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Just when you thought it was safe to relax ...

New teachers must sit numeracy tests from next June. And failure is not an option, says Bob Doe

For teachers qualifying this year, the Government has put a nasty little sting in the tail of your training.

Picture this: it's half term next summer. You have sweated through your coursework and teaching practice and (more or less) successfully completed your training.

It's been quite a year. As well as coping with lesson plans, lectures, assessments and long days in the classroom, there have been all those long nights of filling out job applications. Some of these have been rapidly followed by the torment of job interviews, treatment that probably would have been illegal if it had been handed out to a dumber animal.

With luck and some flexibility (if only with the truth), by half-term you should have landed your first teaching post to start in September. Your future, then, looks secure (give or take the odd loan repayment) with just a glorious summer of travel, recouping some of your debts or just lazing around to look forward to.

But there is a fly in this ointment. Next June 1 (a Thursday), while everyone else is on half-term holiday, you will be back in the exam room, a guinea pig for the first round of the national numeracy tests which all new teachers from now on have to pass.

If you fail, you won't necessarily lose that job - or, at least, not straight away. But the retakes scheduled for July 26 may complicate the trip you had planned or that summer job you had lined up. And you will eventually have to pass the test if all your training is not to be wasted.

Still, it could be worse. If you were qualifying in 2001, you would have three skills tests to pass: numeracy, literacy and information technology. But at least then you would be able to get them out of the way from February onwards and take them at a time to suit you.

Why do you need to take the test at all, given that you already have the GCSE maths equivalent long-required of all teachers?

In future - according to the Teacher Training Agency, which devised the test at the Government's behest - all teachers will be required to demonstrate that they have the necessary skill with figures to operate as a teacher. They need to show they have the arithmetical, statistical and measurement skills required by the modern professional to assess and interpret evidence, to understand and apply standards and results for target setting and benchmarking, and to convert measures of distance, temperature, weight, and currency used in a variety of ways in schools. Even maths graduates will have to take the new test.

Most student teachers are expected to sit it wherever they received their training, whether that be in a college or on a school-based programme.

Final arrangements for the 30 to 45 minute tests are promised early next year. Calculators will be allowed for most of it, but there will be a short audio test of mental arithmetic for which calculators will not be allowed. Sample questions to help you prepare for the test are promised for next February, allowing you three months to get ready. Your results should be sent to your training institution within four weeks of the test; say, by the end of June.

If you don't pass first time, you can retake on July 26. If you fail again, you will still be awarded qualified teacher status and, in theory, can begin your induction period during which you will be able to sit the test again.

But you must pass the maths test - which will be computerised from February 2001 along with the other tests - to register as a teacher with the new General Teaching Council and take up a teaching post in a state-funded school.

In effect, then, this year's new teachers cannot complete their induction year without passing the numeracy test. That may make some employers reluctant to invest in newly qualified entrants whose maths skills are suspect.

The skills requirement will become even more rigid the following year. New teachers who qualify after May 1, 2001 will have to pass all three skill tests before they can even begin their induction period.

Teacher Training Agency chief executive Anthea Millett says the tests' purpose is "to raise further the professional standing of teachers and the profile of the teaching profession as a whole".

Very laudable, no doubt. But when it comes to raising standards, there is nothing like leading by example. By next June, Ms Millett will have retired.

So perhaps that other pinnacle of the profession, the Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, would like to line up with the profession's newest members on June 1 to demonstrate his commitment to proficiency with numbers? If nothing else, it would show that his reluctance to attempt to answer the question "What is half of three-quarters?" on a recent BBC radio programme had nothing to do with his numeracy skills or ability to interpret figures.

Further information and support available from or the Teaching Information Line: 01245 454454National Skills Tests: A Guide for Trainee Teachers is available from TTA publications, tel: 0845 6060323

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