Contractor blamed for Sats fiasco

18 Dec 08
The inquiry into last summer’s Standard Assessment Tests fiasco has blamed the company contracted to run the marking and the exams watchdog

19 December 2008

By Alex Klaushofer

The inquiry into last summer's Standard Assessment Tests fiasco has blamed the company contracted to run the marking and the exams watchdog.

'The main blame is with the company who signed the contract and didn't deliver,' former chief schools inspector Lord Sutherland told Public Finance. 'Secondly, I don't think that the Qualifications and Curriculum Agency was sufficiently attentive to the problems as they came up.'

Sutherland was appointed to head an inquiry into the breakdown of the system, in which the marking of the tests of 1.2 million pupils in England by Education Testing Services was delayed. This led to the postponement of this year's league tables.

QCA chief executive Ken Boston proffered his resignation at the weekend on reading the report, but has since been suspended, along with David Gee, the head of the National Assessment Agency, the division of the QCA responsible for exams.

Despite growing evidence of problems in the run-up to the tests, ministers could not be blamed for failing to intervene since they had been misled, Sutherland said.

But he added that government officials who sat in on meetings with the QCA and ETS could have done more had their remit been clearer.

'The ambiguity of the role of the observers didn't help,' he said. 'They're either there as part of the committee or as a watchdog and everybody needs to know what they're there for.'

Difficulties were also due to the 'fine line' between effective monitoring and illegitimate interference with a contractor's operation, he added.

But he denied that the fiasco showed that contracting out such large projects was inherently unworkable. 'There have been successful contracting out operations,' he said, adding that the problem lay with ETS. 'This new contractor exposed every point of weakness in the system.'

The Liberal Democrats have called for ministers to take responsibility for the 'testing shambles'.

Children, schools and families spokesman David Laws said: 'This report describes what looks like a masterclass in incompetent project management with contractor ETS.'

The National Union of Teachers called Sutherland's recommendations 'sound if predictable', but was unhappy with the report's lack of focus on the tests themselves.

'Sutherland has stuck like glue to his narrow remit,' said Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the NUT. 'Nothing indicates his opinion of whether the test system is sustainable or right for schools.'


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