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DfE facing legal action after ‘insulting’ £100 offer to would-be teachers it wrongly failed

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The Department for Education is facing legal action after offering an “insulting” £100 to compensate would-be teachers it incorrectly failed on skills tests needed to progress to teacher training.

New figures seen by Schools Week reveal nearly 700 candidates were wrongly told they had failed the QTS tests in numeracy and literacy.

An error in the mark scheme that has been in place for at least ten years was only discovered last year.

The Department for Education has identified and contacted the candidates affected, years after they were wrongly told they failed the tests, offering them £100 in compensation for the gaffe. One recipient called it “insulting”.

Some would-be teachers, who have since taken up lesser-paid jobs, now plan to sue the government over losses of potential earnings.

Is this really an apology? When my son and others have had their dreams pulled out from underneath them, through no fault of their own

Caroline Barton Byrd said her son was told this week that he had actually passed. He had felt like a “failure” after the test and was now studying an unrelated course at university.

She said he would have been a “fantastic” primary teacher, and the compensation barely covered the £80 train fare he paid from Kent to Stratford to take the test in the first place.

“It’s a disgrace. It’s insulting. Because of their error, my son and other young people have had the whole course of their life changed.

“Is this really an apology? When my son and others have had their dreams pulled out from underneath them, through no fault of their own?”

Figures published this week show 696 candidates failed the test between 2014 and 2017 when they should have passed, although 528 of these passed at a later date.

In 2017 alone, 200 candidates were mistakenly told they had failed the test, designed by the Standards and Testing Agency. The marking scheme “incorrectly scored the answer to a multiple-choice question”.

Neil Hassell, the headteacher of Hemel Hempstead School, said a former pupil wanted to return as a teacher, but was told three years ago he failed the tests.

He works at the school as cover supervisor, but is now seeking legal advice from his union after being “devastated” to receive an email from the DfE on Tuesday.

The number of would-be teachers wrongly failed by the DfE

Hassell said: “He’s a really skilled, important member of my staff who has had his dream shattered, and would be a fantastic teacher. For the DfE to acknowledge that with nothing more than an offer of £100 and an email, I just don’t think it’s acceptable.

“What message does that sent to the profession, when we’re in the middle of a teacher recruitment crisis?”

An email sent to affected candidates from PSI, the company that delivers the tests, read: “We know this must be frustrating news. We are very sorry for any inconvenience caused.”

Danielle Lewis-James, a senior associate at law firm Slater and Gordon, told Schools Week the would-be teachers could demand more compensation as the error could be a breach of duty of care.

It’s insulting. Because of their error, my son and other young people have had the whole course of their life changed

If someone was forced into a lower-paid job as a result, they could claim for the difference in salary – if they could show the loss was the direct result of the error and would not have happened otherwise.

“They’re not going to dig too much into how much they owe anybody. They’re just going to look at it superficially. Half are likely to accept it, and then they’ve saved a ton of money,” she said.

“I would write back to the DfE and say ‘I don’t accept your offer and the reason I don’t accept it is because I’ve suffered loss from your breach’ and tell them how much the loss is.”

A spokesperson for the DfE said the error was identified during “a routine review of marking schemes” last year.

“It was immediately taken out of use and the department has contacted a number of people who have been adversely affected as a result.”

In February last year, the government removed the lock-out policy that prevented anyone who failed the tests three times in a row from taking it again for 24 months.

This came after Schools Week reported almost 5,000 prospective teachers failed three times in 2015-16, shutting them out of the profession for at least two years.



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5 Comments

  1. Mark Watson

    Ok, first off no doubt whatsoever this was a total failure and really disappointing. There can be no minimising the impact this must have had on the individuals affected, and the loss to the education system as a whole.

    The DfE should face-up and take responsibility, but from the article above it looks like the tests were designed by the Standards and Testing Agency and delivered by PSI. So does the blame lie at their doors?

    And for those calling for buckets of compensation from DfE (which lets face it, I would if I was affected) where is it going to come from? We all know how little the DfE has to fund schools, so any such claims will reduce it further.

    Unsurprising that a lawyer from a firm commonly held up as ‘ambulance chasers’ (https://www.afr.com/business/legal/slater–gordon-the-millionaire-ambulance-chasers-20150703-gi4bpn) is bigging up the chances of making legal claims. Nice of Schools Week to give them such a big promotional opportunity to pitch for business.

    • Caroline Barton Byrd

      “and for those claiming buckets of compensation”…
      We are NOT claiming for compensation as absolutely no money will change what’s happened. We ARE asking for an extension to his time served.
      Thank you

      • Mark Watson

        The article above quotes at length the lawyer from Slater and Gordon talking about how much money can be claimed. If you’re not claiming money then good for you, but the advertorial above is intended to get people to contact the lawyer to try and get their hands on some cash.

        That being said, you say you are “asking for an extension to his time served”. Probably my ignorance, but what are you referring to here? If it’s something that can be done that benefits your son without significant impact then I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be done. Like I said, I can’t begin to imagine how annoyed/frustrated/angry you and your son must be, and with every reason. Best of luck in trying to get some remedy, and best of luck to your son in whatever he goes on to do.

        • John Schofield

          Hi Mark,

          Reading your comments above i would like to add some of my own.
          Firstly, i dont care where any compensation comes from, i have just found out my son was effected by the above and he was locked out for 2 years because of the incompetence outlined above. He always wanted to be a teacher and has achieved his goal now, but he had to take two years of low paid jobs including a Teaching Assistant before he was able to reapply.
          Not only is that a big financial difference but also his career in teaching is also 2 years behind where it should be.
          I also cant even begin to tell you how much heartache this has caused.
          If this had effected your son i am sure you would feel very different.

  2. I am asking for some compensation or option of gaining my qts however they are offering neither really. I have lost my career and any chance now of getti g my qts as all courses are full or need you to work full time, which I can’t do now as I have a toddler so I want a solution that’s all!!