Teach First & Its Charitable Status

Continuing our look at Teach First, we thought we’d look closer at how an organisation set up by a former McKinsey management consultant was able to acquire charitable status in the UK.

In the UK, charities are looked after by the Charity Commission.

Charity Commission

On their website page ‘Is setting up a charity the right thing to do?’ it states:

“A charity is a particular type of voluntary organisation – one that takes a distinctive legal form. Charities must provide benefit to the public, not to a specific individual. Their aims, purposes or objectives have to be exclusively those which the law recognises as charitable. A registered charity will usually be given a special tax status and benefit from a number of tax exemptions and reliefs. HMRC is responsible for decisions about tax status and you should contact them for information about this.”

And follows with: “Registered charities have to obey a number of rules and regulations set out in charity law. Those that are registered as companies have to comply with company law too. A registered charity is not allowed to have political objectives or take part in political lobbying (other than in a generally educational sense).”

Does Teach First tick all these boxes?

First of all, is there a public benefit? In their Summary Info Return (2009) of Aims, Activities & Achievements for the Commission they claim “to address educational disadvantage” but how is this evidenced?

In ‘How does your charity measure the success of the strategy?’, it reads:

“The main evaluative methods for Teach First include the following:
– An OfSTED inspection conducted in January 2008.
– An internal evaluation called “The Maximum Impact Programme”
supported by The Goldman Sachs Foundation to measure the impact of
teachers in schools.
– An annual survey of head teachers comparing the effectiveness of Teach First teachers compared to other teachers.
– An external evaluation of the entrepreneurship ideas developed by
participants by UnLtd.
– A continuous internal evaluation of all the value-added events including each component of the leadership and development programme.
– A market place evaluation of the in-school success, measured by the
proportion who achieves Qualified Teachers Status.”

Let’s look at these evaluative methods more closely to see if educational disadvantage has been addressed. Of course, ‘educational disadvantage’ is not such an easy term to pin down. For Teach First it means being at a ‘challenged secondary school’.

In ‘Rising to the challenge: a review of the Teach First initial teacher training programme’ (Jan 2008) OfSTED reported that “approximately 70 urban schools” were chosen “although the nature and extent of these challenges varied.”

Does this mean that some of the schools were not challenging enough, perchance? It doesn’t take much brain power to see that this organisation, given the ability to choose its partner schools, could be very cunningly opting for the least challenged of schools so as to look as good as possible come evaluation time. Doesn’t it also strike you as odd that Teach First get to cherry-pick which school they assist?

Perhaps we should give TF the benefit of the doubt. By ‘challenged’, TF could have taken it to mean those schools where kids perform badly in tests, and they may not have cherry-picked after all. It would then seem easy to see if Teach First kids are doing better because we could just look at their scores.

But how do we know that higher test scores were down to Teach First teachers? We can’t. Unless we were able to go back in time, erasing all memories, and start over with the SAME pupils but with a non-Teach First teacher and compare the new test scores with the old ones then we can never be sure that the results were a result of the hard work of the Teach First teacher, or of any teacher for that matter. This isn’t to belittle what teachers do only to point out that there is no way of knowing for sure which teaching strategy(s) are most effective.

Do we have any other way of assessing the impact of TF? We could ask various stakeholders. In TF’s list of evaluation methods we have a Goldman Sachs Foundation internal evaluation called “The Maximum Impact Programme” to measure the impact of teachers in schools and an annual survey of head teachers comparing the effectiveness of Teach First teachers compared to other teachers.

The Goldman Sachs internal evaluation does not warrant any further attention as to many this company is not at all trustworthy and the devil incarnate. Headteachers you would hope, on the other hand, are trustworthy but any headteacher of a challenged school, amidst the TF fanfare and interest shown in it school as well as the PR impact to be passed on to parents and the local press, is hardly going to say it has been a bad idea. That is asking too much. These variables could only be factored out by randomised and blind experiments and this survey design doesn’t come close.

Of course you could argue that TF is not the only charity that struggles to demonstrate its impact. This is perhaps true but also no reason to cheer. TF is not demonstrating its impact as it stands. It could be a complete waste of public money and charitable donations. That is a tragedy and says much about research illiteracy in public life.

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