Ministers' plans to toughen up basic English and maths tests and ban multiple retakes have "moved the goalposts" for thousands of trainee teachers, it has been alleged.
Major changes to the way trainees' basic skills are examined would put a stop to unlimited resits from this September and mean the introduction of harder tests from September 2013.
While most trainees will have advance notice of the reforms before starting training, the same does not apply to students already midway through three- or four-year undergraduate courses. They claim it is unfair to change the rules when they are partway through their studies.
Trainees, who currently have to take the functional skills tests in their final year, will be allowed to resit the exams only twice and will have to wait two years for another opportunity if they fail. Passing the tests is necessary to become a qualified teacher.
A former chemist, who posted on the forums of the TES website and is in the second year of a primary course, is struggling with the practice tests because of dyslexia.
"I will take the test," said DennyPenny, "but feel it's going to be almost impossible for me to pass. Needless to say, I feel really concerned and upset about this. I want to be able to take it now and have a few goes at it before the changes come in, but I am not allowed to take the test until my final year."
The tests were introduced in 2001 after concerns were raised about teachers' basic skills. Those starting a training course in September 2013 will have to pass the literacy and numeracy tests at the outset in order to gain a place. The pass mark is also due to be raised.
Another user of the TES website, Rsbooboo, who is in the second year of a four-year training course, said: "I obviously have maths and English GCSE, so basing four years of hard work on whether I can hold my nerve during three chances to pass the two tests seems ridiculous."
James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), has brought the "transitional issue" to the attention of officials at the Department for Education.
"I can see why people who have already received one set of rules feel it is unfair they are now are having another set imposed on them," he said. "There is no objection to this change in principle from UCET, but perhaps there is a case for making allowances. The government has moved the goalposts."
Sally Yates, dean of the School of Education at Newman University College, Birmingham, said students are concerned that "the goalposts keep changing".
"Some are taking it in their stride; some are worried," she said. "They are worried about losing their opportunities to take the test, which could make them more nervous and more likely to fail."
The number of undergraduate teacher training places has fallen from 9,770 in 1998-99 to 7,620 in 2007-08 - almost one in five trainees.
A DfE spokesman said there would be no exceptions to the rules or exemptions for trainees already on courses. "We are committed to increasing the challenge of the tests equally for all from September 2012, and we feel this is reasonable and proportionate in supporting the legitimate aim to improve the standard of those entering the teaching profession," he said.
The new rules
The number of resits allowed will be limited to two per subject from 1 September 2012. For those already on training courses, any previous unsuccessful attempts will not count towards this limit; any test they take from 1 September 2012 will count as their first attempt.
Candidates who fail after two resits in either maths or English can still complete the course of initial teacher training but the award of qualified teacher status will be deferred, pending successful completion of the tests.
After a two-year period has elapsed from the date of the second resit, candidates are eligible to retake the skills tests. If the test is passed at this point, they may be eligible to be recommended for the award of qualified teacher status.
Original headline: Resits red card has `moved the goalposts' for trainees