TRAINEE teachers who fail the new maths test will find it hard to get a job, heads' leaders say - despite Government assurances that the test should not harm their employment prospects.
Union leaders warned that schools will be reluctant to hire staff who do not have the qualification, even though new teachers have until the end of their induction year to pass it.
The unions have joined a chorus of critics of the test which has been introduced by the Government to ensure quality among new teachers. Students complain it has been sprung on them - some are demanding a boycott - and the National Union of Teachers called for it to be abandoned.
Ministers' attempts to raise the quality of new teachers were also hit by claims from primary teacher-training providers that the tough new standards students must meet were unworkable.
School standards minister Estelle Morris responds to opposition to the new test in a letter in today's TES, saying it was supported by 71 per cent of respondents to last year's Green Paper.
"We will ensure that all local education authorities and schools understand that the employment prospects of trainees who have been through training this year should not be affected by the tests as they have until the end of their induction period to pass the tests for their qualified status to be confirmed," she writes.
But the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association disagreed. SHA general secretary John Dunford said: "It will be an important factor. You are talking about fairly basic areas of knowledge. People who applied for teaching jobs would be putting themselves at a major disadvantage if they hadn't passed this test."
David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "It's asking heads too much, on top of all the other responsibilities of the induction year, to take on teachers who have failed the mathematical skills test."
A DFEE spokesman said ministers regularly met heads' representatives to discuss concerns about professional development. With the first tests still eight months away, he said: "I'm sure this is another issue ministers will be happy to see them about."
The test was announced after many of this year's students had signed up for their courses. It will be taken on paper on June 1 but will be computerised in the second year, when it will be joined by literacy and IT tests.
Students who fail can take a resit in late July. Those who fail that will be able to take the computerised test after February 2001. They will have five chances in all.
Postgraduate students at King's College, London, say they are considering boycotting the test. English trainee Miranda Jackson-
Barrett, a former City lawyer, said it was "outrageous" to accept students for a course and change the requirements half way through.
"I knew about the numeracy and literacy tests but as far as I knew they were coming in together next year. People have invested money in a course in which they may be adequate in English and worried about maths, and this has been sprung on them."
The worries may be greatest for mature students. It is 23 years since Jackie Fletcher, training to be an English secondary teacher at Leeds University, got a grade B in her O-level maths.
"I'm going to have to spend a lot of time revising to pass this test. It seems very unfair in an arts subject like English, where maths is not a big part of the job," she said.