Out-of-step again: planned tests for trainee teachers not like those in other countries

Janet Downs's picture
Tougher tests for prospective teachers are needed, the Government says, to raise the status of teaching, raise educational standards and “help Britain compete and thrive in the global race and spread privilege across our country”.

It’s unclear how setting harder entry tests for teacher trainees will raise standards when academies and free schools don’t have to hire trained teachers. And how far will these tests help “Britain (sic) compete” internationally?

To answer this question the review panel which recommended the tests looked at what happens in six countries and one jurisdiction which score highly in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. It found there is “no evidence of nationally mandated testing specific to teaching” in these countries.

In three of the countries, trainee teachers were selected on their academic record and aptitude for teaching. Once selected, they followed a training course. In the other three, trainees undertook training which was followed by locally administered tests. These included a mixture of traditional written tests, demonstration lessons and interviews.

Only one country, New Zealand had “specific requirements” about literacy and numeracy although Ontario was planning language competence tests in both official languages (English and French). In Singapore, the only prospective teachers required to take a test – in English fluency – were those who failed to reach matriculation standards.

In high-performing countries, candidates were tested on their knowledge of education although the panel decided this had “low predictive validity in relation to performance as a teacher”. If that is so, then it raises the question why these high-performing countries bother with assessing “education theories in relation to child development, [and] knowledge of the education system”. The countries that examine such knowledge must think it has some value even if the panel decided otherwise. The panel's opinion appears to chime with Mr Gove’s idea that teaching is a “craft” best learned on-the-job.

Most teacher training in these countries was at undergraduate level and solely led by universities except in New Zealand where there were a small number of private providers. Teacher training in England is moving away from university-based to school-based training.

Finally, the panel found that in most of the countries “critical decisions about access to teaching are made on the basis of interactive performance in interview or micro teaching.”

England is again out-of-step with high-performing countries, although it has to be said that six plus one jurisdiction is not a large sample. But a pattern is emerging – England is moving away from what high-performing countries do despite Secretary of State, Michael Gove, saying his reforms are underpinned by international evidence. England is changing exams at 16 when other developed countries have moved to graduation at 18 (see faqs above); the proposed programmes of study for primary schools “fly in the face of evidence from the UK and internationally”, the proposed tests for trainee teachers in England are nothing like those in other countries and the method of training teachers in schools does not match the university training offered elsewhere.

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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 08:33

In the Guardian, Warwick Mansell observes:

The government's official document sounds a rather sketchily outlined warning.

Noting that only 60-70% of current postgraduate teacher trainees have grade Bs in English, and in maths, it warns that 35-40% " might not pass tests set at the level of grade B if they were to take them"


Countries like Finland wouldn't have this problem. We shouldn't just pretend we are like Finland.

Leonard James's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 08:52

I don't have grade B's in English or Maths partly because the school I attended as a child was terrible and we were not obliged to work in lessons. I also happen to know (mainly younger) teachers who have better GCSE grades than me but are less literate and numerate.

Anecdotal evidence perhaps but I believe that it illustrates the point that the behaviour crisis and dumbing down mean that GCSE grades are an unreliable measure of an individuals actual ability. I'm actually in favour of higher entry standards for the teaching profession but let's not pretend that a discredited examination for sixteen year olds is part of the solution.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 11:07

Leonard - what worries me is that the Government, despite its rhetoric about raising standards of entry for trainee teachers, is actually reducing them. This is because academies and free schools don't have to employ trained teachers (thereby implying that a teaching qualification isn't that important), training is being moved from universities to schools (unlike the countries visited where teachers were trained in universities), and teacher training being viewed as essentially practical to be picked up on-the-job (practical experience is very important but it needs to be grounded in theory).

I think the answer would be to scrap all exams at 16+ (except tests in English and Maths) and move graduation by a variety of routes to 18. Trainee teachers could be chosen on their academic record at 18 to proceed to two possible paths into teaching: university graduation (any subject) plus post-graduate teacher training or rigorous, university graduation in education and subject(s) combined with the necessary practical experience in schools.

Leonard James's picture
Mon, 05/11/2012 - 05:52

Firstly I have little faith in the managers we currently have so I share your concerns about Gove giving increasingly more power to academy heads but lets not pretend that the 'theory' you mentioned isn't a problem in itself.

Secondly I would think that class of degree is more is more important than a qualification gained when somebody was 18. Personally I don't see the need for wholesale changes to the structure of the curriculum - what is important is that students get to sit a credible examination and get the grades they deserve. This means as end to dumbing down, target culture and blaming teachers when students fail because they choose not to put the effort in.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 05/11/2012 - 10:12

Sorry, Leonard, perhaps I didn't make myself clear. I wasn't suggesting that qualifications at 18+ should trump later qualifications (ie the standard of degree). I was proposing that the pathway to teacher training (either via university degree + post grad cert, or university degree in teaching) should be available only to those who reached a particular standard at 18+. Whether the trainee teachers then graduate as fully-qualified teachers depends on their performance in their under-graduate course.

Gove says he wants English teachers to be as well-qualified as in other top-performing countries. This means that (a) teachers should be highly qualified in both subject and teaching theories, (b) only those with this qualification should be called teachers, in the same way that no-one can be described as a doctor unles s/he is properly trained and qualified, and (c) no school, state or private, should be allowed to employ unqualified people as teachers (see point b).

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