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Evaluation report: early successes of Teach First programme

26 June 2014

Independent evaluation report highlights early successes of Teach First NZ programme

Teach First NZ and the University of Auckland welcome today’s publication of the first evaluation report of the Teach First NZ programme. The report praises the implementation of the programme, and highlights its success at attracting talented individuals to teach in schools serving low-decile communities.

The report, written by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), is the first phase of a four-year independent evaluation, commissioned by the Ministry of Education.

For the 2013 intake, 16 participants were selected out of 261 applicants. NZCER found the “thorough” and “rigorous” selection process and the high calibre of those selected to be major strengths of the programme. The eight-week Summer Initial Intensive programme sets a strong foundation in preparing participants for the classroom. All participants completed the first year of the two-year programme, teaching in secondary schools in Auckland and Northland, with NZCER finding that participants are well-supported in their schools.

The vision of reducing educational inequalities is central to the programme’s success, and the report found that participants have a “very clear focus” on why they are teaching – ensuring that all their students achieve their full education potential, regardless of socioeconomic background. In the long-term, Teach First NZ aims to build a community of alumni leaders continually working to advance educational opportunity in New Zealand, while also increasing the status of teaching as a profession.

While Teach First NZ programme is new to the education sector, teachers are enthusiastic about the benefits of the initiative. The report describes strong in-school mentor support enabling participants to become successful teachers. Participants were frequently described as “high calibre”, “hard working”, “friendly”, “resilient” and “well-liked”, and the report found that participants have raised expectations and energised departments.

All partner school principals stated that, if possible, they would like to employ more participants in the following year. Principals “unanimously” judged Teach First NZ participants to be “performing extremely well in the classroom”.

The report recognises that, like most new teachers, Teach First NZ participants found behaviour management challenging in the first few months, but had soon developed strong and learning-centred relationships with students. The report said that participants were “extremely hard working and resilient”, and had “won over” some difficult classes. Some participants were even reported to be “beacons” in their schools, including through raising student literacy and NCEA achievement levels.

A survey used to measure student perceptions of their teachers, while indicative at this stage, found that students taught by Teach First NZ teachers reported their classroom engagement as similar to students taught by more experienced teachers.

Participants were also having a positive impact in the wider life of their school communities, using “a range of strategies to build relationships, and many had taken on extra duties such as coaching or assisting with sports teams or cultural activities”.

In terms of future planning for the programme, the report noted the importance of good communication systems, placing participants in schools and departments that have the capacity to provide robust support, and ensuring good mentor selection.

Shaun Sutton, Chief Executive of Teach First NZ said “We are delighted that this report reflects the positive impact our participants are having in their classrooms, supported by a growing number of dedicated school partners. We are committed to continually developing the programme to ensure all participants are equipped to advance the life chances of children affected by educational inequalities in New Zealand.”

Professor Graeme Aitken, Dean of Education at the University of Auckland said “The University welcomes this robust and thorough report. The findings reinforce the value of strong teacher selection, and of building high-quality collaborative partnerships between universities and placement schools.”

Patrick Drumm, Principal of Aorere College, one of Teach First NZ’s 22 partner schools, said “Our experience as a school reflects much of the NZCER findings. Our two participants are adding significant value to the Aorere community, and the opportunity for current staff to act formally as mentors is an additional strength of the programme.”

Mark Graham, Head of Community and Sponsorship at ASB Bank, one of Teach First NZ’s founding corporate partners, said “We are pleased that the results of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research annual evaluation report have recognised the success of this innovative programme, and how it has contributed to the educational and community lives of the schools it has been involved with.”

Teach First NZ is on track to receive a record number of applications for its 2015 intake. Prospective candidates can apply online at

The full evaluation report can be downloaded from: or see:

About Teach First NZ
Teach First NZ is a not-for-profit organisation that works in partnership with the University of Auckland to attract highly-qualified, well-rounded university graduates and professionals to secondary schools serving lower-decile communities, with the aim of reducing educational inequalities. Programme participants with specialist undergraduate degrees in high-priority subject areas (currently Mathematics, Sciences, English, Te Reo Māori) are selected to enter into an intensive eight-week residential training programme. Participants are then placed in a salaried teaching position in a lower-decile secondary school for two years with on-going support, mentoring and development before graduating as qualified teachers. Long-term, Teach First NZ aims to develop the leadership capability of participants so that they contribute to reducing educational disparities from systemic levels – broader goals include building a community of alumni who work together and with others to advance educational opportunity, within schools, in the wider education community, and in other sectors of influence. Examples from longer-running overseas sister programmes include alumni working as school middle or senior leaders, school trustees, in education policy and business. Teach First NZ also aims to work to improve the status of teaching, and to break down damaging stereotypes of ‘low-decile schools’. Teach First NZ is supported by the Ministry of Education, the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand, and a range of sponsors such as ASB Bank, Chapman Tripp, Deloitte, Aotearoa Foundation, Woolf Fisher Trust, and Hutton Wilson Nominees, which recently launched the $100m NEXT Foundation. Teach First NZ is currently expanding its work in response to a broader needs base, and expects to be placing sixty new teachers every year by 2018.

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About the NZCER evaluation
In April 2013 the Ministry of Education commissioned, through a tender process, the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) to conduct a four-year independent evaluation (2013-2016) of the Teach First NZ programme delivered in partnership with the University of Auckland. NZCER is New Zealand’s only national, independent educational research organisation.

The key evaluation questions posed by the Ministry of Education were:
1. How well (effectively and efficiently) has the Teach First NZ programme been implemented?
2. To what extent has the Teach First NZ programme achieved its overall outcomes and objectives?

The four-year evaluation has an independent stakeholder reference group, comprising representatives from host schools, the Secondary Principals’ Association, the Post Primary Teachers’ Association, the New Zealand School Trustees Association, and the New Zealand Teachers Council. The evaluation is peer reviewed by Andrew McConney of Murdoch University in Australia.

For the first report the evaluation team interviewed a total of 92 people, including participants, principals, host school coordinators, mentors, heads of departments, other teachers including PPTA office holders, Visiting Curriculum Specialists, University of Auckland staff, and Teach First NZ staff. In addition, a wide range of documentation was analysed including programme information, participant recruitment data, participant portfolios, written observations and feedback from mentors, student work, and assessment results.

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Direct Quotations, and Commentary on Achievements / Emerging Priorities

The following provides an overview of key achievements and priorities emerging (grouped in themes) following the publication of the first Teach First NZ programme evaluation report.

The Teach First NZ selection model is rigorous and successful
The rigorous selection process and the high calibre of the 2013 cohort were seen by the evaluation team to be major strengths of the programme. The evaluators said:

The selection process for the 2013 cohort was thorough and exacting. All those who had been involved in selection saw it as a key strength of the programme. Participants reported that they had found the selection process “thorough”, “rigorous” and “intense”, and were impressed with the professionalism of staff and the effort to seek out capable candidates with the best potential. Selectors’ judgements appeared to be considered and sound.

Participants are all perceived by Teach First NZ and school personnel to have personal qualities such as resilience and openness to learning, to be hard working and to have excellent subject knowledge. Participants were seen by school leadership teams to be “cherry picked” and as bringing a high level of skill and knowledge to their preparation as teachers.

The programme attracts high numbers of applicants, including those from Māori and Pasifika backgrounds
In its first year, 16 out of 261 applicants began the programme (six percent selection rate), with a quarter of those on the programme being Māori or Pasifika participants. The evaluators said:
Two thirds chose the Teach First NZ programme in preference to one-year graduate diplomas because this programme was presented as high challenge, and because of its mission to help redress inequality by deliberately working in schools that serve low-decile communities with high populations of Māori and Pasifika students.

The Teach First NZ mission is central to the programme’s success
The evaluation found that Teach First NZ’s focus on reducing educational inequalities was an important driver of participant success. The evaluators said:
Participants were seen by some school personnel to have clear advantages over other student teachers and some PRTs [Provisionally Registered Teachers] in having a very clear focus on why they were teaching and their desire to reduce inequality for Māori and Pasifika students, and students from schools that serve low decile communities. Their sense of mission and their values were seen to derive from a genuine desire to understand students from culturally diverse communities and to want them to achieve.

The programme has a high retention rate
All sixteen participants completed their first year of teaching, equating to a 100% retention rate at the end of the first year of the programme (though one participant has since been unable to continue into a second year for personal and family reasons). The evaluators said:
At this stage the majority of participants expect to stay in teaching beyond their 2-year placement, as they work towards full teacher registration.
[...] almost all [participants] were making a strong contribution to their schools and as ambassadors for the programme and for teaching as a career option.

The Summer Initial Intensive (SII) is a strong foundation in preparing participants for the classroom, and could be improved further by incorporating more practical training
The evaluation found that the SII had helped participants to develop the skills and mindsets required to teach in schools that serve low-decile communities. The evaluators said:

The SII established the parameters for a strong core curriculum and focused on challenging assumptions about learners.
The SII was seen to be intellectually stimulating by almost all participants and to have contributed to building strong relationships within the cohort and with the Teach First NZ partnership.

The evaluators also noted feedback from participants suggesting ‘more practical and pedagogical input regarding teaching their subject, more time in their host school before starting teaching, and more time practising teaching’.

The programme is high-quality and responsive to participant needs
The evaluation found that the quality of the lecturers, the connectedness of the cohort and the ongoing feedback were key strengths of the programme. The evaluators said:
The programme was seen by participants and the Teach First NZ partnership to be very responsive to participant needs.
The university assignments were integrated into the school-based teaching components, and applied case methods and teacher research.
Workshops and clinics during the year were welcomed by participants as opportunities to debrief, reconnect, and re-energise.

The ongoing support from Teach First NZ and the University of Auckland is strong
Participants reported they felt very well-supported by the Teach First NZ partnership and by University of Auckland Visiting Curriculum Specialists, including when any difficulties arose. The evaluators said:
Support for all participants was both structured and regular and also able to be responsive and flexible.
This extended from their very first contact through the recruitment and selection processes, leading up to and through the SII, and during the school year.

The evaluators noted the opportunity to strengthen communication between Visiting Curriculum Specialists and In-School Mentors to ensure optimum support and consistent advice for participants.

Strong in-school mentor support enables participants to become successful teachers
Good mentoring and school support enabled participants to become successful new teachers. The Teach First NZ mentor model was also having a wider positive effect on other school mentoring programmes. The evaluators said:

Four things stood out as being crucial for participant success: the capability of the mentor and quality of the mentoring relationship; a timetable that allowed participants and mentors to work together; the assignment of participants to classes that were likely to respond well to them; a well-functioning subject department.
The most positive mentors were having a significant impact on other staff in the school and in how schools were thinking about mentoring, for example at departmental level.

The evaluators noted opportunities for improvement in mentor training, and the importance of ensuring that high-quality and committed mentors are selected.

Existing teachers in schools have welcomed the Teach First NZ programme and participants
Despite the programme being new, teaching staff in schools are already enthusiastic about the benefits of the Teach First NZ programme and are willing to support it. All principals stated to the evaluators that, if possible, they would like to employ more participants in the following year. The evaluators said:

The Teach First NZ programme was initially greeted with scepticism by some staff in schools, but almost all respondents in the interviews reported that the participants were accepted by other staff and fitted in well. They were frequently described as “high calibre”, “hard working”, “friendly”, “resilient” and “well liked”. We were told by one teacher: “The kids have gained a fantastic dedicated learning leader – the joy is contagious”.

School personnel indicated that the programme strengths were: communication with a well-respected person in the Teach First NZ partnership; participants were seen to be talented and hard-working; that it aims to raise the profile and status of schools that serve low-decile communities; the PLD [Professional Learning and Development] opportunity for current staff, especially mentors; the benefits for students of having renewed levels of enthusiasm and reflection amongst some staff.

The evaluators noted that, because the programme was in its first year, there were some communication difficulties between the Teach First NZ partnership and schools, and within schools themselves.

Participants have positive effects in their subject departments; ensuring suitable placements is crucial to success
The evaluation found the participants raised expectations and energised departments, which benefit from the “freshness” and “youth” of participants. The evaluators said:

Principals and co-ordinators reported that all participants were having a positive impact on the school, particularly in their departments. Participants’ content knowledge, the resources they developed and shared, their facility with technology, and their attitude towards wanting to do the best for all students were all seen to make a valued contribution to the school.
The most frequently referred to contribution to departments was the creation and sharing of resources. Participants were also praised for bringing innovative ideas and “fresh thinking”.

The evaluators also highlighted the importance of ensuring participants are placed in departments with the capability and capacity to provide adequate support; they stated that in this regard ‘subject departments appear more crucial than the choice of schools’.

Teach First NZ participants are viewed favourably compared with other new teachers
Most interviewees in the evaluation commented favourably on the calibre of the participants, who were perceived to be teaching as well or better than a “typical” first year provisionally registered teacher (PRT). The evaluators said:

A majority of respondents to a question asking how the participants compared to graduate diploma student teachers described the participants they had been associated with favourably. School staff commented on their passion, their intellectual rigour, their ability to reflect and their ability to make rapid progress as teachers. A VCS [Visiting Curriculum Specialist] described the difference between the participants and other student teachers as “their [participants’] ability to take feedback on board, a sense of strong urgency to want to change, to learn – this is consistently high and there's more variability in [the traditional graduate programme].”
Principals unanimously judged the participants to be performing extremely well in the classroom…Almost all others we interviewed concurred that participants were more like a good provisionally registered teacher (PRT) in their first year of teaching, and, in two cases, participants were seen as to be functioning as well as a PRT in their second year.

While difficult in the first few months, participants ultimately developed strong and learning-centred relationships with students
The evaluation found that students and classes respond positively to participants, even in those cases where there were some initial challenging behaviours or negative attitudes. The evaluators said:

Participants were reported to be extremely hard working and resilient, and in most cases to have “won over” difficult classes.
A Visiting Curriculum Specialist told us that two coordinators had commented that the participants were beacons – proving to be resilient, positive, and engaging.
Another Visiting Curriculum Specialist commented: “The data shows kids think the participants care about them, feel connected, and have good relationships. Staff have said in unsolicited ways that they have had an impact, through their energy, passion, belief, and the questions they ask.”

The evaluators recognised that, like most new teachers, Teach First NZ participants at times found behaviour management challenging, particularly in the first two terms of teaching. It was suggested that participants in their first year should not be given classes that are overly challenging, and that more practical behaviour management guidance should be included in the training programme.

Participants are raising student achievement in their classrooms
The evaluation team found that, even after just eight months of teaching, participants were having a positive impact on student achievement, at comparable or improved levels. The evaluators said:
In most departments staff reported that they noticed comparable, if not improved, levels of student achievement for participants’ classes. They were able to justify this by standardised literacy test results, NCEA moderated internal assessments, completion rates for achievement and unit standards, as well as informal judgements about student engagement and lack of negative results, and seeing some of the work the students were producing.
There was evidence shown to us by some participants that NCEA or standardised (for example e-AsTTle) assessment results for participants’ classes compared favourably with other classes, and this was endorsed by other staff members.

Surveys of student engagement in learning highlight the success of participant teaching
NZCER’s ‘Me And My Class’ student survey was administered to students in year 9 and 10 classes, to measure engagement and student perceptions of participants’ pedagogical approaches, compared with more experienced teacher colleagues. Although NZCER caution that the findings are indicative, the survey found that participants’ year 9 classes were more likely than experienced teacher comparison classes to strongly agree that “I’m really interested in what we learn” (49 percent compared with 32 percent). In year 10, participants’ classes were more likely than experienced teacher comparison classes to strongly agree that “My teacher likes it when I ask questions and try out new things” (49 percent compared with 35 percent); and more likely to agree or strongly agree that “We learn about things that are important to different cultures” (76 percent compared with 66 percent). The evaluators said:

These tentative findings suggest that students report their engagement in participants’ classes as similar to student engagement in classes taught by more experienced colleagues.
[...] there were indications that participants’ year 9 students may have been more engaged than students in comparison classes.
We could tentatively extrapolate that students in participants’ year 9 classes are engaged in their learning and that their learning includes contexts that are relevant to their identity and culture.

Participants are having a positive impact in the wider life of their school communities
The evaluation found that participants contributed to school life through engagement with other activities, and acknowledged the additional efforts of participants in coming to terms with teaching and studying, as well as joining in the wider life of their schools. The evaluators said:
Participants used a range of strategies to build relationships, and many had taken on extra duties such as coaching or assisting with sports teams or cultural activities as a way to improve classroom relationships.
At the same time, they are seen by school staff to be very well integrated into the schools and to be supporting sports and cultural events and activities, staff professional learning and development, and homework and NCEA revision centres.

Participants are developing as strong leaders in their classrooms and schools
A core aim of the Teach First NZ programme is developing leadership capabilities in participants so, as alumni, they can continue to contribute to reducing educational inequalities over the long-term. The evaluators said:
Almost all participants were showing leadership in the classroom with some also taking strong leadership roles within their department.
Some participants were seen to have had an impact in the school either through the contribution they were making to extracurricular activities or through the ideas they shared at staff meetings and in PLD [Professional Learning and Development] sessions.

Next steps
There is much for Teach First NZ and the University of Auckland to celebrate and to learn from the overall study. One of our core values is excellence (te kairangitanga), and we are delighted with the results of this positive evaluation in our first year of implementation. Another of our core values is continuous learning (te ako mā te whakaaroaro), and we see this evaluation as an important mechanism for us to drive continued success.

Teach First NZ and the University of Auckland are committed to ensuring all participants, and ultimately our alumni, are well-equipped to advance the life chances of students affected by educational inequalities in New Zealand.


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