Reconstructing the emergence of Teach First: examining the role of policy entrepreneurs and networks in the process of policy transfer
Rauschenberger, Emilee Ruth
Within the disciplines of education and political science, the phenomenon of the voluntary transfer of policy ideas or practices from elsewhere, or “policy borrowing”, is often the topic of intense debate and study. The study of policy transfer also has strong links with the field of diffusion. Scholars in these fields study cases of policy transfer to understand (1) what motives and mechanisms cause policy diffusion and transfer, and (2) how policies are adapted, or reinvented, in the process of being transferred. The majority of such studies have focused on state-to-state cases of policy transfer involving predominantly government actors. Yet, a growing but still limited number of studies have considered the ways policy entrepreneurs have initiated transfer and utilized networks to bring about and implement policy ideas taken from elsewhere. Teach First provides a unique case-study through which to investigate the role of policy entrepreneurs and networks in shaping the process of policy transfer and reinvention. Teach First launched in 2002 as a non-profit organization and innovative teacher training programme based in London. The scheme, proposed and implemented by leaders within the private sector but heavily funded by the central government, was publicly linked to the U.S. programme Teach For America (TFA). Like TFA, Teach First’s purpose was to improve the schooling of disadvantaged pupils by recruiting elite university graduates to teach for two years in under-resourced schools. My research aimed to uncover how and why this policy was first conceptualized and launched as well as how it was reinvented in the process by those individuals and groups involved. Thus, through a case-study of Teach First’s emergence, this study investigates: What roles do policy entrepreneurs and networks play in policy transfer and diffusion processes? and How are policy entrepreneurs and networks involved in reinventing policy during the transfer process? To explore these research questions, I carried out semi-structured interviews with more than 50 individuals from various sectors who were involved in the creation of either Teach First or TFA. After transcribing all interviews, I used a form of narrative analysis to reconstruct the policy story of how Teach First emerged. In the process, I uncovered and accounted for the diversity of motives, institutional pressures, and contextual factors shaping Teach First’s development with a focus on the policy entrepreneurs and networks. Drawing on previous research in policy transfer, innovation-diffusion, and institutionalism to analyze the policy story, I concluded that both policy entrepreneurs and networks were responsible for bringing about transfer of TFA to England and shaping the nature and extent of its reinvention. This temporal process was furthered shaped by the highly politicized nature of initial teacher training in England, which limited the autonomy of policy entrepreneurs and forced further adaptation of Teach First in ways that its original sponsors had not intended. I also discovered that, while the TFA model played an influential role in this process, TFA was not generally used as a guiding model during implementation. Furthermore, I argue that in the process of mobilizing support for Teach First and implementing the idea in its first year, a new network emerged and represented a potentially influential new voice in education. This study aims to contribute to (1) the knowledge of the roles of policy entrepreneurs and networks in policy innovation, diffusion, and transfer and (2) the growing but still limited research on Teach First. This study also provides a foundation for further studies of Teach For All, an organization co-founded in 2007 by Teach First and TFA, which works to spread the programme globally. Through Teach For All, at least thirty-eight other countries now have programmes modeled on TFA and Teach First, though little research has examined how Teach First came about and spread in this way. Finally, the research also illustrates the value of a methodology not often used in transfer studies – narrative reconstruction – through which data is formed into a storied narrative to account for the complexities of the contexts and the socially–constructed views of the diversity of actors involved in policy-making and transfer.