By scrapping the QTS skills tests, the DfE is getting rid of its own barometer for aspiration, writes Professor David Spendlove.
There has been some rejoicing that the 20-year-old numeracy and literacy skills tests requirements for trainee teachers are to be replaced at the end of the current recruitment cycle with a new system of “provider-led assurance”.
Some organisations have even claimed this a result of an ongoing campaign and that the government have finally listened to them. But let’s be clear – this is an expedient response by the DfE, and further acknowledgement that the prolonged recruitment crisis shows little sign of abating.
The skills tests were a barometer representing both a continued aspiration and healthy state of recruitment
Regardless of the validity of the skills tests, most significantly this is a major policy change from the government and a resetting of the ambition of who can be a teacher.
As recently as 2015, the DfE insisted: “The tests have been made tougher as international comparisons show that rigorous selection of trainee teachers is an important part of the process in raising the quality and status of the teaching profession.”
Yet in the last year we have had providers discouraged from making prior school experience an entry requirement, the anomaly of suitability to train rather than to teach and now the removal of the skills tests.
Therefore, while there may be some relief of a potential barrier to recruitment being removed, the skills tests were a barometer representing both a continued aspiration and healthy state of recruitment.
Equally, while the details of the “provider-level assurance” process are yet to be shared, this inevitably adds an additional administrative burden onto already stretched teacher education providers.
It also puts them in the invidious position of trying to avoid being compromised when setting their own literacy and numeracy bar when faced with recruiting in very difficult circumstances.
Effectively, with a sleight of hand the DfE has just passed the problem on to providers and potentially increased the stress on applicants, who, given that they can apply to three providers who may each be looking for something different, presumably will have to potentially undergo up to six different sets of assessment.
Equally, this also looks like trainee teachers have to demonstrate their skills in numeracy and literacy by the end of their initial teacher training rather than at entry – which is reverting back to the policy which was previously in place.
In one sense you can’t help being impressed by the number of measures teacher education providers and colleagues at the DfE are undertaking to try and remove barriers to recruitment, although this is a marginal gains approach.
However, we are getting to the stage where the DfE must consider the entire ecosystem of the school sector to ensure it is sufficiently attractive for new teachers, because the current recruitment and retention strategy is simply unsustainable.