Leading article: Mr Balls loses his bearings

Related Topics

Last summer's exams marking fiasco, in which the Sats results of thousands of pupils were either lost or delayed for months, was a particularly wretched episode in the history of the examination regime introduced by this Government. Yet no ministerial heads rolled over the debacle. Instead, it was Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), who fell on his sword last December, after an independent inquiry by Lord Sutherland blamed an "it'll be all right on the night" culture at the QCA for the shambles.

The political waters seemed to close over the matter. But now Mr Boston has resurfaced with some explosive testimony before the House of Commons education committee. While he does not seek to deny that the performance of the QCA was unsatisfactory, he strongly objects to the behaviour of the education department and its Secretary of State, Ed Balls, during and following the crisis.

According to Mr Boston, the remit of the Sutherland inquiry was deliberately framed by the education department to throw a "protective fence" around ministers and to put the QCA directly in the firing line.

Mr Boston also accuses the Government of unfairly presenting him as "complacent and disengaged". Claims from ministers that they requested constant updates on the situation from the QCA are dismissed as "fiction".

This row feeds into broader issues of accountability and public life. In this age of proliferating quangos and "arms length" regulators it would be unreasonable to suggest that ministers alone should be held responsible when things go wrong.

It is entirely appropriate that heads of organisation such as the QCA answer to the public when they fail, and the QCA certainly did fail under Mr Boston's leadership. There were signs that ETS Europe, the private company appointed to mark the exams, might find it difficult to deliver on its contract.

Yet, at the same time, there is something distasteful about the manner in which Mr Balls and his fellow ministers sought to dodge all responsibility for the mess. Ministers might not have been responsible for commissioning ETS to mark the scripts, but they are still deeply involved in the exams administration process. The education ministry, for instance, vetoed a proposal from Mr Boston in 2006 to move to an online marking system for national curriculum tests.

Yet the most distasteful aspect of the behaviour of ministers was their underhand attempt to portray Mr Boston as incompetent, even going so far as to refer to his supposedly lacklustre contribution at a crucial meeting to which he was never, it turns out, invited. This echoes the sort of political smearing we witnessed in Damian McBride's notorious recent email.

Mr Boston has, rightly, admitted his personal culpability for his responsibility for the unmarked exam papers. We now need a similarly contrite admission of error from Mr Balls.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam