Interview: Brett Wigdortz, Founder and CEO of Teach First

**Founded in 2002, Teach First is an educational charity that works closely with schools, particularly those that are disadvantaged, sending its guardian angel teachers to work with a vision for a future “where no child’s educational success is limited by their socio-economic background.”**

Friendly, relaxed and passionate, it’s hard to imagine CEO and Founder Brett Wigdortz could have dedicated his life to anything other than a project as worthy as Teach First. With 2013 marking the year that Teach First become the largest graduate recruiter in the country, Boar Books caught up with Brett to talk the importance of education, careers at Teach First, and his new book _Success Against the Odds: Five lessons in how to achieve the impossible_.

“How did you first conceive of the idea for Teach First?” I’m nervous about my first question – it seems impossible to ask this of a man who created what is now, arguably, the most well-known of all charities fighting inequality in education.

Brett’s answer, however, is modest and logical, as he cites his previous work as a management consultant as the prompt for Teach First. In this job, he says, he became interested in how businesses could attract the best talent. When business brought him to visit schools, he realised that, in much the same way, there were ways that schools could get even more out of teachers. Getting more out of teachers would mean getting more out of education, which could really change the lives of kids.

He also cites his own background as a major influence on the work he does and the passion he has for Teach First. Of his upbringing in New Jersey, Brett said “I went to a normal school, a local school; my mum’s a teacher, my brother, my aunts and uncles are all teachers, so I grew up with a really educational family, and I guess I just really appreciated the importance of education. I guess it just seemed to be a given for me.”

Brett’s new book is entitled Success Against the Odds, but what does he consider his greatest moment of success along the journey to establish Teach First? Brett says firmly that it was visiting the first schools and seeing the work achieved – “there were these schools which were really performing at this amazing level, there were children there really succeeding, going to universities like Warwick and others … [it’s about] seeing people succeed at the level they should.”

Despite the phenomenal success Teach First enjoys today, it only started in 2002. I asked Brett if he ever thought Teach First would grow to be such a large and well-known project as it is today. He laughs and says “I guess you always think these dreams aren’t going to happen!”

Voicing contagious enthusiasm for Teach First’s increasing graduate employment figures, Brett says he really hoped his dream would take off, but that they hadn’t expected this much interest from graduates. Warwick University, as one of Teach First’s top intakes, shows that Teach First attracted “really great people to this idea.”

“I think it all comes down to the idea that, actually, a lot of graduates in Britain really want the chance to make a real change to people’s lives.”

Now it’s time to tick the Books section box: why did writing a book about his experiences particularly appeal to Brett?

“Well it was the 10th anniversary, and a lot of people have asked me how have I got to this stage, and how can change really happen, and so I wanted to write a book to show, you know, that you can make a big difference in your life. That things can change.”

Brett says he tried to include stories of difficulties that they went through before things really got moving, so as to show a realistic idea of what it was like. There were also stories involving quite high-profile figures, people like Gordon Brown, among others.

Brett laughs a bit about the “dysfunctional political” things going on at the time many of the anecdotes are set, but maintains firmly that, while writing these bits, he tried to keep a certain level of anonymity, and to keep embarrassing and negative things out of it.

Finally, as Teach First’s Warwick intake grows and grows each year, I ask Brett what he would say to the Warwick undergraduates who are perhaps looking forward to a career in teaching, or specifically with Teach First.

“Well if you look at our website, we look for selection competencies, it’s all on the website: there’s nothing secret about what we look for. With our application form, people should really spend time on it – sometimes I think people do it too quickly, and they don’t really pull out good examples of their competencies.”

“I mean, we’re looking for examples of those competencies, good examples of when you’ve shown them in the past. I think it’s great to spend some time volunteering with children – those are really good experiences – and really trying to think about building a portfolio of evidence and experiences that will show that you have the competencies that are necessary to be a successful teacher.”


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