Thousands of trainee teachers had to re-sit basic literacy and numeracy tests last year, it has emerged – with one candidate taking a literacy paper 36 times.
The startling figures, revealed in the answer to a parliamentary question tabled by the Conservative MP Damian Hinds, show that 160 trainee teachers re-sat the numeracy test 10 times or more, and 1,990 three times or more. About 1,300 re-sat the literacy test three times or more.
The exams must be passed by trainees before they can qualify as fully fledged teachers.
They were introduced under Labour in an attempt to improve standards in the teaching of the basics, but the Coalition Government is now planning to impose a maximum limit of two re-sits for each candidate.
If this policy had been in force during the past year, the Government claims, more than 3,000 teachers would have been barred from entering the profession.
Under the reforms, would-be teachers will not be able to start their training until they have passed both tests.
Previously, trainees have been able to enter classrooms and teach before their test results have been confirmed – although they can only be paid at the level of an unqualified teacher during that time.
A review of the exams will be carried out in the summer, with a view to making them more stringent from September 2013.
Senior teacher training staff admit that the tests in the basics "are not that difficult". Teachers' leaders have argued that they are unnecessary, as candidates are required to have a good GCSE pass in both maths and English before they can enter training.
One said: "The whole question of these extra tests is irrelevant if, for instance, they are going to teach art or religious education."
They also pointed out that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, had specifically excluded academies and free schools from the requirement to employ qualified teaching staff.
However, ministers argue that a knowledge of the basics is essential for teachers tackling any subject in the curriculum. They point out that trainees may have let their maths and English skills lapse after completing their GCSE courses years earlier.
Mr Hinds, a Tory MP who sits on the Education Select Committee, said "People will find it surprising that so many were allowed to re-take the tests more than once, let alone multiple times".
How would you do? The test questions
Fill in the missing words:
"It was a credit to staff that the children had low levels of ______ in the run-up to the tests."
Anxsiety, anxiety, angxiety, anxciety.
"Several suitable venues were discovered as a result of the ______ search on the internet."
Exaustive, exaurstive, exhorstive, exhaustive.
"A teacher attends a meeting. The journey is 7.5 miles each way. Travel expenses are 40p per mile. How much should the teacher claim?"
"The morning session in a school began at 9.25. There were three lessons of 50 minutes each and one break of 20 minutes. At what time did the morning session end? Answer using the 24-hour clock."