On billionaires, taxpayer money and private schools | Blog

Jim McColl is a billionaire, which is the word we use to describe people who hoard vast amounts of wealth to the detriment of the rest of society. His ‘fortune’ was recently estimated at around £1.07 billion, meaning that if he spent £250’000 (roughly ten times the Scottish annual salary) each year, it would take him more than 4000 years to empty his bank account.

On top of this, and despite being part of the Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisers, McColl no longer lives in Scotland – at least not officially. Instead, he chooses to reside in Monaco, and while I’m sure he’s very fond of the food, weather and fast cars – who wouldn’t be? – I suspect that there might also be some other factors attracting him to live in the world’s most up-market tax haven.

It is, therefore, rather galling to see McColl attack others for the closure of Newlands Junior College (NJC), a move affecting around 25 current students who will now, hopefully, be reintegrated into schools or colleges in the city.

Set up five years ago in Glasgow’s south side, the venture emphasised vocational educational for a small annual cohort of students who had been disengaged from mainstream education. It may have been called a Junior College but it was, in reality, a private school.

Supporters of NJC – from Keir Bloomer to Liz Smith to McColl himself – would have us believe that it has been a roaring success and that the state should now ride to the rescue, but in reality it is just another example of why vanity projects from well-heeled ‘philanthropists’ are never going to be the answer to challenges in education.

Has NJC achieved anything that a college or school given the same resources (funding, cohort size, contacts) could not? It seems unlikely.

Indeed, Alan Sherry – the Principal of Glasgow Kelvin College, responded to a tweet about my writing this column with the following suggestion: “Perhaps you could say that Glasgow Kelvin and Glasgow Clyde colleges already make comprehensive and much larger provision for the same cohort.” He added: “Then suggest the SG gives the money to us to do even more.”

According to The Times, McColl and a number of other “private backers” apparently “contributed £4m to the total £5m cost of the project”, with the Scottish Government handing over more than a million pounds for the scheme and Glasgow City Council providing a further £100’000 a year. They have now, rightly, decided that enough is enough.

If McColl wishes to run a no-fees private school then that is his business, but he should – and quite clearly could – pay for it himself rather than expecting the rest of us to cough up. If, however, he is committed to enhancing the provision of education for all young people, then the solution is even more straightforward: he should start by paying full taxes in Scotland.

The SSLN can still create material gain for teachers | TESS

This is the full text of a recent article for the Times Education Supplement Scotland. The original is available here (£): https://www.tes.com/news/ssln-can-still-create-material-gain-teachers

This year, for the first time since 2012, the Scottish government is not publishing the results of a Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN).

The original plan was gloriously simple: get rid of the SSLN and replace it with standardised testing, the results of which would be available on a school by school basis. This, first minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted, was necessary to improve Scottish education. The SSLN was, after all, just a survey, and test results from every P1, P4, P7 and S3 pupil in Scotland would naturally be much more reliable.

It wasn’t true – although that didn’t seem to matter – but it did leave the government in the middle of a curious paradox: SSLN data was apparently reliable enough to justify sweeping changes to education policy and structures in Scotland, while at the same time being too unreliable to allow us to measure what sort of progress was being made.

It soon emerged, however, that standardised test scores would not, in fact, be made public, and that plans to have every child in the country sit them all at once had been entirely abandoned. Instead, the government would begin publishing “teacher judgement data” for every school in Scotland, leaving us with less – and less useful – data about Scottish education than had previously been the case, and making like-for-like comparisons of any supposed progress impossible (a cynic might even suggest that this final consequence was part of the appeal).

Like most people, I presumed that this was the end of the road for the SSLN, but some recent digging has uncovered a surprising twist in the tale. It concerns not the SSLN survey itself, but rather the assessment materials which underpinned it.

The full range of that material is extraordinary: for numeracy, there are 1,200 “short answer” questions, 66 “extended tasks”, 42 “teacher-pupil interactive tasks” and a further 36 “mental calculation tasks”; on the literacy side, there are 100 paper-based reading tasks (consisting of a text and either “5 or 10 associated questions”), 33 film clips with 5 questions each, and even 33 websites with 5 questions for each site. All of this material, the documents point out, “have been through a thorough quality assurance and pre-test process and have been used in up to three literacy/numeracy surveys”.

Put simply, this material is extensive, reliable and – crucially – has been properly moderated for use within the framework of Curriculum for Excellence.

Obviously, this unique collection of literacy and numeracy materials couldn’t have been made available to teachers while the survey was still ongoing, but with the SSLN officially abandoned, a decision had to be made about what would happen to these resources. As is always the way of things, a working-group was charged with considering the matter and making recommendations on any future use of the SSLN material.

Documents released by the government under Freedom of Information laws show that “the consensus among the group was that due to the quality and volume of materials available they were of great value to the teaching profession and discarding or archiving them was not appropriate”.

Instead, the “final proposal” from the group recommended that the material be “made available to support teaching and learning as part of CfE”. The resources were to be provided via an online platform and offered as “skills development” resources, with a focus on the provision of teacher feedback as opposed to a student score. A “phased approach” to the release of these materials was also suggested.

These recommendations were put to the SSLN Project Management Board in February 2017, a meeting which appears to have been dominated by government officials. One individual, whose name and position has been redacted from the documents by the government, was described as “strongly reticent” to the release of the SSLN material “as she did not think it fitted with the DFM’s focus on decluttering the landscape”. In the end, the group decided to defer any decision around what to do with the material, but made clear that “suitable plans” must be put in place to arrange for the release of the documents.

Such plans to do not appear to have been developed – indeed, when I asked the government when the SSLN material would be made available, a spokesperson told me that “plans on the use of the SSLN assessment materials are still under consideration”. That was in January, almost a year after a range of professionals explicitly recommended that the material be made available to teachers.

One of the central criticisms of the implementation of CfE has been the failure to properly support teachers with adequate, high-quality resources. The original vision of teachers creating a wealth of contextualised materials which bridged the gap between teaching and assessment was, and remains, a laudable one, but in the absence of proper exemplification, and amidst the maelstrom of budget cuts and social pressures that has done such damage in recent years, it was never going to be properly achievable. Now, it is seems that one opportunity to address this problem may be lost.

The benefits of releasing this material, which has the potential to help reduce teachers’ workload while filling a gap in CfE that should never have existed, are presumably being balanced against the political risks of undermining the standardised testing system on which Nicola Sturgeon has effectively staked her reputation.

This government is keen to push the idea of empowered teachers. Education secretary John Swinney has said time and again that his “guiding principle” is that decisions about children’s learning should be taken at school level. And yet here we are, waiting to find out if the government will consent to a wealth of valuable resources being made available to the very profession that created them in the first place.

FOI victory reveals the full extent of Teach First’s Scottish lobbying | Blog

Last week, in an exclusive story with Severin Carrell and published by The Guardian, I revealed that Prince Charles has finally admitted to lobbying the Scottish government, and in particular former First Minister Alex Salmond, in an attempt to help Teach First expand their operations into Scotland’s education system.

These latest revelations are part of a long-running saga around Teach First’s ambitions to gain a foothold north of the border. A six-month FOI campaign has generated numerous stories in both The Guardian and The Herald, highlighting the details not just of Teach First’s proposed Scottish operation but also the long-standing, well-connected and highly secretive lobbying campaign in which they have been engaged.

The stories:

11 August – The Herald: Student teachers in class after five weeks of training

12 August – The Herald: Teach First calls on government to delay fast-track teaching course

14 August – The Guardian: Scottish ministers refuse to release Prince Charles lobbying letters

15 August – The Guardian: Publish Prince Charles lobbying letters, Scottish government urged

26 August – The Herald: Teach First leaders ‘wanted teaching watchdog disbanded’

28 October – The Herald: Fast-track teaching scheme condemned by academics

28 October – The Herald: Top Scottish universities shun Teach First scheme

During this period I also published a number of blog posts providing additional details:

Revealed: meetings between the Scottish Government and Teach First

Tartan Teach First? A look inside the Scottish Government’s plans

Teach First, Ask Questions Later – full report and email exchanges

The Sunday Herald’s investigations editor, Paul Hutcheon, also wrote about Teach First’s funding and their attempts to withhold information from FOI responses – both of these stories are relevant to what follows.

Even when the latest stories were published, however, the Scottish Government was still attempting to withhold some information, preventing its release to the public. This is no longer the case, with the government having now formally backed down and provided all of the information requested.

I am therefore able to provide a new, complete timeline detailing Teach First’s attempts to lobby the Scottish Government in order to gain access to the Scottish education system, as well as full documentation for the organisation’s proposed new programme – ‘Teach for Scotland’:


3 February 2009 – Joanne Lee of Teach First attempts to contact Maureen Watt, then minister for schools and skills, in order to set up a meeting with Teach First’s then Director of Leadership Development,  Professor Sonia Blandford.

Doc 36


9 February 2009 – Scottish Government official Peter Allan replies to Teach First rejecting their approach. His letter states that “there is no current need for Teach First to be active” in Scotland and that “there is not a requirement for Mrs Watt to meet Professor Blandford to discuss her proposal at this time.”


16 March 2010 – Joanne Lee writes to the new education secretary Mike Russell (on behalf of Prof. Blandford) seeking to arrange a meeting between him and Brett Wigdortz (Teach First’s founder and, until recently, CEO). The email is sent on behalf of Prof. Blandford, includes press clippings from TES and the Economist and also references the fact that at that stage Teach First trainees had been unable to meet the necessary standards to become registered teachers in Scotland. Lee also lists the areas in which Teach First were operating and states that they would be interested in exploring how “Scottish schools might begin to share in this success.”


31 March 2010 – Mike Russell’s private secretary (Brian Taylor) responds to Professor Blandford rejecting the request for a meeting with the minister. Instead, Taylor writes that “officials from Learning Directorate, including Michael Kellet, Deputy Director, would be interested in meeting with you.”


9 June 2010 to 18 June 2010 – The documents show an interaction between Teach First representative Chloe Tait and Helen Reid of the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate. This exchange seems to stem from a phone conversation between the two on 9 June 2010 to discuss Teach First “and in particular the funding contributions” involved. The interaction appears to end with Teach First being unable or unwilling to respond to some detailed questions about the funding aspects of their programmes, such as cost per participant and tutor salaries. They state that this because they relate to “contractual details which reside with our partnering universities.”


10 January 2012 – Joanne Lee once again writes to Mike Russell, this time following contact between Teach First and Duncan Hamilton, the former SNP MSP and political adviser to Alex Salmond. Lee’s email makes clear that Hamilton has acted as an intermediary between Teach First and the Scottish government. It is passed on to the Ministerial Correspondence Unit with the note: “Quick response required.”

Doc 29


15 February 2012 – Mike Russell’s private secretary (Laura Holton) responds to Joanne Lee advising that “Mr Russell’s diary is heavily committed for the foreseeable future” but that “officials in the Learning Directorate would be happy to meet.”

Doc 28-2


5 April 2012 – Brett Wigdortz invites Mike Russell to an “Evening Reception at the Scottish Parliament” facilitated by Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur.

Doc 27


13 April 2012 – Mark Leishman (former journalist and private secretary to Prince Charles from 2009 – 2017) writes to Mike Russell. The email is addressed to “Laura” Holton. It is clear that he has already been in contact with either Holton herself or someone else in the Scottish Government (“As discussed last week”). Leishman includes a letter and briefing from Brett Wigdortz of Teach First (see next entry). Leighman writes that he would be “delighted” to introduce Wigdortz to Russell. This document was originally entirely withheld by the Scottish Government.

Doc 25


13 April 2012 – Brett Wigdortz writes to Mike Russell – immediately referencing the communication from Mark Leishman – once again seeking a meeting with the education secretary and providing a ‘briefing’ about the organisation.


1 May 2012 – Laura Holton responds to Brett Wigdortz, mentioning the covering letter from Mark Leishman, and confirming a meeting between the Teach First CEO and “Mr Russell’s officials” on 16 May 2012.

RA doc 24-page-001


1 May 2012 – Laura Holton also confirms that Mike Russell will not be attending the Teach First reception at parliament (although the next document seems to contradict this).

Doc 26 Cab Sec letter 1 May 2012 meeting invite-page-001


16 May 2012 – Meeting between Teach First staff and officials of the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate. Shown below are the heavily redacted version of this document originally provided by the government (left) and the complete, unredacted version now available (right). This shows that, amongst other things, the Scottish Government wished to keep the words “very persuasively” out of the public domain. It also highlights that the government officials were willing to have “exploratory discussions” with councils with a view to “a pilot in academic year 2014/2015 at the earliest.” As you can also see below, the government attempted to withhold the fact that Mike Russell still had “concerns about the application of the scheme in Scotland” – indeed, this was the very last redaction to be removed.


19 July 2013 – Brett Wigdortz writes to Mike Russell once again requesting a meeting. A recent meeting between the then first minister Alex Salmond and Prince Charles is mentioned in the opening sentence, and Wigdortz is explicit about this being a “follow up”. The original, redacted version of the letter is shown alongside a complete version.


?? September 2013 – Mike Russell’s private secretary replies to Brett Wigdortz confirming that the minister “will be pleased to meet with” him.

Doc 19 Cab Sec Sept 2013-page-001


30 January 2014 – Meeting between Mike Russell and Brett Wigdortz & James Westhead (both of Teach First). Official briefing notes specifically reference “a meeting between the First Minister and Teach First’s patron, HRH The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay” as part of the reason “why” this engagement has been arranged. Despite the presence of three senior civil servants, and 19 pages of briefing documents, no minutes of the meeting are taken. Once again, redacted and complete versions of the key document are shown below.


20 February 2014 – Mike Russel writes to Brett Wigdortz following their meeting. He outlines the situation regarding Initial Teacher Education in Scotland and states that he does not believe, based on their meeting, that there is a “viable proposal on the table” from Teach First. The letter also ends with a noticeably terse paragraph about Teach First trainees working in Scotland.


1 March 2014 – James Westhead writes to individuals from the Scottish Government, GTCS, East Ayrshire council and Glasgow City council recapping a meeting held on 25 February 2014. He states: “The meeting was convened by the GTCS – Ken Muir – to explore what the potential value-add to the Scottish system would be” from the establishment of a Scottish version of the Teach First model. A follow up email (which seems to have originally been withheld) between two Scottish Government officials seems to question the accuracy of Westhead’s summary: “Mmmmm. Some interesting use of phrases and words there.”


13 February 2015 – Brett Wigdortz writes to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asking for a meeting.

Doc 15 - Letter from Brett Wigdortz to Nicola Sturgeon - 13 February 2015-page-001


30 April 2015 – Nicola Sturgeon’s diary manager (Craig Smith) replies to Brett Wigdortz rejecting his request for a meeting but leaving open the possibility of future dialogue if Teach First have now “developed a proposal that addresses Scotland’s unique challenges.”

Doc 14


3 February 2016 – James Westhead writes to Rachel Sunderland (Scottish Government). He states that Mark Leishman (the Prince of Wales’ private secretary) “mentioned that there might be interest” from the Scottish Government in a new meeting with Teach First. As shown in the next entry, this communication leads directly to a later meeting.

Doc 13 page 6


22 April 2016 – Meeting between Scottish Government officials (John Gunstone and Stuart Robb) and Teach First staff (James Westhead and Reuben Moore). No notes appear to exist for this meeting. Another government official – Clare Hicks – actually requests any notes about the meeting on 25 May, adding that “we will want to keep on file.” She receives no reply.


21 May 2016 – Nicola Sturgeon writes to Paul Drechsler (Chair of the Teach First Board of Trustees) agreeing to a meeting between the two.

Doc 12-page-003


26 August 2016 – Teleconference between David Roy & Stuart Robb (Scottish Government) and James Westhead & Jonathan Dando (Teach First). Notes include the following sentence: “We agree to ensure they had the opportunity to tender if we go don that route.”


21 September 2016 – Meeting between Nicola Sturgeon and Paul Drechsler. The official briefing notes that “Teach First have long held ambitions of exporting their model of initial teacher education to Scotland.” Despite the presence of a senior civil servant, and likely themes being “Reform to Scottish education, changes to Initial Teacher Education in Scotland and the possible role for Teach First”, this is classified as a “private meeting”. No minutes are taken.

RA doc 09-page-001

(Parts of the briefing documents were originally redacted by the Scottish Government. Both versions are shown below.)


25 November 2016 – Gareth Brown (of PR organisation Message Matters) writes to Craig Hancock (assistant private secretary to John Swinney) in order to arrange a meeting between Teach First and the deputy first minister. His email also includes a full briefing document for Teach First’s proposed ‘Teach for Scotland’ programme (a document which the government will later try to keep secret despite having already provided an entirely unredacted version).


10 January 2017 – Meeting between John Swinney and James Westhead (Teach First) & Peter Duncan (Message Matters). Remarkably, the document states that there are no “sensitivities” around this meeting, despite identifying Teach First’s ambitions to expand into Scotland, highlighting the fact that “over £1m of SG investment” is supporting the development of “new routes into teaching,”  and stating that this meeting is “to hear more about the work of Teach First and whether the organisation could play a role in the context of Scottish education.” The notes also state that the “Equality and Human Rights Commissioner for Scotland is now advising Teach First” although she is unable to attend the meeting. Once again, no minutes are taken.

Doc 07-page-001

(As with Nicola Sturgeon’s meeting in September 2016, parts of the briefing documents for this meeting were initially redacted. Before and after version are shown below.)


28 February 2017 – Peter Duncan (Message Matters) contacts Colin McAllister (Special Adviser in the Scottish Government). Duncan asks McAllister to call him and also asks for assistance on three points relating to Teach First’s “excellent progress in drawing together a tangible offer to make available to the Scottish Government.” McAllister is asked for feedback on a proposed timeline and to help ‘facilitate’ an intervention whereby the Scottish Government would indicate to universities that engagement with Teach First would be “welcome”. He is also made aware of the possibility of a “helpful media intervention from the Teach for All network”. The third of these was originally redacted by the government, and both version of the document are shown below, along with the proposed timeline (a document which Teach First seem to have been especially keen to keep secret).

RA doc 04 enc-page-001


17 March 2017 & 4 April 2017 – James Westhead (Teach First) contacts Stuart Robb (Scottish Government) about the forthcoming government tender. The first email comes the day after a telephone call and is “a short note to capture our conversation.” It asserts that Robb “agreed that it would be useful to have a further more detailed conversation so that as commissioners you could understand fully what we could offer and our limitations”. It also claims that Robb agreed to “speak to Morag Redford to emphasise the Government view that HEI’s should be involved in discussions with Teach First around this potential tender”. Morag Redford is the chair of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education, a body representing the Scottish universities involved in Initial Teacher Education.

The second email follows up on the request regarding Redford, asking whether Robb had managed to speak with and “reassure her”. It also raises the possibility of Teach First and the Scottish Government engaging in a “partnership pilot rather than a tender” (the Scottish Government originally attempted to withhold this detail) and highlights concerns over the proposed development timeline of the government’ proposals. This email also makes reference to a meeting between John Swinney and Brett Wigdortz at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, although no official notes of this meeting seem to exist.

Once again, redacted and unredacted versions of the documents are shown below.


9 May 2017 – James Westhead writes to John Swinney, raising concerns about the timeline for the government’s new tender and even suggesting that other organisations may “submit tenders that are unrealistic in both ambition, delivery timescales and resource requirements, as they do not have the track record or experience of delivering such programmes.” Westhead suggests an “alternative route” which would permit Teach First to bypass the public tender process and establish a “partnership between Teach First and the Scottish Government” involving a “two-cohort pilot programme in Scotland starting in 2019.” The government initially redacted the sentence at the end of the first paragraph on page two of this document – the full version is shown below.


First of all, well-publicised concerns about the Scottish Government’s approach towards transparency and Freedom of Information are front and centre here. Teach First – an organisation which was explicitly seeking a change in Scottish education policy that would be beneficial to their organisation – held three meetings with government ministers (including the first minister of Scotland) without any minutes being taken. There is no version of events in which the decision not to keep proper records of these meetings looks justifiable. Furthermore, the tenuous nature of much of the redaction, highlighted by eventual provision of complete versions of all of the documents requested, raises serious questions about the government’s application of FOI exemptions in order to keep information secret from the public. It is worth remembering that a full disclosure only happened after a six-month battle during which I was forced to go all the way to the Scottish Information Commissioner. The time, knowledge, contacts and, let’s be honest, sheer bloody-mindedness to follow this process all the way through is an obvious barrier to many citizens being able to fully exercise their ‘right to know’.

What is also absolutely clear from all of this is that Teach First has been engaged in a long-term, persistent and – crucially – extremely well-connected lobbying operation. They have utilised links that go to the very heart of the British establishment, including connections with the Prince of Wales and the engagement of a PR company which includes two former MPs (one a piece for Labour and the Conservatives) and, in Marco Biagi, a former SNP government minister, all in pursuit of policy changes from which they would clearly benefit. This is not the behaviour of a benign education charity interested only in social justice, but rather of a multinational business seeking opportunities for further expansion.

Some of the specific details now in the public domain, such as the brazen attempt to bypass the public tender process, or the request to have the government lobby universities on their behalf, should also raise extremely serious questions about Teach First’s conduct as they have sought to gain a foothold in Scottish education.

Their reasons for withdrawing from the government’s tender process also remain unclear. In response to the recent stories about Prince Charles, a Teach First spokesperson said: “The proposed timeline would not provide us with sufficient time to develop a new programme bespoke for Scotland.” This directly contradicts the comment they previously provided in response to this issue, with Reuben Moore (their Director of Leadership) having earlier insisted that they were “pleased the recently announced tender process will give the time to focus on developing an excellent new route into teaching.”

Either way, this is almost certainly not the end of the story.

Update: 17 December 2017

Teach First’s withdrawal from the tender process and the Scottish Government’s response

Following a further FOI request the Scottish Government has provided me with Teach First’s letter to the Scottish Government informing them that they would not be submitting a bid to operate the “new route into teaching”.

TF withdrawal-page-001

TF withdrawal-page-00-2

There are a few things to note here.

The first is the assertion that Teach First “welcomed the issuing of a tender”, a claim which appears to be at odds with the contents of the letter sent to the Scottish Government in May 2017. At this stage, James Westhead (Executive Director of Teach First) attempted to convince John Swinney to allow the organisation to bypass the tendering process entirely, seeking instead to establish a “bilateral arrangement” with the government.

Doc37 extract

The next issue is the reasons – plural – given by Teach First for not submitting a bid. We now know that they had concerns not just about the timeline involved but also with the funding available.

Regarding the timeline, Teach First have made clear that they “are uncomfortable with commencing recruitment in February to a programme that would not have been fully designed or accredited by then.” This is an entirely reasonable criticism of the government’s plans, which are laid out within the official tender documents (which I have already analysed):


In addition to their concerns about the time available for the programme, Teach First have now also highlighted what they regard as problems with the funding, which they regard as being “not sufficiently clear”. They also appear to have been put off by the fact that they “could not receive funding directly”.

Unsurprisingly, however, Teach First does not regard this set back as the end of the matter and clearly retain ambitions of Scottish expansion. Their letter once again seeks Scottish Government “support” in developing a relation with a university partner and also requests a further meeting with John Swinney.

The education secretary’s response does not appear to offer them any encouragement on either point:

TF withdrawal response-page-001

If you would like to read original PDF versions of any of the documents included above please contact me at jmcemedia@gmail.com

Teach First, Ask Questions Later – full report & emails | Blog

The Herald is today [Sat 28 October] running two exclusive stories about Teach First, the fast-track teaching organisation expected to bid for a Scottish Government tender to deliver a ‘new route into teaching’.

The first of these articles – on the front page – concerns a highly critical report by Glasgow University which was produced “at the invitation of the General Teaching Council of Scotland and the Scottish Government”. You can read the story here.

The second article reveals that the Scottish universities currently involved in ITE (Initial Teacher Education or teacher training) have unanimously agreed not to work with Teach First. This comes despite repeated attempts by Teach First to establish a relationship with these institutions. You can read the story here.


The document in question was written by Dr Stephen Parker and Prof Trevor Gale, both of the University of Glasgow, in April 2016 (which is prior to Teach First’s meetings with both Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney).

I am making a full, unredacted copy of the report available here: Glasgow University report – Teach First.

A summary of the key introductory points is provided here:

Image 1Image 2Image 3



Teach First has been attempted to establish a link with a Scottish university for some time. A previous investigation – which led to stories about a detailed Teach First proposal for Scotland and secret lobbying on behalf of the organisation by Prince Charles – revealed that the organisation asked Scottish Government officials to contact Morag Redford (chair of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education) on their behalf.

Email 1 – sent from James Westhead (Teach First) to Stuart Robb (Scottish Government) on 17 March, 2017:

Image 5 TF to SG

Email 2 – sent from James Westhead to Stuart Robb on 4 April, 2017:

Image 6 TF to SG

In recent weeks, Teach First stepped up its attempts to secure a partnership with a Scottish university. I submitted FOI requests to all eight universities involved in teacher education, allowing me to confirm the following:

  • Education departments at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Stirling and UHI have had no contact with Teach First other than that regarding the recruitment of students into the programme
  • Dundee, Glasgow and UWS were contacted by Teach First but declined their requests for meetings (in the case of Glasgow, Teach First wrote directly to the author of the report covered above)
  • Strathclyde was contacted by CBI Scotland, who unsuccessfully attempted to arrange a meeting including Teach First

Email exchange – Teach First & University of Dundee

Email exchange – Teach First & University of Glasgow

Email exchange – Teach First & University of the West of Scotland

Email exchange – CBI (on behalf of Teach First) and University of Strathclyde


Tartan Teach First? A look inside the Scottish Government’s plans | Blog

Last week the Scottish Government finally released the tender documents for its ‘new route into teaching’. Ever since plans to tender for what looks like a fast track teaching programme were announced, questions have been asked about whether this will allow Teach First to realise its long-held ambitions of expanding north of the border. In recent week I have published a number of stories highlighting key aspects of Teach First’s Scottish proposals (see here) and lobbying operation (see here).

Here I take a look at the specifications of the tender for the proposed new programme with a particular focus on the similarities between the Scottish Government’s plans and the systems currently operated or proposed by Teach First.

The Money

The first rule of any investigation is simple: follow the money. In the case of the Scottish Government’s “new route into teaching” this will mean following up to £250k, which is the top end of the available budget for a project that will last just a couple of years.

TD-Costs 1

But it’s not just about the headline figures. As shown below, the government expects employers (ie. councils) to fund the salaries of anyone working through this new scheme, and has also stated that the existing Scottish payscales must be respected. Interestingly, however, they also state that they would be willing to consider “any innovative incentivisation that can assist recruitment.”

TD-Costs 2

This could mean just about anything but the government will have to be extremely careful to avoid a scenario where an “incentive” is deployed to create a de-facto unqualified teacher’s salary, as is available in England and utilised by likely-bidders Teach First (who suggested something very similar to the Scottish Government a few months ago). This is definitely an area to keep an eye on, especially with John Swinney having now announced £20k bursaries for people switching career to become teachers of STEM subjects.


The Timeline

The tender documents also contain a timeline for the development and delivery of this new route into teacher. Bids must be submitted by the end of November 2017, with the government awarding the contact at the start of the new year (ignore the typo in the tender documents). From that point, the programme will have to be designed, marketed, accredited and verified within, at the very most, 12 months (although it seems likely that most organisations would seek to start the programme in August or even – in the case of Teach First – July, giving just 6 months to get things up and running). As the screenshot below shows, the new course will be advertised to prospective students before it has even been accredited by the GTCS.



As has already been reported in The Herald, even Teach First felt that this time scale was too narrow, although – and as is highlighted later – this was very much in the context of seeking favourable terms for themselves.



As the tender documents make clear the winning bidder is not designing a programme that they will operate for an indefinite period; instead they are creating a system which will be given, in its entirety, to the Scottish Government.

TD-Handover 1

This means that as of December 2020 (at the latest) this new route into teaching will be brought in-house and, presumably, operated by an arm of the Scottish Government from that point forward (although the government could in theory re-tender for a new operator while retaining the model).

TD-Handover 2

Given that the SNP has previously described the tendering process (in the case of CalMac) as “the most expensive exercise in futility” it seems likely that questions will be asked of this approach. If this new system is to ultimately be operated in-house, and the government knows, at least in general, what it is looking for, then why not simply run it on a fully public basis from the beginning rather than, potentially, hand £250k to a private organisation? The total cost of the tendering process, and this figure relative to the overall cost of the programme, will clearly come in for scrutiny further down the line.


University link

Another notable aspect of the tender surrounds the need to link with a university as part of the programme. A few days after the tender was opened a question was submitted, with an answer that is likely to raise eyebrows:


This opens the possibility of an organisation with no experience of Initial Teacher Education in Scotland, supported by an organisation with no experience of Initial Teacher Education in Scotland, winning a £250k contract to establish a new form of Initial Teacher Education in Scotland. It’s not difficult to see why this might cause problems, and hard questions would have to be asked of any organisation which, in seeking to enter the Scottish education system, had been unable – or unwilling – to secure a partnership with a Scottish university. In the case of Teach First this is particularly relevant because documents obtained under FOI laws suggest that they have been finding it difficult to convince a Scottish university to work with them (more to come on this in the next few weeks).



As The Herald has already reported (see here) this new route into teaching will involve a very small number of people:


Whatever else this programme may be, then, it is clearly not an answer to the increasingly worrying recruitment crisis in Scottish education. It is also worth noting that Teach First recommended a cohort of around 40 students for the first year of a new Scottish programme as far back as 2012:



Another interesting aspect of this section of the documents is the reference to “innovative advertising and recruitment techniques”.


This phrase immediately reminded me of the following paragraph, which comes from an HMIE “information-gathering” visit to Teach First from 2011 (obtained via FOI):


This is just one of a number of areas of the tender which aligns very closely with what we – and the Scottish Government – already know about Teach First.



Another similarity between the tender documents and the Teach First approach is found in the focus on “leadership”.

These screenshots come from the Scottish Government’s tender documents.

TD-Leadership 1

TD-Leadership 2

The images below come from documents submitted to the Scottish Government as part of Teach First’s pitch for permission to bring their teacher training model to Scotland.




It’s also worth highlighting that the existing Teach First programme is in fact called the ‘Leadership Development Programme’. On the website it is described as follows:



Focus on deprivation

Which brings us to what is, without doubt, the most interesting aspect of this tender: the focus on getting new teachers into schools in areas of deprivation. Indeed, bidders are given explicit instructions that new student teachers must work in “schools with high levels of deprivation” and that the winning organisation must work with areas being “supported by the Attainment Scotland Fund”, part of “a targeted initiative focused on supporting pupils in the local authorities of Scotland with the highest concentrations of deprivation” (Glasgow, Dundee, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire, North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire and Renfrewshire). (http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Education/Schools/Raisingeducationalattainment)

These are taken from the tender documents:


This might not seem particularly surprising – after all, the government has spent the last couple of years insisting that tackling the fact that those from deprived background suffer a significant educational disadvantage (the so-called “attainment gap”). In Scotland, however, problems around teacher numbers are not concentrated in areas of deprivation – instead, we struggle to attract and retain teachers in rural areas and in specific subjects (although evidence suggests that the number of subjects facing such problems continues to increase).

The following images are taken from Scottish government briefing papers prepared in advance of meetings between both Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney and representatives of Teach First:


It would seem, then, that the Scottish Government is about to spend up to a quarter of a million pounds, plus the costs of the tendering process itself, tackling a problem that they themselves clearly and categorically state does not exist – but which Teach First was explicitly set up to tackle:




With Teach First widely expected to bid for this new contract, the organisation’s history of lobbying the Scottish Government is acutely relevant.

Scottish Government documents make absolutely clear that they have been under no illusions about this lobbying. Ministerial briefing papers explicitly mention the organisation’s “long held ambitions of exporting their model of Initial Teacher Education to Scotland”.


Despite this, government ministers held several unminuted meetings during which Teach First appears to have received advice regarding a future bid to the Scottish Government. Full details of these meetings can be found here: https://jmcemedia.wordpress.com/2017/10/08/revealed-meetings-between-the-scottish-government-and-teach-first/

Furthermore, Severin Carrell (The Guardian’s Scotland editor) and I recently revealed that Prince Charles has also lobbied the government on behalf of Teach First, but that the Scottish Government refuses to reveal details of this lobbying. You can read that story here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/14/scottish-ministers-refuse-to-make-public-prince-charless-lobbying-letters-teacher-training-rules-scotland

It is plainly unacceptable that an organisation which was seeking a change in government policy, and which is expected to bid for a subsequent government contract, was able to hold unminuted meetings with the former Education Secretary, the current Education Secretary (and DFM) and the current First Minister, and questions should be asked about the extent to which this lobbying influenced the final design of the tendering documents now available.

But it’s not just the secretive meetings that are concerning. The Herald has already reported on Teach First’s attempts to both delay the tendering process (in order to improve their chances of a successful bid) and convince the government to allow them to bypass it altogether (see here).

Below is a screenshot of one of Teach First’s emails to the Scottish Government:


Here we see them ask the government if it would be willing to pursue an “alternative arrangement” to the “public tender process”. This was actually part of a lengthy email in which Teach First pushed hard to convince the government to follow a path that would be better suited their organisation.


Although these requests appear – at least thus far – to have been rejected, they still raise questions about any potential bid from Teach First for this government tender.