SCOTTISH universities that currently offer teacher training courses have agreed unanimously not to work with controversial fast-track body Teach First.

The Scottish Council of Deans of Education said Teach First was not compatible with their aims of recruiting teachers for a career in the profession.

Under Teach First, some graduates use the scheme to gain leadership experience before moving on to other careers, which means retention rates are lower than for other courses.

The intervention is significant because Teach First is currently considering bidding for a new fast-track course to recruit Scottish teachers.

Under the terms of the Scottish Government tender any successful bidder would have to work in partnership with a university - although this could include an English university.

The council represents the universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Highlands and Islands, Stirling, Strathclyde, the University of the West of Scotland and the Royal Conservatoire.

Dr Morag Redford, Head of Teacher Education at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: “The agreed position of the council is that none of the members will be working with Teach First.

“We have a commitment to work on innovative routes into teaching that we have proposed that are now up and running and we are committed to working in partnership with councils who provide the key placements and staff mentors.

“We want to contribute teachers to the profession who will work long term in Scotland and contribute to our education system and the evidence from Teach First is that, after a five year period, a larger number have left the profession.”

A Teach First spokesman said: "Whilst the council is a representative body, we nevertheless have had positive conversations with a number of Scottish universities.

"We are confident of partnering with a Scottish university should we choose to bid for this or future tenders."

A freedom of information request to Scottish universities revealed that Teach First has contacted a number of institutions to arrange meetings in the past few months.

One letter from Teach First to the University of the West of Scotland from July states: “The university’s focus on inclusivity and economic transformation aligns perfectly with our mission to end educational inequality and our current campaign around social mobility.

“If you would be amenable I would very much like to visit your campus to have a discussion and see your curriculum in practice.”

Another email to Glasgow University states: “Scotland has a long-standing reputation for academic rigour and innovation in its initial teacher education and I am keen to learn more about your provision.”

Neither university agreed to a visit from Teach First.

The freedom of information request also revealed that leading business organisation CBI Scotland wrote to Strathclyde University on behalf of Teach First.

The email from September says Teach First has proved controversial in Scotland.

It adds: “While acknowledging these reasonable concerns I wonder if there might be a way in which the programme could be adapted for Scotland to realise the considerable benefits while avoiding some of the risks.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have issued the tender specification for this new route into teaching and will shortly begin accepting bids for the contract.

“We anticipate a number of parties will be interested in bringing forward proposals that aim to improve teacher recruitment, especially around hard to fill subjects and geographical areas.

“This pilot programme is about bringing talented graduates into teaching and we are clear that it will require both GTCS accreditation and the involvement of a university to maintain academic rigour.”

The government brought forward the fast-track course following a raft of unfilled vacancies at Scottish schools with particular shortages in rural areas and in priority areas such as science and mathematics.


Analysis: No punches pulled in report as universities haul up the drawbridge

WHEN presented with something of an open goal, academics from Glasgow University have not missed.

The Scottish Government is tendering a new fast-track teacher training scheme and the Teach First charity is at the front of the queue.

The initiative has established itself south of the Border and elsewhere as a recognised route into teaching, but is viewed with much suspicion in Scotland.

Criticisms are many and varied, but centre on the premise that someone who completes a five-week intensive summer school – essentially an unqualified member of staff – is placed in the classroom to begin their two-year training course.

This sort of approach is anathema to Scotland’s long-established teacher education institutions which believe trainee teachers benefit from a year of study before being let loose in the classroom for their probationary year.

Thus when the Scottish Government asked the Scottish Council of Deans of Education to compile a paper summarising research on the effectiveness of Teach First, one can almost see the glint in their eye.

The first clue is in the Glasgow University research paper’s title: Teach First, Ask Questions Later. What follows is a brutal assault.

The paper says there are two different types of available research – the first being work commissioned by the organisation which is “frequently characterised by an excessive endorsement”.

The second type of available research – conducted by universities not associated with Teach First – is more critical, the paper says.

In addition to concerns over the view of middle-class students as the “saviours” of pupils in disadvantaged areas, academics also warn the involvement of businesses such as the Gates Foundation “subtly shifts the emphasis from the public good to the private good”.

It adds: “It is also predicated on the view that the existing system of initial teacher education has failed and is in need of reform although such claims are never substantiated.”

Teach First’s response is that the research paper itself is unbalanced because it fails to recognise independent statistical evaluations of the impact and effectiveness of the programme, drawing instead on opinion.

A wider issue for Teach First, however, is that none of the universities which currently offer teacher training in Scotland wants to work with them.

The charity believes it can still establish links with a university here, but that means the partner will either be inexperienced in teacher training or will not be based in Scotland at all.