How to innovate - by Teach First

Charity Case Study Series

  • Our new series of case studies takes a look at some of the inventive work being carried out by organisations in the charity sector
  • Chloe Surowiec from Teach First explains the secrets to successful innovation
  • Download our charity risk guide to find out more about how to ensure the sustainability of your charity

In the first in a new series of charity case studies, we find out more about Teach First, a social enterprise and registered charity that aims to address educational disadvantage in England and Wales.

Chloe Surowiec, the charity’s Head of Innovation Partnerships, explains that loving the problem before designing a solution is the secret to innovating sustainably.

Teach First started as an idea aimed at ending educational inequality. We set up our innovation unit in 2012 to inspire and nurture other great education solutions.

The unit incubates and accelerates the most promising innovations with the potential to fundamentally change the education system.

What we do

We work with 20 start-ups, and while their legal forms vary – charities, community interest companies and social businesses – the risks they face don’t.

Sustainability is one of these risks. But for us, ensuring financial security should not be the starting point – ensuring impact should be the number-one priority.

And when it comes to having maximum impact on the education system, knowing how to innovate successfully plays a big part.

That’s why our innovation unit has developed an approach that puts “the problem” at its centre.

Understanding the problem

Researching and understanding the ins and outs of a problem provides the requisite foundation upon which to design, build and test the innovation that will eliminate it. We call it “loving the problem, not the solution”.

Take Jess Barratt, founder and chief executive of youth-led education initiative Franklin Scholars, who joined the unit for an innovation weekend in 2013.

Barratt decided to focus on understanding the negative impact that the transition between primary and secondary school can have upon students experiencing low self-esteem, and potential solutions to tackle it.

She developed the idea of a coaching model, in which year-10 students coach under-confident year-seven students through what, for some, is their most challenging year. The unit has now incubated Franklin Scholars for 18 months.

The sustainability of Barratt’s venture speaks for itself – she is currently partnered with seven schools and is optimistic that this will double.

At Teach First, we’ve learned that a well-designed solution to a fully understood problem will be sustainable, and ultimately scalable.

It will meet an unaddressed need in the education marketplace that commissioners will pay for and stakeholders will support.