Andrew Lifford is a former secondary school teacher, teacher trainer and education researcher. He has worked at Portland School, Google, The Key, Researchers in Schools and Teach First. The views in this post do not represent the views of Edapt.
The DfE has announced that we will be saying farewell to the skill tests as a prerequisite to joining the profession. Teacher training providers will be responsible for making sure prospective teachers have adequate literacy and numeracy skills from October 2019.
What will training providers develop?
It will be interesting to see what solution teacher training providers will take, if any, to assess skills in literacy and numeracy. Potentially training providers could create their own psychometric tests or outsource them to third-party providers. Or will training providers take GCSE/A-level and degree results in good faith that prospective teachers have the basic skills in literacy and numeracy? Will we see some training providers setting a higher bar than others?
If you are trying to assess if a teacher has the core skills to manage in role, would it not be more accurate to design an in-tray exercise test which combines both literacy and numeracy skills with real-life examples. For instance, you are given the task of writing an email to a parent who has a concern about their child’s progress in your class, you then analyse class data on pupil progress and create a summary report for your head of department to tallying up the finances and logistics for a school trip. There could be lucrative contracts up for organisations wanting to design and assess these for training providers, with assessments which can be taken on mobile device or video interviews where a candidate has to outline their thought-process for a particular problem.
History of the skills tests
I completed my skills tests in 2009 in a dram looking driving test centre in St Helens, Merseyside one rainy morning in November. This was back when you needed to sit a test for ‘information and communication technology’ which was subsequently scrapped in 2012, presumably because most people already had a good grasp of IT in 2012.
For an informative history of the skills tests ranging from the year 2000 and how they have changed over the years, the following blog post will be of interest.
The questions on the test were quite generic with no tangible link to education, for example, if a train was travelling at ‘x’ mph which station would you arrive in 2 hours time? I had already been teaching for 3 months before taking the tests, and these tests were the least of my worries at the time as a trainee teacher!
Are we lowering the barrier for entry?
There are opinions on both sides of the debate with some saying we are lowering the barrier for entry into profession, whereas others would argue it is one less administrative step for teachers to jump through. Is it a knee jerk reaction to remove the existing skills tests when faced with a recruitment crisis? Are they being removed with an expectation that it will improve recruitment figures? I think there are bigger factors at play to take into account than removing the skills test to hopefully improve teacher recruitment.
Surely we want to ensure that our teachers have an outstanding knowledge of their subject area, are competent in the day-to-day practicalities of being a teacher, well-organised and can write a well-structured email to analysing class data. I’m not sure the skills tests actually ever did that and were a rudimentary mechanism to show that high standards were in place. I’m much more interested in seeing a more-in depth assessment of a candidate’s skills at interview rather than a nationalised test which was prone to well-publicised errors and mistakes.