Teachers' union leaders are demanding a major rethink of the crucial maths tests for trainee teachers after students were penalised because of a computer error.
Trainee teachers are being tested via computer for the first time this year, which has led to an increase in the failure rate. Anyone failing to pass the compulsory maths test is barred from taking up a teaching post.
However, trainee teachers in at least one test centre lostmarks because of a computer fault. In one question, a table containing information needed for the answer failed to appear on the screen. Up to 150 trainees were penalised, with 19 marked as failing because of being unable to answer the question.
The Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), which lobbies on behalf of teacher trainers, has voiced concern to the Government's Teacher Training Agency (TTA) about the error. The 19 affected students will now be awarded passes.
In a complaint to UCET, the head of one test centre said: "The situation is extremely serious and I guess politically embarrassing, when ministers have stood up to say trainees must pass their tests, to find that the test itself is 'failed'."
Trainees told they could get instant feedback from the computer on how well they had done were informed they had passed only to find out later they had failed. Computers have also crashed before students had saved their answers.
Failure rates this year in one college have increased to 23 per cent from7 per cent when a pencil-and-paper test was taken last year.
Teacher training institutions and unions are worried the tests will deterrecruits at a time when teacher shortages are growing. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "This is not the way to ensure we attract sufficient high-quality entrants to the profession. It is a way of deterring entrants."
The NUT is urging the Government to drop its insistence that anyone failing the test is barred from the profession. It wants the results to be used as guidance for headteachers in making an appointment.
The TTA says it is too early to judge the failure rate for the tests as student teachers are allowed four attempts before they complete their course.