An error in a mark scheme for a skills test would-be teachers must pass before training has led to hundreds of candidates failing the test, the government has admitted.

Schools minister Nick Gibb admitted the error in the literacy skills test mark scheme had been in place for at least 10 years. Between September 2017 and November 2018, just over 200 candidates failed the test when they should have passed, although 150 went on to pass it at a later date.

Prospective teachers must pass skills tests in numeracy and literacy before they start their initial teacher training.

In a written statement, published today, Gibb said the Department for Education will do its best to contact anyone affected by the error and “offer a payment to compensate candidates affected for any expenses they may have incurred in having to retake the test”.

“It is regrettable that this error has prevented some candidates from progressing their applications to teacher training. My department is taking swift action to ensure that those affected are supported to progress their applications,” he said.

The skills tests are designed by the Standards and Testing Agency, which discovered the error during a recent review of its marking schemes. Gibb said the test was immediately taken out of use.

“The chief executive of the STA has assured me that there are no remaining marking scheme errors and that the schemes will be quality assured on a regular basis to prevent further errors,” he added.

In February last year, the government removed the lock-out policy which prevented anyone who had failed the tests three times in a row from taking it again for 24 months. The move came after Schools Week reported that almost 5,000 prospective teachers failed the test three times in 2015-16, shutting them out of the profession for at least two years.

However, last April this newspaper revealed that just six per cent of prospective trainee teachers who were locked out of the skills tests under the old rules had applied to take the tests again since the change, and the majority of previously locked-out candidates who repeated the tests in the first five weeks of the new rules failed once more.

Anyone who may have been affected by the error can contact the skills test helpline by emailing