Ministers have sought to ease the teacher recruitment crisis by allowing unlimited resits of the professional skills tests that must be passed before anyone can enter initial teacher training.
Previously, aspiring teacher trainees were locked out of the system for two years after failing their second resit. The Department for Education is also allowing two extra resits to be taken for free before fees apply.
Teacher-training providers have welcomed the move, saying it will prevent good candidates from being lost to the profession. But critics are likely to claim that ministers have lowered the bar.
More rigorous skills tests for teachers were introduced in 2012 by the government "to ensure teachers have the highest standards of English and maths".
Ministers are responding to claims that the "lock-out" period was preventing capable candidates from entering teaching and putting them under too much pressure on the final resit.
Candidates will now be eligible for three attempts at the tests before they incur any cost, rather than one – a "cash boost" ministers say will be worth up to £77 per candidate.
Quality of NQTs 'at an all-time high'
School standards minister Nick Gibb (pictured) said: "The bar for entrance to the teaching profession remains as high as ever, as parents and pupils would expect, and this is evidenced by the fact that the quality of new entrants into the profession is at an all-time high, with 19 per cent of this year’s cohort holding a first-class degree.
“It is absolutely right that aspiring teachers can begin training as soon as they prove they are ready, and these changes – backed by the profession – will help ambitious graduates to join the profession.”
This is the second recent attempt by the government to encourage more entrants into teacher training after figures released last month showed that applications for training were down by 29 per cent compared with the same time last year.
Last month ministers ordered teacher-training providers to rethink their entry standards to "maximise recruitment", although Teach First has said it will not lower its bar. The Department for Education said it would be checking providers to see if they were rejecting suitable candidates, after revealing that 50,000 teacher-training applications were rejected last year.
Teacher-training representatives welcomed today's announcement. Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) executive director James Noble-Rogers said: "This is a sensible and pragmatic move. It will allow potentially good teachers who would otherwise have been kept out of the profession to begin their training.
“There have been numerous examples in the past of good candidates being prevented from retaking the skills tests because they failed by just one or two marks, often because of the pressure they experience having reached their final attempt.”
National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT) executive director Emma Hollis said: “NASBTT welcomes these changes to the administration of the skills tests. We have seen all too many examples of candidates with excellent potential being locked out of the profession for the sake of one or two marks on a test.
“This move will keep the profession open to those who deserve the opportunity to train to teach.”
The measures announced today will come into force on 15 February, but are relevant to all applicants who applied on or after October 24 2017 – with refunds offered automatically.
Candidates still need a degree for graduate training and all assessment criteria for qualified teacher status remain unchanged.