Click here to be insulted

24th January 2003 at 00:00
They're derided as a waste of time, a hassle and stressful, but the skills tests seem to be here to stay. Sara Bubb gives advice on how to tackle them

Worried about the online tests in literacy, numeracy and ICT that you have to pass in order to become a teacher? Well, the good news is that there's no need to be. In the words of one contributor to the Student Teacher forum on the TES website: "They were hyped up to be a lot worse than they were."

Others think the skills tests are pointless: "It was too much added stress for nothing"; "They are an extra hassle in an already horrifically busy schedule"; "They were a waste of time. I should have been concentrating on my teaching practice."

The Teacher Training Agency argues that they are necessary "to ensure everyone qualifying to teach has a good grounding in the use of numeracy, literacy and ICT in the wider context of their professional role as a teacher". But to train as a teacher you have to have maths and English GCSE anyway, so why bother with an insulting test? (Sample question: "A teacher started an activity which lasted one and a quarter hours at 13:35. What time did the activity finish?") The tests are supposed to be about the professional role of a teacher, but there are questions such as: "Geography maps cost pound;3 each for the first 20 purchased, and pound;2.70 for each additional map. What was the cost of purchasing 22 maps?" Ordering equipment is one of the 25 tasks that the Department for Education and Skills says should be delegated to support staff. So much for joined-up thinking.

Booking a test is irritating enough. First you have to register on the TTA website using the seven-digit registration number given to you by your training provider (or direct from the TTA if you're on the graduate teacher programme, registered teacher programme or the overseas trained teachers scheme), and enter your place of birth, name of training provider, date of birth, gender, ethnic group, type of training course, areas of specialism, when you expect to qualify, whether English is your first language, and your inside leg measurement. Okay, I made the last one up, but you get the idea.

You then receive a user name and password by email which you use to book the tests. Getting through this process constitutes an ICT test in itself.

But it's nothing compared with the real thing, for which you must use a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation, email and a web browser - all in 35 minutes, and without the handy icons you get with real-life packages such as Microsoft Office.

But however annoying and patronising the tests may be, don't worry about them until you've failed once, if not twice. That's little comfort to those of you who go to pieces in tests, don't feel confident with maths and literacy, aren't brilliant with computers, or would prefer to be tested using a pencil and paper. But compared with teaching children, they're a breeze. Some preparation is needed, but you can take them as many times as you need to.

There are support materials on the TTA website to help you practise sample questions and check your answers. Get used to working quickly as the tests are timed. The pass mark is 60 per cent, so you can make a few mistakes.

The literacy test is regarded as the easiest - the spelling test includes words such as accommodates, receipt, advertisement, initiative, strategy; and figures from the TTA show that on average, candidates needed more attempts to pass numeracy than literacy. Undergraduates needed more attempts than postgraduates, and people training to teach the three to eight age group took more attempts than those training to teach older primary pupils. Those whose first language isn't English do least well, despite being allowed 25 per cent more time.

Book the tests as soon as you can - you may as well take all three on the same day. The literacy and numeracy tests run for 45 and 48 minutes respectively, and ICT 35 minutes. Allow yourself a break between tests. You get your results at the end of each test, so choose a centre that's near a bar, cake shop or department store and you can have a celebratory or consolatory treat..

For more information, visit the TTA website: www.canteach.gov.ukinfoskillstestsSara Bubb (s.bubb@ioe.ac.uk) organises half-day courses on the skills tests at the London Institute of Education

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