Plans to open worldwide test centres for would-be teachers have been halted — while candidate numbers have dwindled in those already open in Europe, Schools Week can reveal.
Prospective teachers are required to sit professional skills tests in numeracy and literacy before starting an initial teacher training course.
At present prospective trainees can sit the tests at three overseas sites, in Paris, Madrid and Frankfurt.
Taken on a computer, the tests, which can also be taken in 55 locations across England, are administered by training company learndirect under a government contract worth £2 million.
As part of that contract, agreed last year and seen by Schools Week, the Department for Education (DfE) requested learndirect open more sites abroad this autumn.
The contract said: “The contractor [learndirect] notes the authority’s [DfE] requirement for additional international provision in the following regions: Middle East, Africa and the sub-continent (possibly Dubai); Asia (possibly Singapore or Bangkok); Latin America (tbc).”
It suggests the DfE expected 600 “test attempts” per subject. A candidate can attempt the test three times; the first time free.
The DfE also wanted additional UK provision for the skills tests in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, which were tabled for launch “before autumn 2015”. The plan was for these to be delivered through a “portable test centre delivery model” that would travel between sites.
However, Schools Week has discovered these plans have not been pursued. The DfE said centres were opened where there was “sufficient demand”, something that was “constantly reviewed”.
As the teacher shortage bites, figures released to Schools Week through a Freedom of Information request show how the numbers of test candidates have dwindled in the European centres. Between September 2013 to August 2014, nearly 2,000 (1,972) tests were taken at the three overseas centres. Since last September, however, just 354 tests have been taken, an 82 per cent drop.
Schools Week revealed in September that more than 18,000 teachers left England last year to teach in international schools. By contrast, government figures show just 6,172 overseas teachers qualified to teach in England last year.
The general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mary Bousted, said this was proof teaching in England was becoming unattractive.
“There is a ticking time bomb; teachers’ salaries remain uncompetitive, teacher recruitment gets worse and worse, so it doesn’t surprise me that the number of people taking the tests abroad has fallen and expansion plans have been halted.
“Obviously, teaching in England and the UK is not proving to be attractive. This is part of the evidence that there is a recruitment crisis, and not a ‘challenge’ as
the government puts it.”
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said the skills test was “vital in helping to maintain our world-class teaching profession.
“Schools have always been able to recruit teachers from overseas. Outstanding teachers are in demand across the globe and where schools wish to recruit from overseas we want to ensure they are able to do so from those countries whose education standards are as high as our own.”
The skills test contract will be held by learndirect until 2019. The company refused to answer Schools Week’s questions and directed enquiries to the DfE press office.