Leading article: Too many exams, too much pure incompetence

Share
Related Topics

The fiasco over this year's Standard Assessment Tests (Sats) is more than just a failure to deliver on time. It is a self-inflicted wound on the educational system that will affect the ranking of schools and the marking of papers for years to come. Just how the exams authority came to negotiate such a flawed contract, and just how the US company concerned got it so wrong, has yet to be established. But it is something that the Schools Secretary Ed Balls – currently refusing to acknowledge any responsibility for the mess – is going to have to come forth and explain. Apologies (which incidentally Balls still won't give) are not enough. What schools and children need to know is what is going to happen to the results this summer, and whether the same company, which has been given a five-year contract, can be trusted in the future.

Dr Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which was in charge of negotiating and overseeing the contract, has admitted that the date for publishing next year's results has already been put back. It thus becomes clearer by the day that the current system of testing is unsustainable and has to be reformed. The simplest and best way – from an educational point of view – would be to scrap the tests for 14-year-olds altogether. They are supposed to check pupils' progress as they approach GCSEs and could easily be replaced by an internal assessment of pupils by their teachers. Dr Boston calculated that, in any one year, almost 1,700,000 secondary-school pupils are taking tests or exams in English for which external markers have to be found. There are only a maximum of 40,000 English teachers to mark them. It is proving an impossible conundrum which only an easing of the current testing pressures can solve.

That, of course, does not deal with the problem of the contract given to the US-based firm ETS – which has another four years to run. Too often in the past, contracts have been handed out to firms to deliver public services which it has then proved impossible to police effectively. Witness the Criminal Records Bureau checks on staff working with children introduced in the aftermath of the Soham murders, and the Government's Individual Learning Accounts scheme, which opened itself up to fraud because staff did not have time to check every application for a grant.

This is not to decry the idea of farming out work to the private sector, which has often been brought in because of failures by the public service. It is, however, a plea for a greater scrutiny of the contracts offered. It should have sounded a warning bell to the QCA when two of the UK's biggest exam boards – the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance and the OCR (Oxford and Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts) – refused to put in bids for the national curriculum test contract.

At present, we are left in a situation in which the QCA is investigating legal avenues as to whether it can recoup money from ETS for failure to deliver the test results on time, or even cancel the remaining four years of the ETS contract. Dr Boston appears to favour continuing to work with the company despite the harsh words he has for their performance. We are more sympathetic to the point of view expressed by Michael Gove, the Conservatives' schools spokesman, who suggested that the contract should be terminated on the grounds of ETS's failure to deliver. The courts would then have to determine whether they were entitled to compensation or had forfeited that right. A more easily deliverable contract could then be negotiated with a third party – possibly an English exam board with experience of the system – in the wake of scrapping the national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Technician - 1st Line

£19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

Special Needs Teaching Assistant

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Special Educational Needs Teach...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: unbuilt buildings, the new Establishment and polling on Europe

John Rentoul
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London