What is quality first teaching and why is it important?

You may have heard the phrase 'quality first teaching' but what does it mean? Here's a taster and some practical examples, based on our self-study course by Claire Gadsby

An average teacher, in a 20-year career, will deliver approximately 21,500 lessons. Consider just for a moment the thousands of young lives that such a teacher will impact upon.

Whilst there is currently a significant emphasis on catch-up programmes and remedial interventions, these can often be ‘too little, too late’ for vulnerable pupils.

Securing pupil progress, and helping each child to achieve their full potential, is therefore a key mandate for every teacher.

Of course, any effective teacher needs to be armed with more than good intentions. To be the most efficient practitioner in the classroom, we each need to harness the approaches and pedagogies that are proven to make the most difference to pupils’ learning.

Quality first teaching also known as QFT or Wave 1 teaching, is a sensible starting point to begin to consider not just what we do but why we do it.

On a practical level, it can be hard to close learning gaps once they develop. Instead, the ideal is to provide QFT to the whole class in the first instance.

This firm foundation is a fundamental entitlement for all pupils and is vital in underpinning all aspects of subsequent progress.

What is quality first teaching?

Quality first teaching is a term that is often used within education. It originated in a 2008 Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) policy document called ‘Personalised Learning – A practical guide’.

QFT emphasises the importance of relationships between the classroom teacher and pupils, and encourages higher expectations through higher levels of support for all pupils.

In the document, the DCSF asserted that QFT:

‘… demands 100% participation from the pupils, and sets high and realistic challenges. It does not ‘spoon feed’, it is challenging and demanding; it expects pupils to be able to articulate their ideas, understanding and thinking by actively promoting pupil talk.’ (page 10)

One of the biggest changes in education in the last 15 years has been the shift towards research and evidence-informed practice. This means that we now know more than ever before about what is proven to make a difference to pupils’ learning.

It is important to note that one of the common findings across all the global research is that:

Great teaching is the most important lever schools have to improve outcomes for their pupils.' (EEF)

Whilst this is true for all pupils, it is especially important for learners who may have additional needs.

High-quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils, is the first step in responding to pupils who have or may have SEN. Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for a lack of good quality teaching.’ (Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice (p99), Department for Education, January 2015)

You may sometimes hear QFT teaching referred to as a Wave 1 intervention:

  • Wave 1: Universal: inclusive, quality-first teaching for all.
  • Wave 2: Targeted: additional interventions.
  • Wave 3: Specialist: additional and highly personalised interventions.

Wave 1 is the best place to focus most of our energy. It is planned so that all pupils can participate and access the learning at their own level.

In summary, as teachers, we need to ensure that our initial teaching is as effective as possible because it is always hard for pupils to catch up once they have fallen behind.

The components of QFT

At the heart of QFT is the idea of inclusive teaching. Here are its main components:

  1. Highly focused lesson design with sharp learning objectives.
  2. High demands of pupil involvement and engagement with their learning.
  3. High levels of interaction for all pupils.
  4. Appropriate use of questioning, modelling and explaining by the teacher.
  5. An emphasis on learning through dialogue, with regular opportunities for pupils to talk both individually and in groups.
  6. An expectation that pupils will accept responsibility for their own learning and work independently.
  7. Regular use of encouragement and authentic praise to engage and motivate pupils.

(Adapted from Personalised Learning – A Practical Guide (2008), page 10)

Which of these might benefit from further development in your own practice?

What does this mean for your teaching?

Here is an example of a QFT approach for seeking the gaps in pupils’ learning. It's a very effective strategy that uses the KWL grid: (What you) Know, (What you) Want (need) to know, (What you have) Learned.

Although this technique has been widely used for many years, pupils have often struggled with the middle column – after all, how do any of us know what we don’t know?

You can use several methods and adaptations to make this assessment activity more effective.

A: Providing pupils with words, pictures or questions to place in the grid, as shown in the example about photosynthesis below.

B: Adding more images, as well as new learning to the Learned column in a different colour to further strengthen memory and retention, as shown in the example about animals below.

C: Challenging pupils’ long-term retention by returning to the grid at a later point in the sequence and challenging them to see if they can spot the ‘red herring’. This is a deliberate mistake that you have now included in the grid, as in the image below.


Identify a topic that you have either taught or are planning to teach and which would benefit from using the KWL grid described above.

Make a note of:

  • whether you intend to provide learners with words, pictures, questions or a mixture of all three
  • what the ‘red herring’ adaptation might be
  • the intended, desired impact upon pupils’ learning.

This article has been adapted from our self-study course, Quality First Teaching, written by Claire Gadsby.

On the course, you’ll find more ideas and resources covering a range of pedagogical approaches proven to support pupil progress, and to help you consider the implications for your own practice.


Last Updated: 
28 Mar 2022