Costly tests don't add up

27th July 2001 at 01:00
The idea that the current skills tests in literacy and numeracy should replace the requirement for a good GCSE in English and Maths for would-be teachers is a move in completely the wrong direction.

If there are any reasons to doubt that GCSE represents a proper basis for ensuring trainee teachers are literate and numerate then the GCSE should be looked into. Otherwise, what does it say when education, of all the professions, is the only one to reject the basic qualifications it is responsible for?

If there are specific reading, writing and arithmetic skills every teacher should have over and above those expected of the generally educated population - just as teachers are required to acquire other professional knowledge - then testing of these should form part of the wider assessment of their training. What is it about the particular rules of teachers' English or the ability to do certain sums that demand a separate national test?

These tests have proved an expensive and damaging farce and should be scrapped. Just 231 - 1 per cent of the 23,000 completing teacher training last year - failed to pass the maths test. What a waste of time, money and mental anguish in order to exclude a handful of candidates - who anyway can keep on taking the test until they achieve the 60 per cent pass mark, either by assiduous preparation or just plain fluke. The tests convince more good graduates of the ignominy of the teachers' lot than they bar on the basis of inadequate arithmetic.

If the real purpose of replacing the GCSE requirement with a test is to open up access to teacher training to those who may not have benefited from earlier educational opportunities, then by all means introduce a second-chance way of demonstrating equivalent general attainment.

But these tests do not do that. As ministers and officials point out in defending them, the tests are not equivalent to GCSE but are about mastery of some specific numeracy and literacy skills supposedly required by teachers.

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