Teach First ambassador Joseph James
Joseph James
Policy Lead at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Ambassador cohort
2012 Training Programme

The Civil Service Network has massively helped our response to COVID-19

As a teacher, Joseph saw that many of the issues holding his pupils back were systemic.

Now in the Civil Service, he’s helped research and write the National Food Strategy, which has influenced Marcus Rashford’s food poverty campaign. And in leading the Civil Service Network, he’s drawing on the power of the Teach First community to widen access to one of the UK’s biggest employers.

As a teacher you get to make a big difference in people’s lives. But I was very aware that there are structural issues impacting kids that go way beyond the school gates. So in 2015 I joined the Civil Service, where I’m currently working on the National Food Strategy – an independent review that aims to make the UK food system healthier and more sustainable.

I’ve also worked on the COVID-19 Food Vulnerability task force, which secured £63m to feed people struggling to afford food during the first wave of coronavirus in March. Both pieces of work have fed into the recommendations around food poverty that were adopted by Marcus Rashford’s recent campaign. Our work and research contributed to the government’s recent commitment to make £400m support available for vulnerable families over Christmas during COVID-19. I feel very lucky to be involved so early in my career in projects like these, that are making an impact for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Changing the system

The question in my mind was “can you make a difference in the Civil Service?”, because I didn’t know the answer to that. But I’ve found I’m able to play a small part in tackling some of the huge issues like holiday hunger and malnutrition. These are issues that affect many children’s behaviour in the classroom – if you’re struggling in school, you’ll struggle even more if you’re poorly fed.

I also lead the Teach First Civil Service Network, which connects ambassadors working in the Civil Service. It’s always nice to see how willing the ambassadors are to go beyond their day jobs, to carve out bits of time to tackle disadvantage in education.

Opening doors to the Civil Service

With such a huge variety of jobs available – from analyst to nuclear waste inspector – the Civil Service does a lot of outreach work to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds understand all the options. Our role in the network, as former teachers, is to make sure that work is informed by everything we know about young people.

We’re lucky to have new ambassadors joining the network every year, who have a lot of love for their time at Teach First, so they want to use that experience to make a positive impact.

Teach First's community is a powerful force for change

We recently delivered training for mentors working with young people, which we developed alongside ex-teachers in the Civil Service. Its success led to the Cabinet Office asking us to deliver it for all 500 of their mentors. This scale was way beyond what we expected, so we weren’t sure we could do it. But when we reached out to Teach First's community, there was a huge wave of interest from ambassadors wanting to give up their time to help – even during COVID-19.

It was heartening to see. And it now looks like we can deliver the training, which – at a time when schools are stretched – is more valuable than ever in supporting disadvantaged pupils. It means we’ll be able to send out mentors that are really ready to work with young people.


Like Joe, if you've completed any of our programmes, that makes you a Teach First ambassador. You are now part of a community changing education for the better. Our community consists of teachers, leaders, policymakers and beyond, bringing their expertise to help unlock the potential in all children. No matter where you've chosen to go after your time with Teach First, as an ambassador, you're a critical part of the solution to ending educational inequality.

Find out more about how you can stay connected and continue to make an impact, below:

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