Only Connect — Teach First award winners reveal their secrets…

I attended the Teach First Awards this Thursday and interviewed some of the award winners afterwards. The ceremony was your average award winning affair: lots of praise for sponsors and quite a bit of back-slapping. I like the Teach First programme because it has at its heart the idea of promoting good teaching — which is surely what it’s all about — but it’s worth remembering that even if Teach First becomes the largest graduate employer in the country by employing over a 1,000 graduates, it will still amount to less 1% of the teaching workforce. Teach First’s impact while important is always going to be small. It’s value is perhaps more symbolic than anything else. This said, I do believe we have a lot to learn from its best teachers. I shot some video footage on my Flip camera and put together this short film about the key elements of good teaching, based on what the award winners told me. The winners interviewed on the film are:

Primary Excellence Award – winner: Kate Barron, from Manorfield Primary School, Tower Hamlets, London

Janette Butler from P&G who presented the award said: “Kate spent a great deal of time in the beginning of the year setting relevant and ambitious visions and goals for her students. She enthused them about writing – even starting a ‘Young journalists’ Club where they created their own newsletter for the school.  This participant worked tirelessly to help her students progress. In just one example, she focussed on a boy who over the years had fallen far behind. With her help, this student began to make progress – for the first time in four years.  As his confidence grows, this young man’s results are continuing to improve against all expectations…including his own.”

STEM Excellence Award – winner: Joshua Eisenthal, Physics teacher, Capital City Academy, Brent, London

Peter Silcock from Credit Suisse who presented the award said: “Joshua consistently identifies underachievers and analyses reasons why they aren’t progressing, using others to help him apply new interventions to raise his pupil’s attainment. He has put a lot of time into his year 13 physics class this year, most of whom have applied to study physics at university. One of his pupils under direct coaching and mentoring applied to Oxford and has been given a conditional offer. If he achieves the required ‘A’ level results he will be the first pupil at the school to gain a place at Oxbridge.”

The Excellence Award – winner: Fiona Docherty, Business Studies teacher, Walworth Academy Southwark

Glenn Earle from Goldman Sachs who presented the award said: “The nominations for Fiona all describe dedication, commitment, drive, modesty and sheer hard work in all areas of school life, which set her apart.  As a business teacher she treats all her students as young business people, shaking their hands as they enter the classroom.  She sets exceptionally high standards and is relentless at ensuring her pupils progress. As a result they have achieved well above their target grades.  In fact five of her students achieved A stars in their GCSE mocks – considerably higher than predicted. Her colleagues say she has raised the aspirations of her pupils by organising trips to multi-national companies as well as organising after school activities….an inspiration not only to her students but to other teachers at the school as well.


Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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