First encounters

26th May 2000 at 01:00
Jon Croose figures out the NQT maths test.

There are times when life on the PGCE takes a surreal turn. One minute you are trotting along quite happily and then, all of a sudden, everything changes. Suddenly, you have to take a deep breath and jump: risk all and win. yes, you guessed it, I'm talking about the numeracy test.

Arrangements for the test have a Pythonesque quality. One imagines a bunch of dusty, mad-hatter scientists surrounded by crazy Victoriana as they defy logic to reach their obscure goal. Can they really be serious about this?

As I understand it, it goes like this: all new teachers must pass the test*, in spite of the fact that we all have GCSE or equivalent qualifications in maths. We have five attempts to get it right, responding to a voice recording which calls out the questions, presumably over some creaky loudspeaker system.

The questions are all related to situations found in teaching and are designed to help us in our jobs. So far so good - but with no more than five to 10 seconds to calculate each answer, does this mean that all school paperwork must now be completed at the same speed? Will heads of department have to stand over colleagues with a stopwatch during department meetings?

It gets weirder. we must all pass the test, but the mad hatters haven't yet decided what the pass mark will be. Maybe they are waiting to see how well we do, so they can change the mark to suit some clever scheme. What happens if we all pass and the test is therefore proved to be a waste of time? And what a sneaky bunch they are, waiting until half way through the year before telling this year's intake the test was coming in.

But there is an even stranger thing, the Dead Parrot of education, the supreme silliness from the Ministy of Tricky Tests.

Imagine the scenario: you have passed your PGCE, got your first job and have been teaching for a year, achieving amazing results, raising standards and setting young minds ablaze, but your maths is a bit dodgy and you haven't passed the test.

The recruitment crisis is worsening, schools are desperate for teachers, education is in the balance, but who cares about that? You didn't pass the test, so you're fired.

I've just had a go at the test, with a little help from the erstwhile maths students on the course. It's not that hard, even for a dolt like me. I used to run screaming from maths lessons, I scraped through O-level by 1 per cent and I was quite proud of getting a U in the AS exam, just to spite my hated maths teacher.

Most of us will get through and for some - mathematicians presumably - it will be like falling off a log, but that's not the point, is it? It's all just a little bit weird, a little bit half-cocked; it's a cuckoo-land experiment to prove something already known. And it's sneaky, like introducing payments for PGCE students next year, while some of us are still studying like demons and delivering pizzas in the evenings to make ends meet.

So come on, Mr Blunkett, get out there, grab some of Gordon Brown's billions in mobile phone cash and backdate the PGCE grants for a year. If you need some help working out how much it will cost, we'll give you a hand with the sums.

* The first maths tests for PGCE students will be held on June 1. The second round is on July 26. This year's cohort then have three more opportunities to sit the test and pass during their NQT year. Next year's intake will have to pass the test during their PGCE year.

Jon Croose is a PGCE student at Bristol university

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