What a waste

15th June 2001 at 01:00
Janet Vinci is an NQT at Haycliffe special school in Bradford, where she teaches art, writes Sara Bubb. Despite passing GCSE maths first time, she has failed the numeracy skills test three times. She can try twice more, but if she doesn't pass by the end of term she will fail her induction period. So despite having achieved qualified teacher status and having taught successfully for a year, she will never again be allowed to teach in the maintained sector or a non-maintained special school.

"I stand to have wasted five years - during which I've had to take out four student loans and borrow money from relatives and the bank - and feel the humiliation of failing my career, all for a 45-minute maths test."

The Government imposed the numeracy test just before she completed her PGCE - an act she considers an unfair and unnecessary changing of the goalposts. "I'm not going to be a better teacher for passing this test. Why is it necessary for an art teacher to be able to convert 20 out of 85 pupils into a percentage in 10 seconds?" She says the emphasis on testing and limiting the number of attempts is a poor pedagogical example for the Teacher Training Agency to set. "Exams aren't a true picture of whether people are competent, which is why many GCSEs are modular."

Having taken her first test on paper, she agrees with Brighton University's findings that the online skills tests are more dificult, and confirms that there have been glitches. "In my last test I had problems with a faulty mouse. An invigilator sorted it out but it meant I lost a precious minute - and then I found I'd failed by one mark." Janet's school is also affected because, if she doesn't pass, it will be short of a teacher in September. The school has arranged coaching from a teacher at a neighbouring school, which is proving beneficial.

Pat Burnett has just failed her fourth attempt at the numeracy skills test - by three marks. Under the regulations, she will never gain qualified teacher status, despite being near to completing the four-year BA (QTS) course at Roehampton and having a job in a primary school for September.

She is devastated - and angry. "This test has nothing to do with my ability to teach. In the real world I'd have lots more time to work a problem out. The test conditions made me so nervous I didn't even hear the questions, and knowing it was my last chance made things worse. The pressure was awful.

"I'm 42. I've worked hard to be a teacher, and got into debt. If I'd failed because of my teaching, I could accept it. But to fail just because of the maths test is unfair. It's crazy that I can't have another chance, that the TTA has no discretionary arrangements to take individual cases into account."

Sara Bubb works at London University's Institute of Education

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