For the first time, those seeking to become teachers in the England are being assessed on their classroom communication skills, writes Graeme Paton, education editor for The Daily Telegraph. Based on an extensive questionnaire, the assessment seeks to block those candidates who are demonstrating a difficulty communicating with students effectively. The goal of the new screening is to make sure that new teachers have the necessary skills to not only deliver academic material, but to also put together good lesson plans and effectively deal with kids who cause problems during class.
This is only one step in a major overhaul of teacher-training programs in England. The other steps will see candidates take more rigorous literacy and numeracy tests, and limiting the number of times they can retake these exams before they are completely disqualified from teaching.
In a further change, the Government is banning students with poor degrees from accessing training grants and introducing generous incentives for those with first-class honours.
The reforms come amid fears that millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is being wasted each year training teachers who are effectively unfit for the classroom.
The overhauls gained particular urgency in light of a recent finding that 30% of those in teacher training programs still didn't qualify to get a classroom placement sixth months after they began their course. In addition, an ever larger number of working teachers in England are opting to take early retirement, with nearly 9,000 leaving the profession before the statutory retirement age last year.
Not all see the new "personality checks" as a good way to raise the overall quality of new teachers.
Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: "The only way to see if someone can teach is to put them in front of a class and watch them react. Rather than going for these tests, which I am not sure will produce any useful information, the Government ought to be encouraging training institutions to observe candidates in a classroom."
Currently, some 35,000 people are accepted onto teacher training courses each year.
The administration of the new tests will begin this fall, and is meant to test the "non-cognitive" abilities of those seeking admission into the teacher-training programs. The tests will comprise of a computerized 15-minute questionnaire that will gauge the responses to several scenarios. In particular, the tests will see if the candidates posses what a Department of Education quango sees as three core skills: adaptability, emotional resilience and self-organization.