Put teachers to the test

15th February 2008 at 00:00
Scotland's first billionaire calls for an end to the 'tragic' impact of bad teaching.

Psychometric testing should be used to weed out unsuitable applicants for teacher training, according to Scotland's leading philanthropist.

Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland's first billionaire, despairs at the "tragic" impact of bad teachers and advocates a drastic remedy.

"Why are people applying for a place at an initial teacher education facility not screened against a profile, to ensure they have the correct qualities to make it as a teacher before they are granted a place?" Sir Tom asks on headteachers' website Heads Together.

The influential reach of Sir Tom's Hunter Foundation extends to teacher training, where he has invested pound;2.7 million in Aberdeen University's pioneering Scottish Teachers for a New Era project.

As well as pre-emptive psychometric testing, he questions whether there should be tighter checks on the performance of qualified teachers who may have chosen the wrong profession or "may simply be tired out".

Sir Tom said: "We need to find an opportunity for them to flourish in the profession or to leave when the time is right, but we certainly cannot afford to let them deliver to the unlucky children year-in, year-out. That is just plain wrong."

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, was not convinced that psychometric testing could establish beyond doubt whether someone was cut out for teaching.

He would prefer the hardline approach to come after training has begun, arguing that students clearly not fit to become teachers should be removed from their course.

The merits of psychometric testing had also to be balanced against the difficulty of recruiting teachers of physics, chemistry, technical education and home economics. "That's not an excuse for just taking everybody in," he emphasised.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the probationary year was "more rigorous than it's ever been". The impact of poverty and deprivation on children's schooling was a more urgent issue than teacher quality, he added.

Iain Smith, former dean of Strathclyde University's education faculty, said 1,800 applicants battled for 180 places on the primary BEd course each year. Only 500 of them were selected for a "highly structured" interview involving university staff and teachers.

Mr Smith believed the process was "more rigorous" than the approach advocated by Sir Tom, and results were "very much in line" with those of psychometric tests.

Sir Tom's comments were sparked by research from Bill Sanders in Tennessee. He found pupils from any background could get into the top 10 per cent of performers if they had a "great teacher" for two years running, while those with a bad teacher for the same period were "tragically" destined to become remedial pupils.

Leader, page 22.

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