Test papers delivered late, admits exam body    

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The Independent Online

The Government's exams watchdog admitted yesterday it had failed to deliver national curriculum test papers to dozens of schools on schedule.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) immediately came under fire from headteachers' leaders for putting out a statement on the blunder late on a Friday afternoon.

The announcement came the day after news that the QCA was to be given new powers to crack down on exam boards.

The papers are meant to arrive some days before the tests are due to be sat. A statement from the authority said: "QCA apologises unreservedly for the late delivery of the tests. Only a small number of schools have been affected – less than half of 1 per cent. Human error does inevitably occur," the authority added.

The blunder covered tests for pupils aged 11 and 14, due to be sat over the next two weeks, starting on Monday, by 1.2 million pupils at more than 16,000 primary schools and 3,500 secondary schools. The figures would mean a maximum of about 100 schools were affected.

The statement continued: "We are investigating the reasons behind these delays for each individual affected. Most schools that have not received their tests on time should be able to sit the tests as scheduled. Where this is not possible, the tests can be taken later. We are very sorry for any inconvenience caused to schools. We will ensure that no schools or pupils are disadvantaged."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "This is not the first time that the QCA has put out an explanation late on a Friday. This is a serious matter for the pupils and schools involved and should not be hidden away in a news release late on a Friday afternoon."

Mr Dunford has been campaigning for the QCA to be relieved of its joint role of both setting the tests and regulating them. "If it does both, it should be setting a better example," he added.

The authority said it had first been alerted to the delays yesterday when one school complained to the media that the tests had arrived four days late. It said its offices had received further complaints during yesterday and felt it had a duty to put out a statement as soon as possible.

Some 24 hours earlier Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, was revealed to be planning to give the watchdog more powers to crack down on exam boards.

An amendment has been tabled to education legislation to give it direct powers to intervene and order exam boards to improve their service to schools – and instruct them to respond to appeals more quickly and get results to schools on time. The legislation will allow the QCA to seek a court order compelling an exam board to comply with a direction. Up until now, the authority could only direct changes if it was asked to mount an investigation by the Government or an exam board asked for help.

The powers are being granted after the Edexcel board made a series of blunders, such as putting an unanswerable question in a maths paper and omitted pages of a communications test.