Magazine article The Spectator

Those Who Can, Teach

Magazine article The Spectator

Those Who Can, Teach

Article excerpt

Success Against the Odds:

Five lessons in How to Achieve the lmpossible;

The Story of Teach First by Brett Wigdortz Short Books, £8.99, pp. 272, ISBN 9781780721309 This book shouldn't work. A memoir written by a 40-year-old, who has never written a book before, hardly sounds promising.

The topic, education, moreover is death to good literature: barely has a book been written about the subject that is not dull beyond belief. Yet, against all the odds, this book turns out to be an enthralling read.

Teach First is one of the most inspiring ideas around in 21st-century Britain. The book tells the story of its first decade, from 2002-12. Rising from nowhere, it has become one of the top graduate employers in Britain and is slowly achieving its mission of transforming opportunities for socially disadvantaged young people. The idea is simple: inspire top graduates with the challenge of spending a minimum of two years teaching in Britain's most socially disadvantaged schools, motivating their students to transform their lives through educational achievement. Even if Teach First graduates leave for other careers after two years, the idea is that they will still be so fired by zeal for improving the lives of young people that they will provide leadership to achieve it in whatever careers they choose to pursue.

The undoubted hero of the book is the author himself, the inspirer and CEO of Teach First, Brett Wigdortz. A consultant at McKinsey until the age of 28, the author describes with painful honesty how, as a lanky and green American in London, he became transfixed by the failure of schools to inspire and motivate poor children.

Great teaching is the vital ingredient. He refused to believe that top graduates were motivated purely by high salaries in international companies, and saw that large numbers would want to come into schools to transform the lives of young people, if only the right vehicle could be found. So he came up with the notion of a six-week 'boot camp' or crash course in teaching for carefully selected graduates, who would then be unleashed on the most disadvantaged schools. Persuading the educational establishment of his case, and finding the money to translate this vision into reality, makes for compelling reading.

Many setbacks were encountered.

Few were more troubling than what he believed would be a sign-off meeting with the Schools Minister in April 2003: officials were damning, and the plan was almost lost before its inception. The book is peppered with 'boxes' offering management-style lessons, one of the most deeply felt being:

'How to turn a "no" into a "yes". …

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