Trainee tests hit by charge of race bias

Official figures show that non-white candiates are doing much worse in exams that all new teachers must now pass. Karen Thornton reports

TESTS for trainee teachers in literacy and numeracy are biased against ethnic-minority candidates, the latest official figures suggest.

They show that only 76 per cent of non-white candidates passed the numeracy test in 2000-1 after two attempts, compared to 93 per cent of white trainees. The literacy pass rate of ethnic-minority candidates was higher (87 per cent) - but still 10 percentage points below the average for white trainees.

The tests were introduced in 2000-1, starting with numeracy, to address what were seen as key skills failings among new teachers.

Ministers confirmed their commitment to the tests in a new training curriculum, being introduced this September. Students expecting to gain qualified teacher status this summer (from May 1) also have a third test to pass in information and communications technology.

But unions and academics say the the tests are obstructing the Government's own drive to increase the number of teachers from ethnic-minority backgrounds.

The Teacher Training Agency has a target of recruiting 9 per cent of trainees from non-white groups by 2005 (up from 7 per cent this year). The agency is also commissioning research on ethnic minority drop-out rates from training.

Research carried out last year by Pat Mahony and Ian Hextall, of University of Surrey Roehampton, and Ian Menter, of Paisley University, showed the tests were "biased in terms of gender and ethnicity".

They said: "The TTA report on the 2000-1 cohort also suggests that the tests are generating discriminatory results. This is hardly surprising given that they were not properly piloted to ensure that bias was eliminated. The urgent question is what will be done to ensure that the discriminatory elements of the tests are removed."

Olwyn Gunn, education secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "If the tests are discriminating ... then there seems to be a conflict between the targets the TTA has set for recruiting people from ethnic minorities and the arrangements the Government has put in place for these quite unnecessary skills tests."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said claims that the tests were discriminatory needed urgent investigation. But he added: "It's perfectly reasonable to ask aspiring teachers to pass literacy and numeracy tests. That should be the case whatever the background of a candidate."

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