Test equals trouble;Leading Article;Opinion

29th October 1999 at 01:00
IT IS sensible to expect teachers to be numerate, literate and to be able to use a computer as an everyday tool. So sensible, in fact, that it is right to make it a requirement for everyone who aspires to the profession.

But it makes no sense at all to arrange, as the Teacher Training Agency has done, for the first mandatory maths test for newly-qualified teachers to be taken next June. By then, training courses will have virtually finished and most new teachers will already have landed their first jobs. The test will seem like an additional hurdle placed at the very last minute -- beyond the winning post.

The possibility of failure means professional limbo for new teachers and a gamble for their employers. Anyone who does not come up to scratch will still be permitted to start induction, but cannot pass it without successfully retaking the test. All of which adds up to yet another disincentive to enter teaching, even for those who have already begun their training.

Quite why the maths test has had to be rushed in this year, ahead of English and information technology, is a mystery. Next year's tests will be better timed: from February rather than summer half-term. And next year's students will start the year knowing what kind of questions they face: this year's have to wait until spring to find out.

This year's ill-timed and unfair test should be quietly dropped. Last year's Green Paper justified the rush to assess maths ahead of the rest by citing "current concerns about levels of numeracy in schools". Yet these tests are not about teaching maths; they are to ensure teachers have the numeracy necessary for their professional role. Examples given include the ability to assess research reports or to use benchmarks for target-setting.

Testing next June is likely to prove a public relations disaster. If all students sail through, the test will be condemned as useless; if substantial numbers fail, the outcry will be about botched arrangements and the efficacy of teacher-training.

It will also resurrect questions about the standards of the GCSE in maths all the candidates have already passed -- just in time to subdue any rejoicing over next year's GCSE successes. All of which will probably encourage a few thousand graduates to look elsewhere for careers in which they feel valued rather than persecuted.

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