Court vetoes government’s “sneak-question” aptitude tests for teachers

It has been described as a “massive defeat” for an education ministry that has sought to relegate hundreds of teachers to the dole queues.

A Coimbra court has ruled that the whole basis of the controversial teachers’ tests sanctioned by the PSD/CDS-PP coalition is illegal and unconstitutional, and “creates a new obstacle to strike terror into the legitimate expectations of citizens who have already been considered apt to exercise a profession”.

Last week, the nation’s media buzzed with the story that over 36% of the nation’s teachers had failed the latest round of aptitude tests (see:

Education minister Nuno Crato stressed that there was a “set of basic prerequisites” that over one in three teachers was not fulfilling.

He claimed some teachers could not even spell – but newspapers were quick to point out that not only had the exam authority refused to confirm whether the spelling “errors” were connected with the fact that the nation’s spelling for scores of words had been changed only three years before, but also that many of the multiple choice questions were simply baffling and larded with “rasteiras” (catches).

Publishing three of the most difficult questions, Público wrote that one saw almost 80% of candidates failing to get the right answer.

Coimbra’s administrative and fiscal court has now judged that the tests in the education ministry’s so-called PACC calendar “defraud the expectations of those embarking on a teaching career” and are therefore illegal as they violate juridical principles.

The decision could not have come at a better time for the hundreds of teachers with less than five years experience who heard last week that they would not be considered for a post in the next academic year because they failed the test they sat in December.

Fenprof teachers’ union national secretary João Louceiro told Lusa that the ruling signifies that tests set up until now “cannot produce the effects the ministry intended”.

Nonetheless, education chiefs say they will be appealing – and that this will effectively put the Coimbra court ruling on hold.

Fenprof are having none of it. João Loureiro told Lusa: “This is not another embargo that seeks to suspend the test”, it is a court decision that involves hundreds of teachers who have suffered damages.

“Teachers will need to be indemnified,” he said.

How this latest legal setback for the education ministry plays out remains to be seen. A recent UN visit to Portugal to evaluate the country’s legal system has made for depressing initial reactions. Special envoy Gabriela Knaul has told reporters that our justice system is “slow, expensive and difficult to comprehend”.

Certainly legal experts are divided over whether the Coimbra court ruling will see teachers winning back their opportunities, let alone receiving any kind of compensation.

Jurist Paulo Otero, a specialist in administrative law, told reporters that he doubted whether teachers will be indemnified as they would have to prove that they would have been given a teaching post if they had not failed the test.

He said the education ministry had “interests” in appealing, to try and stop other courts reaching similar decisions.

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