Improving educational attainment - Business Works
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Improving educational attainment

Brett Wigdortz, Founder and CEO of Teach First A recent OECD study exposed the shameful truth that in Britain today, children from disadvantaged backgrounds have less chance of success at school than in most other developed countries.

The stark reality is that with 16% of pupils who are eligible for free school meals progressing to university, compared to 96% of young people educated in independent schools (Sutton Trust, 2010), the link between low family income and poor educational attainment is greater here than in almost any other developed country.

We know that education levels are directly linked to a person’s happiness, earning power and even health and longevity. This situation cannot possibly lead to a fair society, to a fair Britain.

It also does not make economic sense. In 2008 the Leitch Review on Skills found that over 50% of employers are not confident they will find enough people to fill the high skilled jobs of the future. Last year the Sutton Trust calculated that by improving levels of social mobility for future generations in the UK our economy would see cumulative gains of up to £1.3 trillion in GDP over the next 40 years. In these times of economic difficulty this is a figure we would be foolish to ignore.

Distribution of students attending university

I set up the charity Teach First in 2002, after my employer at the time, McKinsey & Company, was commissioned by London First and Business in the Community to do a study into how businesses could help improve secondary education in London. The research found that very effective teachers and school leaders could raise pupils’ results by at least 40%.

Teach First works to break the link between low family income and poor educational attainment by placing outstanding graduates to teach in schools in challenging circumstances, and is creating a movement of leaders who are committed to working with others to help raise the achievement, aspiration and access to opportunity of children from low socio-economic backgrounds.

A record 772 participants started last month in the 2011 cohort. Teaching in a school in challenging circumstances has become a career of choice for the UK’s top graduates, with Teach First ranked the 3rd most prestigious graduate employer in the UK in a recent Guardian survey. This year Teach First was also awarded ‘Graduate Employer of Choice in the Public Sector’ at the Times Graduate Recruitment Awards.

Teach First’s business partners have been an integral part of this success. A third of the charity’s funding coming from corporate supporters, with businesses often supporting a unique area of our work tailored to suit their organisation and strategy. Procter & Gamble, for example, are the lead sponsor of Teach First’s Primary programme which was rolled out on a permanent basis earlier this year after a successful pilot.

Businesses can also help by working with our participants to develop their leadership skills or by working directly with our schools on projects that help to raise the aspirations and attainment of the pupils. Over the past seven years more than 950 volunteer coaches from our business supporters have provided our participants with valued support in developing their leadership skills. This year, our business supporters offered over 100 summer projects (2-3 week internships) to members of the Teach First community.

Change won’t happen overnight. But if businesses, government, parents, schools and charities like Teach First continue to work together to fight educational disadvantage, we will get one step closer to ensuring that every child in this country reaches their potential.

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