Leading article: Teachers who fail the three Rs

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It should be worrying enough that it is deemed necessary for trainee teachers to be tested on basic numeracy and literacy, without discovering – as we do now – that 1,300 of them had to resit the literacy test three times or more and that this number rose to almost 2,000 for the numeracy test.

When you also learn that 160 teachers resat the numeracy test 10 times or more, and that one notched up more than 30 resits, you might reasonably wonder about the calibre of students being attracted into a career in teaching.

The figures were supplied in an answer to a parliamentary question posed by the MP for East Hampshire, who is also a member of the Education Select Committee, and it is hard to regard them as anything other than a national scandal. What degree of competence can be expected of a teacher who has had to sit tests in basic English and maths as many as 10 times before achieving a pass?

But a little context is also needed. Education, and especially schooling, is a more political issue in Britain than it is almost anywhere in the world. Damian Hinds, the MP who put the question, is one of the new 2010 Conservative intake, and the answer serves to bolster one of the education reforms being enacted by the Government: the requirement that anyone who wants to become a teacher must pass the literacy and numeracy tests before starting a training course, and may resit only twice. The pass mark for both tests is also being raised.

To the extent that Mr Hinds may have asked his question in the expectation of receiving a politically supportive answer, it might be dismissed as a ploy. But the figures speak for themselves. To date, many of those who qualified as teachers, and went on to teach the country's children, had their own difficulty with the basics – as is often apparent from the reports they write and other communications emanating from schools. The changes being introduced are essential. But something more might also be needed, such as a review of the educational standards to be required of aspiring teachers.

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