'Complacent' watchdog failed to spot exam chaos

Assessment agency to be disbanded after missing warning signs of disaster
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A culture of "It'll be all right on the night" meant exam watchdogs failed to spot warning signs over the Sats fiasco, a report says.

The former chief schools inspector Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, in his official inquiry into the affair, concluded that both ETS Europe – the American firm charged with delivering the national curriculum tests for 11 and 14-year-olds – and the exams watchdog the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority were guilty of a "massive failure" to deliver the results on time.

Children in every state school in England were affected by their blunders, said Lord Sutherland. That meant 11-year-olds were unable to discuss their test results with teachers before moving to secondary school and 14-year-olds were unable to talk about subject options before starting GCSE courses.

There was an astonishing series of blunders in the run-up to marking the tests including the discovery of 20,000 unmarked scripts after ETS Europe had given an assurance it had "audited" all of them. When the firm ordered all scripts to be returned because of worries over meeting the deadline for publishing results, it discovered that more than 100,000 had remained unmarked – many because markers had been sent the wrong subject.

Lord Sutherland said the QCA had "failed in its remit" to deliver the test results, largely because the National Assessment Agency, the body within the QCA responsible for monitoring the ETS Europe contract, had a culture of "it'll be all right on the night" as it had survived crises in previous years. Liaison between the NAA and its parent body was poor, the inquiry found. As a result, the QCA announced last night it was disbanding the NAA and suspending its managing director, David Gee. Its work will be integrated into the QCA. In addition, it decided to suspend Dr Ken Boston, chief executive of the QCA.

Lord Sutherland also criticised the QCA for failing to properly vet ETS before awarding the contract.

"The primary responsibility for this summer's failure rests with ETS," he said. "QCA failed to manage its supplier." In many cases, it remained "unaware of what was actually happening on the ground", he added.

The Children's Secretary, Ed Balls, admitted in the Commons the whole affair had been a "shambles" and said he was "sorry" for what had happened to children, teachers and schools. Mr Balls has scrapped tests for 14-year-olds and his department has announced that the exam board Edexcel is the "preferred bidder" for next year's tests for 11-year-olds.

Exam failure: Major blunders

* 453 parcels with 16,000 unmarked scripts were found in one ETS warehouse and 4,000 in another.

* ETS computers had 10,000 unanswered emails from markers complaining mainly about receiving the wrong scripts or none at all.

* Some 100,000 scripts were returned to schools unmarked.

* The QCA failed to carry out adequate "due diligence" checks on ETS.