BBC Three’s recent six-part documentary follows the lives of six new graduates embarking on their first teaching job. The premise seems like simple enough, if not slightly tame for a channel more known for highlighting the wilder side of modern youth on Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents than promoting graduate recruitment. However, as each episode’s introduction notes, “there is a catch – they’ve only had six weeks of teacher training before being unleashed on the kids.”
In contrast to another BBC Three keystone, Bad Education, Tough Young Teachers offers a more realistic insight into the world of newly qualified teachers who are progressing through Teach First’s Leadership Development Programme - a two-year course that puts some of the country’s top graduates into struggling schools with the aim of tackling educational inequality. In every episode, we are introduced to the highs and lows of Charles, Chloe, Claudenia, Meryl, Nick, and Oliver, as they try to raise standards and connect with pupils disengaged with the education system.
Tough Young Teachers repeatedly shows both the problems Teach First teachers encounter in the classroom, from Meryl’s struggle to gain control over unruly classes to Nick’s cringe-worthy first sex education lesson, and also the job satisfaction that each graduate feels when their efforts see a child succeed, particularly on GCSE results day, when Claudenia’s Year 11 Science group all attain A*-C grades. The teachers go beyond the curriculum to help inspire their classes, with Nick even choosing one challenging pupil to take on a weekend shooting trip. Teach First itself highlights the importance not only of excellent teaching, but of being both a role model and someone that cares about their success.
Teach First began in 2002 placing graduates into schools in London. Since then, it has become the United Kingdom’s biggest graduate recruiter and the scheme has been rolled out across the country. It seeks to end educational disadvantage and offer shocking statistics that show that children from the lowest-earning families, those that are eligible for free school meals, are only half as likely to get five A*-C grades at GCSE as their peers.
It is unclear how realistic Tough Young Teachers is as a representation of the day-to-day life of the Teach First graduate. Do they really go on shooting trips at weekends with their problem pupils? It’s questionable. Are they required to teach sex education to a group of giggling secondary school pupils? Quite possibly. But what is certain is that whatever their subject, and wherever their school, each new teacher is attempting, even at the worst of times, to make a difference in a small way that could lead to change in a big way.