A CONTROVERSIAL teacher training charity vying to set up a new fast-track course has pulled out of the race blaming the tight timescale.

The Herald understands Teach First is no longer interested in bidding for the £250,000 Scottish Government tender.

The charity had been at the forefront of discussions over the course and held talks with both First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

Teach First has now written to the Scottish Government withdrawing interest.

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The charity has raised concerns that the project deadline is too short to develop the programme they want to introduce.

However, a major stumbling block has been the difficulty Teach First has had in finding a Scottish university partner to work with.

It was a stipulation of the contract that any successful bidder had to work with a university partner, but Scottish institutions agreed unanimously not to work with them.

In addition, the contract made clear the successful bidder would have to hand over the project to the Scottish Government in 2020 along with any intellectual property rights.

James Westhead, executive director for Teach First, said: "Whilst we believe we could help make a positive contribution to closing the attainment gap, we have decided not to bid for the current tender.

“As we have said previously, we would want to ensure sufficient time to develop a new programme.

"We feel the current timeline can deliver a quality programme, but only for a provider already established in Scotland. 

“We are therefore exploring other ways we can work with providers in Scotland, to help support the collective effort to improve outcomes for Scotland’s children.”

A government spokeswoman said: “We are aware of the letter sent by Teach First and a response will be issued in due course.

“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 accreditation by the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the involvement of a university to maintain academic rigour.”

READ MORE: Charity Teach First asked the SNP Government to block FOI release on new graduate course

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, welcomed the development.

He said: “We have been clear from the start that we did not want Teach First in Scotland as a quick fix because we believe what they do undervalues the profession.

“What we need to be doing is making teaching an attractive profession with better pay to make sure we keep the teachers we have and appeal to new generations of graduates.”

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, said the decision was a "big blow".

She added: “Teach First has made a huge difference south of the border both in improving education in disadvantaged areas and getting talented people into teaching.

“To hear that they aren’t able to bid due to insufficient time should make the Scottish Government consider whether they have set the right timescales."

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

While Scottish universities have worked hard to develop new routes into the profession, ministers wanted an additional programme tailored towards attracting a new stream of graduates.

But there was widespread concern from teaching unions over the introduction of Teach First because of its style of on-the-job training.

Recruits attend an intensive five week summer school before being placed in schools, but that approach has been criticised because it places an unqualified member of staff in front of a classroom.

READ MORE: Charity Teach First asked the SNP Government to block FOI release on new graduate course

Last month, The Herald revealed that the Scottish Council of Deans of Education had agreed not to work with the body.

They 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.

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