investment of staff capacity specifically to support student success after school is an important signal to pupils, parents and staff. After all, if you can see the long-term benefit of working hard in school you’re more likely to engage.


Careers leaders


Our research published in 2017 highlighted that for most young people from disadvantaged backgrounds careers provision was not effective enough. It revealed that less than a third of disadvantaged 18-25 year olds found careers advisers helpful in choosing what to do after finishing school.6 This was despite those young people being more reliant on careers advice in schools, as fewer cited family being helpful in the process of deciding.


This is why it is crucial for schools, particularly in disadvantaged and isolated areas, to provide consistent careers services in line with the eight Gatsby benchmarks. The benchmarks identify eight features of good careers provision. Since the Government launched its Careers Strategy three years ago, significant progress has already been made in many schools. A recent report by the Careers & Enterprise Company found that the average number of Gatsby benchmarks reached by schools has increased from 1.87 in 2016/17 to 3.75 in March this year.7


Our Careers Leader Programme exists to help schools create effective whole school careers strategies. Experience shows when there is a leader in a school responsible for building links with employers, supporting teachers to embed career learning across the entire curriculum, and monitoring the careers provision provided across the school they have a better chance of success. One leader supports clarity and consistency across the whole school and can have transformative benefits for pupils. In 2019 we delivered the Careers Leader programme to 178 schools, of whom 97% satisfied with the content.8 We will continue to train careers leaders in schools serving disadvantaged communities and we continue to need a range of providers to meet the needs of all schools and pupils across the education system.


When the Careers Strategy was launched, the Government dedicated £4 million to train careers leaders for 500 schools, later increasing this to 1,300.9 This push needs to continue.





6 Teach First, Impossible? Improving careers provision in school, 2017


7 The Careers & Enterprise Company, Careers education in England’s schools and colleges 2020, 2020


8 Teach First, Teach First's Annual Report and Accounts, 2020


9 Department for Education, New education and skills measures announced, 2018





Recommendation: Expand funding to ensure there is a fully trained careers leader in every secondary school in the country, prioritising schools serving disadvantaged communities. Provide access to continuous training and development for all careers leaders so that the support they offer pupils is up to date and continually improving.


An early start


The progress of careers provision in secondary schools is positive, but it is becoming increasingly clear that we must start earlier to make sure young people are not ruling themselves out of career options. In 2019, Teach First partnered with Education and Employers to publish research on careers provision in primary school.10 It showed that career preferences and stereotypes are formed early with children holding gendered work expectations from the age of 6.11


In her Ipswich primary academy trust, Anna Hennell James sees first-hand the importance of keeping young children’s minds open about careers. In her primary schools they run a ‘world of work’ programme, where children are introduced to different careers and the kind of skills they require from the age of 5. Within lessons they aim to contextualise learning and always show how it applies to the outside world. This is underpinned by the ambition and self-belief they instil in all children “I have staff who are very good at always challenging pupils in their ambitions – so if they say their dream is to become hairdressers, they’ll be asked ‘why not run your own salon?’”. She says it’s always a balance of showing belief and being practical about the work that pupils need to do to achieve their aims.


The Careers and Enterprise Company launched a Primary Fund in 2019 to start and upscale a range of programmes in primary schools focused on careers learning.12 Lessons from these programmes should be considered carefully and the most successful approaches should be fully funded for schools in disadvantaged areas.


Recommendation: Support schools to implement careers learning from the start of primary school, prioritising disadvantaged areas.


Digital access


It is essential that schools have ways of connecting young people to careers they may not see day-to-day. Without visibility of a variety of jobs, it’s hard to know they exist, and harder still to get into those roles. The COVID-19 lockdown has laid bare how limited online access is for some families - our most recent survey shows that 80% of school leaders in the most deprived schools do not have enough access to devices and internet to ensure all pupils who are self-isolating can keep learning.13






10 Education & Employers, Career-related learning in primary: The role of primary teachers and schools in preparing children for the future, 2019


11 Ibid.


12 The Careers and Enterprise Company, Primary Fund, 2019


13 TeacherTapp survey of 1,539 school leaders on 7 November 2020





There are urgent reasons to rectify this, with significant numbers of pupils now self-isolating every week, disproportionately in poorer areas. If pupils fall significantly behind during lockdown it could impact their GCSE results, which in turn is linked to labour market outcomes.14


But there is also a case for looking beyond lockdown. The Local Trust’s research on ‘left behind areas’ highlighted that a lack of connectivity, both physical and digital, negatively affects deprived communities.15 Increasing connectivity would be an opportunity to broaden student horizons on careers. Accessing varied work experience is typically more challenging in isolated communities, but without it a pupil might miss out on gaining the skills employers expect.16 Many businesses are making flexible and remote working the long- term norm. There’s an opportunity for remote work experience and shadowing opportunities to follow. In recent months we’ve worked with businesses to host successful remote work experience and other employer engagement opportunities.


The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport estimate that digital skills will be necessary for 90% of jobs within 20 years.17 More widespread digital access can enhance young people’s studies, their job prospects and support the economy.


Giving all pupils digital access could transform their studies, increase access to work experience and create a greater understanding of how to use digital tools for the world of work.


Recommendation: All young people should have quality digital access. We’re calling on government to expand their laptop and internet programme, and asking large businesses to step up to help address digital exclusion. This would allow every young person to access a laptop or tablet to study, not a shared phone. And it would provide young people with sufficient high-quality internet access, not capped mobile data.



2.    The highest standards


For each of the headteachers contributing to this submission, the main message to their pupils was, as Kathryn Hobbs phrased it: “You’re important, we value you, you can do this.” Every headteacher had an uncompromising attitude to delivering the quality education pupils deserve as well as expecting them to bring their best selves to the school grounds. Some of them emphasised the need to create a physical environment instilling pride and catering to pupil interests. But they all highlighted that it’s impossible to create the right culture and increase attainment without an excellent workforce.







14 Department for Education, Post-16 education: highest level of achievement by age 25, 2018


15 Local Trust & Good Things Foundation, Why is digital connectivity important for communities during and beyond COVID-19?, 2020



16 NFER, Young people’s aspirations in rural areas, 2011


17 Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, UK Digital Strategy 2017, 2017





Recruiting and retaining teachers


Providing high quality teaching is the single most important thing a school can do to improve their students’ academic outcomes. This is particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, where research suggests the difference between a more or less effective teacher is equal to a whole year’s worth of learning.18 As Jo Harlow told us, “if I had good specialist teachers in every area of my school, it would be buzzing.”


Teachers in the most disadvantaged secondary schools are twice as likely to say that their department is not well-staffed with suitably qualified teachers.19, Attracting staff, especially in isolated areas with less transport links, is particularly challenging. For staff who want to work in the schools facing the greatest challenges, workload relating to high pressured and regular Ofsted inspections can be an additional deterrent. The headteachers we spoke to said that it can be seen as a high-risk career decision to move to a school in challenging circumstances. If we don’t provide support to attract and retain teachers and school leaders in these communities, it’s pupils that miss out.


Teach First was set up to help address this challenge and we’re proud that over 14,000 people have joined our Training Programme since 2003. The majority of whom are in teaching today. We’ve grown significantly over our history and last year attracted 10% of all new maths teachers, and closer to a quarter of

new maths teachers in schools serving disadvantaged communities. But with a growing secondary school population and ongoing shortages we’re only part of the solution. Amongst graduates, interest in teaching has been declining for a number of years.18 System-wide change is required.


To build a fair education for all, working in schools serving disadvantaged communities must be the most attractive career choice. In Southampton, Jason Ashley implemented a range of measures to motivate staff and make sure they feel valued which has supported retention. It includes a £1,500 ‘accomplished teacher’ reward, which is paid on a retainer, as well as an impressive offer of high-quality professional development. For these and several other well-being initiatives, the school has an ‘Investors in People’ platinum award.


We called for teacher starting pay to be increased to £30k to reflect cost of living and to compete with other professions. The Government’s plan to raise starting salaries to £30k by 2023 is welcome. However, it doesn’t steer teachers to the schools where they’re needed most. Even in the current climate of higher than average applications to teach,19 further steps will be required to get and retain staff in the communities where they’re needed most.


Currently, teachers in shortage subjects who trained through non-salaried routes are eligible for retention bonuses, paid directly by the Department for Education at different points in their first five years of teaching.20 These payments are higher in 39 disadvantaged local authorities, but this deprivation premium has reduced from £5,000 originally, to £3,000 in the most recent iteration of the scheme.21 We believe the most important




18 High Fliers Research, The UK Graduate Careers Survey 2019: Research briefing for Teach First, 2019


19 Education Policy Institute, Teacher supply and Covid-19, 2020


20 Payment schedules and amounts vary between cohorts. Department for Education, Early-career payments: guidance for teachers and schools, 2019.


21 Ibid.





purpose of retention payments is to draw teachers to schools facing the greatest challenges, and therefore that the premium linked to disadvantage should be increased.


Attracting and retaining great staff underpins all other efforts in successful schools. The schools with engaged staff who know they are valued, and their development is invested in, are more likely to improve retention and pupil results.


Recommendation: Give schools in disadvantaged areas the resources to invest in their workforce to support attraction and retention. This includes:


-          Extending retention payments for early-career teachers to teachers trained through all routes and increasing the premium for working in disadvantaged schools.

-          Providing greater access to high-quality CPD and qualifications for staff in disadvantaged schools.

-          Ensuring that funding increases and the COVID-19 catch-up premium is weighted towards schools serving disadvantaged communities where the need is highest.


3.    Family links


Research has reached various conclusions on the reasons behind gaps between children from different backgrounds, including parental behaviours and attitudes.22 School leaders and teachers often report barriers to learning if the parents of pupils don’t have a positive view of education. This was mentioned by every headteacher contributing to this submission. Dr Lawrence Foley, himself from an East London working-class background, said some families see their children’s school as an extension of a system they don’t trust: “There are pockets of parents who have had negative experiences of the education system, and the school to them is like a tentacle of the state reaching into their lives.”


This issue of trust can be difficult to overcome. Anna Hennell James argues that histories of unemployment or low-wage employment have created scepticism around the point of education: “There’s no doubt every single parent in our schools wants the best for their child. But the best in their view does not necessarily include educational attainment.” Considering why this may be a particular challenge in many white working- class families, she said that children of first or second-generation immigrants are often raised in environments where rather than being seen with suspicion, education is considered a valuable asset.


Representation in school


According to Lawrence Foley, the most powerful way to overcome scepticism towards education is representation. When he was leading a secondary school in East London, he found the best way to initially build trust was mentioning that attended the primary school around the corner, which many pupils and parents had also attended. Once parents realised his background was similar to theirs, he felt his interest in their children’s success was seen as more authentic. To increase working-class representation among his staff when recruiting he has had offered flexibility on degree classifications for graduate mentors. They can then train to become teachers at the school, and he sees the benefits of offering pupils role models with shared experiences. Jason Ashley, has also found his own working-class background has put him in a




22 Steve Strand, Ethnicity, gender, social class and achievement gaps at age 16: Intersectionality and ‘Getting it’ for the white working class, 2014





position to better understand parents at his school, who he feels respect him both for his approaches and his background.


We know representation matters and we want our teachers to be reflective of the diverse communities we serve. That includes attracting people from working class backgrounds. We’re committed to making sure our programmes attract and support people from all backgrounds, and this year 28% of our new teachers themselves attended a Teach First eligible secondary school in disadvantaged community. We continue to pursue ways to increase equality in our selection processes and we recruit from a broad range of universities to support the diversity of candidates.


However, young people from white working-class backgrounds are the least likely to go to university in the first place, creating a smaller pool of potential teachers to provide relatable role models in school. The UCAS entry rate explorer, comparing university access across groups with a combination of characteristics such as ethnicity, FSM status and POLAR quintile23, shows that the only subgroups with entry rates below 10% are white.24 This exemplifies why representation matters, and for now why other methods are also necessary to increase parental engagement in schools.


Engagement and support services


Every headteacher who shared their experiences reported increasingly supporting families beyond education. In Anna Hennell James’ primary academy trust, the focus on pastoral services has increased over the past decade. According to Anna, the school “needs to support some people living in a system they don’t always understand.” From help with Universal Credit applications, cooking classes, CV workshops and advice on accessing medical appointments, the headteachers reported being intimately involved with

families’ lives. Anna Hennell James says that having social workers in schools can help to break down barriers – between social services and parents, but also between schools and services, enabling better collaboration.


According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, funding for local authority services supporting children and families fell by 57% between 2009-10 to 2019-20.25 Whilst it is not the purpose nor responsibility of schools to deliver these services, some are, despite already high workloads and tight budgets.


As Kathryn Hobbs described, “our first priority is to make sure pupils are in a fit state to learn.” When she joined the school, she was surprised by the number of non-teaching staff and initially thought it was an area she could reduce. But as time passed, she instead decided to expand the pastoral staff team, realising the extent of their positive impact on pupils and families.


Headteachers highlighted that close contact with families, across a range of services, could increase parental trust in school. During the pandemic some relationships with families had improved, including




23 Developed by HEFCE and classifies small areas across the UK into five groups according to their level of young participation in HE. Each of these groups represents around 20 per cent of young people and is ranked from quintile 1 (areas with the lowest young participation rates, considered as the most disadvantaged) to quintile 5 (highest young participation rates, considered most advantaged).


24 UCAS, Equality and entry rates data explorers, 2020


25 Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2019 annual report on education spending in England, 2019





through the delivery of food parcels. Multiple headteachers reported that although borne out of necessity, the shift to offering wider support to families can have benefits.


Some schools are already pursuing the merging of services to a greater extent. A case in point is The Reach Foundation in Feltham runs the ‘cradle-to-career services’ Children’s Hub and are undertaking a range of initiatives with other local services and civil society organisations.26 This approach has been pursued before, as former policies for extended schools included “childcare, adult education, parenting support programmes, community-based health and social care services, multi-agency behaviour support teams and after-school activities.”27 Research has later found that while these policies have had some lasting impact on school services, momentum slowed with a lack of funding and staffing capacity.28


Not all schools need to be involved in families’ lives beyond education. Many teachers do not want to take on this responsibility and should not be expected to. But a recent survey conducted with Teacher Tapp showed that those working in disadvantaged schools are more likely to be in favour of embedding fully funded services for parents, such as literacy and CV sessions and social service support. In the most disadvantaged quintile of schools, 79% of teachers agreed with this idea compared to 60% of those working in the most affluent quintile of schools.29


For schools that want to run additional services they should be supported to do so to help families thrive, build trust between parents and school, and ultimately support pupil progress. This is only effective if services around schools, including child and adolescent mental health services, other health services and social services are sufficiently funded. Where that’s the case schools can effectively support integration between multiple agencies.


Recommendation: Services around schools must be sufficiently funded, including mental health and social services. Government should make additional funding available for schools that want to employ additional staff trained to run family support services or integrate services between schools and local authorities. This would support pupil progress and parental engagement in school.










26 See The Reach Foundation


27 Department for Education and Skills, Extended schools: Access to opportunities and services for all, 2005


28 Child Poverty Action Group/Family and Childcare Trust, Unfinished Business: Where next for extended schools?, 2016



November 2020