Editor's comment

15th February 2008 at 00:00
At first glance, it seems a sensible idea to weed out potentially weak teachers at the first hurdle, before they darken the door of a teacher education establishment. When the suggestion to do just that, via some form of psychometric testing, comes from no less a figure than Sir Tom Hunter, the idea may seem even more sensible (p1). Or is it?

Sir Tom, helped by his billions, is an increasingly potent figure in the business, political and educational worlds. This makes him very powerful. He has shown a rare intelligence, not always present in businessmen who flit in and out of education, which leads him to do his homework, focus on priorities for the long-term and evaluate the results. His consistent focus, with the odd exception like his announcement last week on nurturing the "brightest and the best", has been on the disadvantaged and the excluded. That informs most of his thinking, and it is driving the latest manifestation of it. In other words, poor quality teaching of pupils is poor quality learning for pupils.

But just because someone may be right on some things does not make him right on everything. Psychometric testing, if not carefully handled, could end up sifting out lots of acceptable applicants for teaching and could produce people with very similar abilities and qualities, rather than the sometimes eclectic mix that schools need. Iain Smith of Strathclyde University points out that whittling down 1,800 applicants to fill 180 places on the primary BEd course is in itself a fairly rigorous screening process. Of course, that's all very well when numbers are healthy. So Sir Tom may be entitled to ask questions about the criteria where TEIs struggle to fill their places.

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