Basic skills tests are flawed

7th September 2001 at 01:00
English and maths tests for new teachers are "fundamentally flawed", says a new study.

Professor Pat Mahony and Ian Hextall, of University of Surrey Roehampton education faculty, and education lecturer Ian Menter, of Paisley University, Scotland, say the key skills tests are unreliable, technically problematic and have nothing to do with the skills needed for teaching. In an article in the Journal of Education for Teaching, they also argue that the tests have damaged student morale.

The findings come less than a month after ministers decided that new teachers who fail the tests would receive the same pay as their colleagues who have passed. Ministers introduced them because they believed new teachers' grasp of literacy and numeracy was not good enough.

The study points to technical problems in running the tests, including numerous cases of computers crashes, forcing retakes, and doubts over the accuracy of some questions.

There were extra administrative problems at some centres, where students were forced to travel long distances to sit the test .

The authors say that all of these factors reinforce their argument that the initiative was introduced "without the careful planning and preparation which is required".

Most seriously, no consideration was given to their effect on recruitment and morale. "There is an urgent need for a review of this policy which appears to be fundamentally flawed both educationally and in relation to the pursuit of social justice."

Students returning to the profession and those from non-standard entry routes - the groups targeted by the Government - found the tests particularly stressful.

Teacher Training Agency figures showed that the tests in 1999-2000 discriminated against teachers from non-traditional backgrounds.

The researchers say it was reasonable to expect the tests to be connected with initiatives such as the literacy and numeracy strategies, but interviewees found this was not the case. One course administrator said the skills and aptitudes needed to pass a test were not the same as those required for teaching. "Therefore, it is a particularly unnecessary hoop that some students are not going to jump through."

Chris Johnston

"Just Testing?: An Analysis of the implementation of skills tests for entry into the teaching profession in England" by Ian Hextall, Pat Mahony and Ian Menter. For copies email:pmahony@machine.co.uk.

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