I have worked for many years in South Auckland.

In a city where inequalities are now very evident, education is more important than ever before. Only 55 per cent of students from low-income households pass NCEA Level 1 in Year 11, compared with 80 per cent of European New Zealanders.

It is possible to change outcomes. But it takes lateral thinking and multiple approaches. It is therefore astonishing that the Teach First New Zealand model, highly innovative and supported by the University of Auckland as a well-researched and well-grounded programme, should come under criticism even before it has begun.

Firstly, it is not a crash course. Yes, it begins with an intensive summer programme. But it is followed by a carefully planned programme of teacher formation over the next two years, delivered by a top university.


These trainees are committed to carefully balanced holiday and weekend seminars that help them to improve their teaching practice and develop their leadership skills and critical thinking.

Secondly, recruitment is designed to attract the highest-performing graduates, often snapped up by big businesses in April or May of their graduation year.

This is well before recruitment into traditional teacher training programmes even begins. Top Maori and Pacific graduates are highly sought after in other professions and attract a premium. Yet they could be outstanding role models in South Auckland and Northland schools.

Thirdly, it is naive to suggest that pupils will be disadvantaged by having "first-year" teachers. Internships are traditional to training in many professions. All children should be taught well, and the highest of standards should be aspired to.

But even the traditional model of teacher formation has inexperienced teachers working with pupils. The Teach First model is no different in that respect from standard practice.

Auckland needs innovation to unleash everyone's potential. Sixty-seven per cent of all Pasifika people in New Zealand live in Auckland and half of them in the Manukau area.

Another 87,000 Pasifika people will live in Auckland by 2021. Just 24 per cent of Auckland Pasifika Year 13 students achieved UE in 2010 compared to 59 per cent of Europeans.

Only 2 per cent of teachers are Pasifika now - how can we attract the brightest and best Pasifika graduates into teaching?


Rather than demeaning teachers, the Teach First model is intended to turn graduates - such as top-notch Maori and Pasifika role models - into quality professionals available to boards of trustees and principals in low-decile schools.

Teach First New Zealand does not just talk about the symptoms of educational inequality but is doing something about it.

In the United Kingdom, 23 per cent of Teach First recruits came from Oxford and Cambridge universities.

And in 2009, Teach First was ranked 8th in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, beating firms such as HSBC and Microsoft.

Graduates in the UK and Australia report high levels of satisfaction from their experience. Alumni, wherever they end up, become powerful advocates for equity and social justice.

Teach First New Zealand is a small beginning. It is not a quick fix.

It is only part of a suite of changes required to increase educational potential in this city.

I am proud to be associated with it.