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The BBC's James Westhead
"The government says the tests are vital to ensure teachers reach minimum standards"
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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Call to scrap teacher tests
PGCE students
Teachers must pass the tests to qualify
The government is being urged to scrap basic literacy and numeracy tests for would-be teachers - because so many of them are failing.

All students seeking qualified teacher status in England must pass the 45-minute tests.

But while 95% passed the numeracy test in 2000, this year more than a quarter failed, according to some universities.

They need these skills in literacy and numeracy to do the job the nation asks of them and I don't think there can be any compromise on that

Estelle Morris
Now the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers - which represents 87 UK universities and colleges involved in teacher education - has said it is "madness" to risk losing good candidates at a time of teacher shortages.

Professor Mike Newby, from the Council for the Education of Teachers, described the tests as an appalling cruelty.

"Everything you've worked for, all the money you've gone into debt by over the past four, six, eight years could come to nothing, on the basis of one false answer you give on one of those tests," he said.

But the government is standing firm, saying the tests are a necessary part of the drive to raise standards.

'Outstanding' teacher

Teacher Helen Stent, who is in her first post at Bevendean Primary school in Brighton, failed her maths test at college last year and has since failed an online version of the test three times.

If she fails again, she will lose her status as a qualified teacher.

"I've done my GCSE maths and I've got good reports and I'm a competent teacher - that's what I've been told.

Professor Mike Newby
Professor Mike Newby: "An appalling cruelty"
"But it doesn't seem to count - it's this numeracy test that's stopping me.

"So now this is my last chance of taking it and I might not have a career at the end of it," she said.

Her head teacher, Bruce Potts, said Helen was the type of person he had "dreamt of appointing" and is deeply concerned he may lose her.

Mr Potts agrees with the government's requirement of a minimum level of knowledge and ability.

But, he added: "I do think there needs to be a certain amount of discretionary flexibility when you have an outstanding practitioner like I've got".

Heading overseas

Final year student at the University of Brighton, Jo, is studying to teach religious education in secondary schools.

test paper
Many students have failed the tests
But she has failed her maths test three times and has decided not to take it a fourth time - instead she plans to teach abroad next year.

"I think it's a real shame, because I'm going to be a fantastic teacher and the government are going to lose me.

"They've paid a huge amount of money for me to go through the four years here, I passed Ofsted requirements and I've had flying colours for all my teaching practices," Jo said.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, said the tests were a waste of time.

"We always wondered why if there was a requirement to have GCSE English and maths to get into teacher training in the first place it was necessary to undergo further tests before becoming a fully qualified and recognised teacher.

'Miserable affairs'

"The tests are pretty miserable affairs. I don't think they are particularly good tests in their own right," Mr de Gruchy said.

Mr de Gruchy cited the example of an NASUWT member in Lancashire who gave up a successful career in the Civil Service to train as a teacher.

She completed a four-year course, achieved an upper second honours degree in English and was offered a job in a primary school.

"Her work has been praised by inspectors but so far she has failed the numeracy test four times. If she fails again, she loses qualified teacher status and will have to leave the profession," Mr de Gruchy said.

'No compromise'

But the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said there could be no compromise on the need for minimum standards for teachers.

"They need these skills in literacy and numeracy to do the job the nation asks of them and I don't think there can be any compromise on that," she said.

Nigel de Gruchy
Nigel de Gruchy described the tests as "miserable affairs"
The Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, Phil Willis, said they would abandon the tests.

"If our GCSE A to C grades mean what we think they mean, anybody applying to do a teacher training course, that has got that minimum qualification, that - quite frankly - should be good enough," Mr Willis said.

The shadow education minister, Theresa May, said there needed to be greater flexibility.

"It's not good if we're going to lose good teachers because of the government's mechanistic, 'one-size-fits-all' approach.

"We need more flexibility in this system and heads need more discretion," Ms May said.

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See also:

27 Jan 01 | Education
Teacher test: How would you fare?
28 Jun 00 | Education
Almost all trainees pass maths test
26 Feb 00 | Education
Trainee teachers boycott maths tests
21 Jan 00 | Education
Trainee teachers get tests preview
01 Apr 99 | Education
Teacher training 'needs to improve'
03 Feb 99 | Education
Blunkett acts on teacher training
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