Exam boss resigns over test blunders

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The Independent Online

The head of England's testing agency resigned yesterday after a damning official report revealed the full extent of the chaos surrounding this summer's national tests taken by 14-year-olds in English.

The head of England's testing agency resigned yesterday after a damning official report revealed the full extent of the chaos surrounding this summer's national tests taken by 14-year-olds in English.

The tests, taken by 624,000 pupils in May, were "plagued by a myriad of errors" because of blunders by civil servants, government agencies, examiners and private firms, the report found.

Jonathan Ford, the managing director of the National Assessment Agency, resigned following severe criticism of senior managers' leadership and management of the tests.

More than 1,000 schools failed to receive results on time and many more were given incomplete scores because of flaws in the marking process.

The report ­ from a review group set up by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's testing watchdog ­ was issued as the Government published the national results for the tests, three months late, showing that none of its targets for English had been reached. Publication of the school league tables for 14-year-olds, which had been expected next month, has been delayed until next March.

It is the condemnation of the entire system behind the English tests that will cause the most concern. The exam system has been working to regain schools' confidence after 2002's A-level grades fiasco.Schools suspected something was wrong even before the tests were taken in May. Exam papers were supposed to arrive two weeks before the exam but some had not arrived on the day of the tests. The results were supposed to be returned to schools by 13 July but only 77 per cent of the 4,500 schools taking the tests received them.

Schools tried to check their scores on a website but found their results were either incomplete or that the site crashed. In the rush to return results, many papers had not been checked properly. A huge number of schools demanded that their results be reviewed which meant English results could not be published alongside maths and science scores in August.

The report called for a team of representatives drawn from all the bodies involved to be set up to oversee future tests, taking "corporate responsibility" to make sure the system does not fail in future.

But the committee found no reason to believe that the tests, the marking quality, or the final national results were in doubt.

Ken Boston, QCA chief executive, said he was grateful for the "thorough and frank" report. "It is clear from the review by Mike Beasley and his colleagues that we failed to carry out that responsibility effectively in delivery of the 2004 Key Stage 3 English national test. I reiterate the apologies given to schools by my colleagues in the National Assessment Agency, " he said.

"I give my personal commitment that QCA will take forward the recommendations to ensure that we have a smooth tests process in 2005."

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, described the report as a "devastating indictment that completely vindicates the complaints from secondary schools".

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