Government advisers are proposing to scrap the requirement that trainee teachers have GCSE grade C or better in English, maths and science. They want instead to rely solely on the controversial skills tests for trainees to ensure students are up to scratch.
But there are fears that the plan, put forward by the Teacher Training Agency, could reduce the quality of new entrants to the profession.
John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said GCSEs were of a much higher standard than the narrow tests created by the TTA and Department for Education and Skills.
"They have got it completely the wrong way round. Either GCSEs represent a reasonable standard across all professions and for determining whether you go into higher education, or they don't," he said.
The move, part of proposed training reforms published today, comes a month after ministers made a crucial concession on trainee tests. Trainees must still pass the literacy and numeracy tests but now have as many attempts at the tests as they like. Previously their careers depended on passing within four attempts.
The computer-based tests have been plagued by technical problems, and academics have cast doubt over whether they are an effective way of assessing trainees' skills. So far, 231 of last year's 23,000 newly-qualified teachers have yet to pass the numeracy test.
The new draft standards for qualified teacher status retain the current GCSE requirements . But the option of dropping them is being mooted because of the introduction of trainee tests. This follows queries asking why students with good GCSEs need to do the tests, said a TTA spokesman.
Most training providers and unions want the tests dropped. But, despite protests, ministers are firmly wedded to them - a third test in computer skills is due this September.
The TTA consultation documents propose streamlining the prescriptive curriculum for teacher training introduced in 1998. Draft standards for qualified teacher status place more emphasis on professional values - for example having high expectations of all pupils.
The document also beefs up the standard that trainees must meet for managing badly-behaved children, in response to demands from schools. All students will have to be competent to teach two key stages, which can include foundation and post-16.
The standards are backed by a new inspection framework. This would mean good training providers have one full and one short inspection over six years. Those rated satisfactory will be inspected every three years, with weak colleges visited annually.
Leader, 12 The consultation documents are at www.canteach.gov.uk