Teach First NZ and the University of Auckland plan new programme

Press releases - 1 November 2011

Teach First NZ and the University of Auckland are developing an innovative programme to tackle educational inequality, by attracting top university graduates to teach in secondary schools serving lower decile communities.

The programme is inspired by the successful Teach First programme in the UK, but is specifically adapted to the New Zealand context.

Teach First in the UK is now one of the largest recruiters of Oxford and Cambridge graduates, and has been able to make teaching in a school facing challenging circumstances one of the most competitive graduate opportunities, with only one in ten applicants to the programme securing a place. The programme is now ranked the 7th most prestigious graduate choice in the UK, ahead of most of the large corporate employers.

In New Zealand the programme aims to make teaching a top graduate choice, attracting highly-qualified and well-rounded university graduates – often those who may otherwise have initially chosen different careers – to secondary schools serving lower decile communities for an initial commitment of two years. Graduates will teach largely in shortage subject areas, and the organisation aims to increase the proportion of male, Māori, and Pasifika graduates entering the profession.

The two-year programme is highly selective and uses an innovative employment-based teacher education model where the graduates are concurrently paid a salary while teaching on a reduced timetable. The programme begins with an initial eight-week intensive residential course over the summer followed by rigorous supervision, mentoring, professional and leadership development over the full two years of teaching.

The core programme is being developed by the University of Auckland, and while designed to complement existing teacher training options, it is first and foremost an initiative to address educational inequality.

The programme will need to be approved by the Teachers Council.

After the two-year programme, Teach First NZ alumni join a network which will provide opportunities and tools for them to continue to work towards reducing educational inequality, whether they remain in teaching or go on to work in other fields. In the UK, sixty percent of alumni stay in schools, while others go on to work in wider education, business, mentoring students, or becoming school trustees.

Dean of Education at the University of Auckland, Associate Professor Graeme Aitken, said “The Faculty of Education has a longstanding commitment to reducing educational inequality, and our partnership with Teach First NZ represents another dimension of this work”.

The Dean said that through this partnership the Faculty aims to develop a new two-year teaching pathway, taught by University of Auckland staff, where schools in lower socioeconomic areas are the schools of first choice for top graduates.

Teach First NZ also has support from the Secondary Principals Association, the School Trustees Association, and Auckland education body COMET.

Patrick Walsh, President of the Secondary Principals Association said “SPANZ endorses the Teach First NZ programme. We particularly welcome the programme’s emphasis on developing teaching capabilities for diverse classrooms in New Zealand, and its emphasis on preparing teachers in curriculum areas that are in high demand”.

Teach First NZ has received funding from local foundations, and leading businesses have signed up to support the organisation, which is an independent and non-partisan charitable trust.

Shaun Sutton, a New Zealander working on the project who has recently returned from ten years living overseas, was so impressed with the programme in the UK that he applied himself.

Mr Sutton said “I did well at university, but it was only until after I heard about Teach First that I seriously considered teaching. I was most impressed by Teach First’s ability in the UK to attract top graduates to make a meaningful impact in some pretty disadvantaged schools. Most wouldn’t have considered the classroom if it weren’t for Teach First. We need a programme like this in New Zealand”.

Mr Sutton said that while the project is still in development, the positive response thus far from potential funders and partners made him confident that the organisation would be able to work in schools from 2013.

“We look forward to announcing more details about our partners and programme in due course”, he said.

The project is small-scale in terms of total teacher numbers, looking to initially place around twenty teachers in ten schools in Auckland and Whangarei.