A sponsored search result on Google stated "Searching For A Teacher? www.teachfirst.org.uk Teach First Provides Outstanding Teachers For a Two-Year Commitment".
The complainant, who believed that Teach First only provided trainee teachers, challenged whether the ad, and specifically the claim "Teach First Provides Outstanding Teachers", misleadingly implied that they supplied people with qualified teacher status.
TeachFirst said the ad was targeted at school leaders looking to recruit teachers into their schools and that the result would have only been displayed to those who had searched for terms concerning teachers or schools and recruitment. They said the ad was therefore highly targeted to a group of online users who had an interest in teacher recruitment and were likely to have some knowledge of the education sector. They stated that the sponsored search result was limited in characters so they were constrained about what information they could include, but that there was a huge range of information available to school leaders and others on the website which the ad linked directly to. They said there was therefore no risk that school leaders could pay them for a fee or engage in a partnership with them without fully understanding what they were signing up for.
They said individuals supplied by TeachFirst were defined as teachers under the Education Act and that, as part of their services, they also offered the opportunity for schools to recruit qualified teachers who had between two and nine years’ experience. Of those teachers who were in training, they said they taught the same timetable as Newly Qualified Teachers (NQT) and had sole responsibility for their classes and conducted all of the planning, teaching and assessment as was expected of a qualified teacher. They said the school were therefore able to fill a teacher vacancy and the teacher in training was paid a teacher's salary.
They said the definition of what constituted a teacher was changing in the modern education system and that it was encouraged and recognised by the Government that teachers came from a variety of backgrounds and entered the profession through a variety of ways. By way of example they said it had always been the case that a teaching qualification was not needed to be a teacher in an independent school and that this was now also the case in free schools and academies.
They believed the term "outstanding" within the claim was likely to be understood as subjective and was therefore not capable of objective substantiation. They recognised that for some in the education community the word carried connotations of an official rating but that it was mostly associated with the rating of a school as a result of an Ofsted inspection. They stated that individual teachers were not rated by Ofsted or any other body apart from on completion of their qualification. They believed that even if "outstanding" could be regarded as an objective claim it was accurate to describe their teachers as outstanding because of the calibre of the individuals they recruited (and the selection process) and the high level of performance and qualification the majority of their teachers achieved in their PGCE. They provided details of brochures sent to schools that had expressed an interest in participating, along with a 2011 Ofsted 'Initial Teacher Education Inspection Report" which rated the training programme as "Outstanding" across a number of categories.
The ASA considered that schools that were in the market for recruiting teachers were likely to be aware that TeachFirst was a charity that ran an employment based training programme. However, we considered those schools were unlikely to be aware of the processes involved or whether the teachers being referred to in the ad had already been through that training programme and had therefore already gained Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) or whether they were participants at the beginning of the training process. We considered that some schools may have assumed from the ad that TeachFirst also offered qualified teachers who had been through their programme and that these were the individuals who were the subject of the ad.
We understood the individuals chosen by TeachFirst to participate in the programme went through a vigorous selection process and were required to go through an initial six-week training programme before being placed in a school. Those individuals were carefully matched to the schools in which they were to carry out the two-year programme and were supported during that time by tutors and a Leadership Development Officer. Those involved in the programme were defined as "teachers" under the Education Act and that they were employed as, and performed as teachers during the two-year programme. We acknowledged that it was fair to describe those who taught as "teachers" and noted free and independent schools already employed some teachers who did not hold a QTS and that those individuals carried out exactly the same functions as those teachers supplied by TeachFirst who did not yet hold a QTS and also by those who were fully qualified. We also noted TeachFirst also offered schools the opportunity to recruit experienced teachers who had graduated through their two-year programme and who were therefore fully qualified but understood these were not the teachers who were being specifically referred to in the ad. We considered that the qualification status and the experience of a teacher along with the extent of their own commitment was something that was likely to affect a school’s decision to employ a particular individual and that this was therefore a significant piece of information that would affect their understanding of the ad and the type of "teachers" being offered through the claim "Teach First Provides Outstanding Teachers For a Two Year Commitment".
We noted the word "Outstanding" used within the phrase "Teach First Provides Outstanding Teachers" could be understood in a number of ways, including a subjective description of general performance. Although not a formal qualification as such, we understood student teachers could be graded in a number of ways including "Outstanding". In any event, we considered the use of the phrase in this instance could be understood to mean that some sort of an assessment or rating of an individual’s teaching ability had already taken place, at the point at which the participant was first allocated to teach at a participating school. However, this was not the case.
Although sponsored search results are by their very nature significantly limited by space, we considered this did not negate TeachFirst's responsibility to ensure the chosen presentation did not mislead potential schools about the type of "teacher" being offered or their decision to find out more (and click on the link to the website). We considered the fact that schools were being invited to enter into a partnership with TeachFirst and to potentially employ a trainee teacher during their two-year training programme was a significant piece of information that was likely to affect their decision to find out more about potential teachers and the involvement with TeachFirst and that further information should have been included in the ad to qualify clearly that it was a teacher in training who was being offered. Because that information was omitted we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising).
The ad should not appear again in its current form. We told TeachFirst to ensure their ads did not state or imply that participants in the programme already held QTS