Almost 5,000 prospective teachers failed the compulsory numeracy and literary skills test three times in 2015-16, shutting them out of the profession for at least two years.
Any candidate who wishes to reach qualified teacher status must pass the computerised professional skills tests within three attempts, but those who fail two resits in either literacy or numeracy are forced into a formal 24-month lock-out.
A total of 4,844 candidates were locked out of the tests in 2015-16, a Freedom of Information request made by Schools Week to the Department for Education has shown.
An even higher number – 5,043 candidates – failed the tests in 2014-15.
In June Schools Week reported that the number of new teachers entering the profession in England had dropped to its lowest rate in five years.
School Workforce Census figures published by the DfE showed the number of full-time equivalent entrants to teaching had decreased from 45,120 (10.4 per cent) in 2015, to 43,830 (10.1 per cent) last year.
This is the lowest rate since the 9.3 per cent recorded in 2011.
A lot of people are not using their third attempt because they are afraid of failing and being locked out for two years
Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that in the context of the “ongoing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention”, the government would be “well-advised to consult with teacher training institutions, and take a hard look at whether the tests are assessing skills of a kind which it is absolutely essential for teachers to attain”.
James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, told Schools Week that figures for potential teachers who don’t make it through the skills tests are “even worse” than the FoI response suggests.
“A lot of people are not using their third attempt because they are afraid of failing and being locked out for two years,” he said. “Others are so nervous when they come to their third attempt they fail for that reason alone.”
Noble-Rogers said UCET had heard reports that many applicants failed by just one or two points and were still locked out for the full two years.
Skills test centres are sometimes unavailable due to a “lack of capacity” or can offer facilities that are “not conducive to making accurate assessments”, he added.
“It is time to rethink the need for these tests. Many initial teacher education providers do not place much faith in them and administer their own independent tests to ensure appropriate levels of literacy and numeracy,” he said.
Data on the number of candidates to pass the QTS tests in 2016-17 will published around March 2018.
A government spokesperson said: “The skills test was introduced to make sure that we recruit the best and brightest to the profession and the three attempt rule exists to ensure unsuccessful candidates have the appropriate time to develop the knowledge and skills they need.”
Information on QTS tests is passed to the DfE from Learndirect, the country’s largest private training company, which is the sole contractor to administer the tests in 55 locations across England.
Learndirect was hit with an ‘inadequate’ grade from Ofsted for its ESFA funded provision over the summer, but the DfE chose not to serve it with the three-month termination notice that would typically be expected after a grade four.
Instead it extended the company’s wind-down period in part, it claimed, to reduce disruption for users of Learndirect’s services, including “prospective teachers”.
Learndirect holds a £2 million contract until 2019 to deliver the professional QTS skills tests, which are sat by over 30,000 prospective teachers each year.