Trainee teachers in Wales will have to hold higher qualifications than their counterparts in England, under proposals published by the Welsh government as part of its drive to improve standards.
Currently, entrants to university teacher training courses are required to have at least a C-grade in their maths and English GCSEs. But ministers in Cardiff Bay are consulting on the idea of raising that benchmark to grade B.
This would raise standards in Wales compared with England, where C-grade GCSEs in English and maths - and science for primary courses - is the minimum requirement.
Last week, the Welsh government launched its long-awaited national programme to improve literacy and numeracy skills among pupils, but it wants to make sure teachers also have sufficiently high standards.
"Given the importance that is attached to raising standards in literacy and numeracy, we are proposing to increase the minimum entry qualification requirement from a grade C GCSE equivalent in English and mathematics to a grade B GCSE equivalent," the consultation document states. "This would also apply to a science subject for primary courses."
Education minister Leighton Andrews said that improving literacy and numeracy standards is "at the heart of my school improvement agenda". "Ensuring that all teachers have strong literacy and numeracy skills is central to this," he said.
But initial teacher training providers and teaching unions are concerned that the proposals could put off potential teachers. "We understand the drive to increase standards in literacy and numeracy and we are fully behind that," said Karen Morris, chair of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) Cymru. "But it's not always the case that the most academically gifted make the best teachers."
David Evans, secretary of NUT Cymru, called into question why the government felt the move was necessary. "People who go into the teaching profession go into it for the right reasons and this has the potential to put good people off," he said. "We want teachers to have good levels of literacy and numeracy, but being able to deliver that successfully in the classroom isn't dependent on what grades you had at the age of 16. It doesn't necessarily follow that a person with a higher grade at GCSE English is the best person to deliver literacy."
The consultation also suggests imposing a duty on all initial teacher training providers to assess whether new entrants have functional personal skills in literacy and numeracy that they can use in the classroom. These skills would be regularly assessed throughout their training.
Providers could also be made to ensure that all their students are trained in literacy and numeracy teaching that is appropriate to the age and subject they are studying.
UCET Cymru said that initial teacher training providers in Wales have been meeting recently to consider a common set of standards for entry tests. Ms Morris admitted that methods currently varied between institutions. "This year we have been trying to harmonise our approaches," she added.
Mr Evans questioned whether assessment would help to improve skills. "Ensuring trainee teachers have the necessary literacy and numeracy training is good, but we wouldn't necessarily think testing is the right way forward," he said. "Repeated testing of the same skills may be to the detriment of other skills that trainee teachers should be developing."
The consultation runs until August and the new requirements could start be in place by September 2013.
Narrowing the field
The Welsh government has been trying to reduce the number of new entrants to initial teacher training courses in recent years to stop the oversupply of teachers.
Figures released in March show that 1,780 people enrolled on first-year teacher training courses in Wales in 2010-11 - down by 8 per cent on 2009-10 and 23 per cent on 2004-05.
The number of students completing teacher training courses in Wales in 2010-11 was 1,735 - down by 7 per cent on 2009-10.