QTS skills tests set to be scrapped

The numeracy and literacy skills entry tests that prospective teachers must pass to start training are set to be ditched, Schools Week understands.

The move could boost the government’s efforts to reach its teacher recruitment targets – at least 3,500 would-be teachers have failed the compulsory tests every year since 2012.

The move, expected to be announced in the coming days, follows consultation about whether the tests are fit for purpose.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister and a long-time supporter of the tests, wrote just last year they “reassure parents and school leaders” that new teachers can “demonstrate a high standard of numeracy and literacy when they enter the classroom”.

But it is understood the government will instead allow initial teacher training providers to use their own judgment to assess candidates’ numeracy and literacy skills.

We certainly want prospective teachers to be able to evidence functional literacy and numeracy, but we think there are far more nuanced, sophisticated ways to do that

Emma Hollis, the executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Training, said: “There will be fears that this may be seen as dumbing down the profession, but I think those fears would be misplaced.

“The majority of providers are already working with trainees to ensure that if there are any gaps, they are filled.”

Initial teacher training providers have long called for the tests to be scrapped. Hollis said they were not “fit for purpose” and had been “beset with issues”, such as high costs and candidates struggling to get appointments to take the tests.

“We certainly believe that you want prospective teachers to be able to evidence functional literacy and numeracy, but we think there are far more nuanced, sophisticated ways to do that.”

Around 10 per cent of candidates fail at least one of the tests each year, according to government data.

Originally, any would-be teacher who failed three times was locked out of training for two years before he or she could retake the tests, but that limit was removed last February.

In April the government also admitted that a marking error meant hundreds of trainees over the past few years were wrongly told they had failed.

Schools Week revealed last month the DfE could face legal action after offering those affected an “insulting” £100 compensation.

The Department for Education has been speaking to candidates, training providers, internal customers and external service organisations about the effectiveness of the current tests, what the barriers are and how the system might be reformed.

Last year the DfE awarded a £15 million contract to PSI services to deliver the tests. The contract, which began on July 1, runs for three years. It is not yet known how quickly the DfE will scrap the tests.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said trainees having a degree and a pass in GCSE English and maths should be “sufficient evidence of their competence”.

“There are very significant teacher shortages across the country and we need to do more to encourage recruitment. We should remove any unnecessary hurdles.”

Requirements were toughened up in 2012 under Michael Gove’s tenure at the DfE. He said at the time it would “help ensure we raise standards in our schools and close the attainment gap between the rich and poor”.

Putting several similar hurdles in their way prior to entry to the course is not helpful

But David Owen, the head of teacher education at the Sheffield Institute of Education, said the skills tests were “unnecessary” with too much overlap between them, the activities candidates were expected to do at interview, and the training itself.

“When they were initially brought in we were in a different situation . . . there was concern people were being recruited who didn’t have basic professional skills.

“Now we’re in a position of persuading people that teaching is a great job to do, so putting several similar hurdles in their way prior to entry to the course is not helpful.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We expect graduates entering the profession to have the literacy and numeracy skills that parents and pupils rightly expect from teachers but we’ve heard from both training providers and applicants that the skills tests in their current form could be improved upon.

“That’s why we are working with universities, schools and school leaders to analyse and gather insight into the most effective way to assess the skills required by newly qualified teachers, including the role of the skills test.”