Test pressure forces able trainees to quit

4th May 2001 at 01:00
Universities condemn new literacy and numeracy tests as 'disastrous' and unfair to their teaching students. Karen Thornton reports.

GGood student teachers are quitting the profession before they even start because of pressures created by the Government's new skills tests, academics and unions claim.

Brighton University has written to the Teacher Training Agency in protest, after three strong students decided to quit teaching, or work overseas or in the independent sector, because of the strain of the tests (see story above).

And the organisation representing teacher training providers has told the Department for Education and Employment that the tests are "disastrous", following similar complaints from its members.

Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said one university had lost six postgraduate students, who quit last week because of the tests.

Meanwhile, the teacher unions have been handling dozens of calls from worried student members.

All students must now pass computer-based skills tests in numeracy and literacy before they can be awarded qualified teacher status and start teaching. They get four chances to pass each test.

Students who completed their training last year only have to pass the numeracy test and have until the end of their induction year to do so.

But Diana Brightling, Brighton's initial teacher education co-ordinator, has told the training agency that she is spending an hour a day dealing with distressed and angry students, and that the pressure of the tests is distracting them from core studies.

"A teacher should be able to answer these questions. But being able to answer them in 40 minutes in front of a screen when their entire career depends on it is a different issue. The way of assessing them is inappropriate and it's undermining our attempts to get desperately needed teachers into the profession," she said.

She cited a strong primary student with an A-grade at GCSE English who failed her first attempt at the literacy test, and a secondary trainee wth a job lined up at a school where she undertook teaching practice who has failed three numeracy tests, each by only one or two points.

Mike Newby, chairman of the universities' council, said that he had complained to the DFEE about the "disastrous" tests. He said: "How many staff in a classroom are going to be working out arithmetic knowing their whole career depends on it? Why isn't it necessary in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland? The Government can't afford to lose a single capable teacher, especially on such a slight premise."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that it had received dozens of calls from disgruntled student members, many of them mature students who had met all other requirements to become a teacher.

The union has already written to Education Secretary David Blunkett on behalf of students who suffered computer crashes or software failures while taking the tests ("Trainee tests wreak 'havoc'", TES, March 9).

He said: "We are looking for the tests to operate fairly and effectively, and not be a barrier to teaching - which in some instances they are."

But a spokeswoman for the DFEE defended the value of the tests (practice tests on www.canteach.gov.ukinfoskillstests).

She said: "We believe the introduction of the tests was right. Evidence from the Office for Standards in Education has confirmed that numeracy standards for a significant number of teachers are not good enough. We need newly qualified teachers who possess the numeracy skills to carry out their professional roles effectively."

She pointed out that, of those who took the first numeracy tests last summer, 93 per cent had passed. "We recognise that for those who fail it will be a considerable blow. But in order to raise standards in schools it is necessary for NQTs to have these skills. Of course, we will monitor the effect of the tests on recruitment."

But universities council chairman Mike Newby said: "The tests are turning people away and making them unhappy and angry. They're not proving a thing."

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