US firm faces huge fine over late delivery of exam results

The American firm charged with delivering national curriculum test results to more than a million children is facing fines running into "tens of millions of pounds" after the fiasco of this year's tests.

Dr Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's tests watchdog, yesterday told MPs it was exploring "all possible legal and suitable action" against the US-based firm, ETS Europe, for failing to deliver the test results for 11- and 14-year-olds in time. Under its £154m contract, it had agreed to deliver the results to schools by 8 July.

However, Dr Boston told MPs on the Children, Schools and Families Commons Select Committee that some English test results for 14-year-olds would not be delivered to schools until "long into the summer holidays".

Dr Boston said the company risked "severe reputational damage". He added: "That probably is a significant loss. With financial penalties, it could run into tens of millions of pounds."

It also emerged it was the fifth year in succession that test results had been delayed.In 2004, the test results for 14-year-olds were late. In the following three years, English test results were delayed.

"I apologise for the failure of not having key stage test results available on 8 July," he said. "It is quite unacceptable."

He said the company – which won the contract over six other bidders – had "failed in the terms of its contract" to deliver. As a result, it could be forced to pay back money given to it or – according to one scenario explored by lawyers – face the cancellation of the rest of its five-year contract.