Wednesday, July 16, 2008

SATS Shambles



This is what they're talking about

I've just heard Humphrys interviewing Ken Boston, head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), about the SATS shambles.

As you will know, this year's school Key Stage 2 and 3 SATS results have been seriously delayed. The US firm which holds the £156m contract to mark them - ETS Europe - has bogged up bigtime:

"Senior examiners have complained of a catalogue of errors surrounding the firm's handling of the tests. They said that papers were not delivered on time, an on-line system being used to register results failed to work and training was late or inadequate."

A major problem was that ETS failed to hire enough qualified markers, and ended up hiring... well, who knows? What we do know is that in a desperate attempt to limit the damage they set up emergency marking centres in hotels, working seven days a week. Boxes of unmarked papers were shunted here there and everywhere. Does that sound like a recipe for accurate marking?

Humphrys asked Boston what he intended to do about it? When was he going to fire ETS?

Boston is only too familiar to BOM readers - he's the leftie Aussie bureaucrat brought in by Labour to preside over the final dumb down of Britain's GCSE and A Levels (see previous blogs eg here and here). He has already inflicted serious damage.

His opening bid was that the problems have now been gripped, schools now have their test results, and everything is now tickety. Unfortunately, Humphrys had a sheaf of emails from senior teachers in schools flatly contradicting him.

The teachers said many results were still missing, and worse, vast numbers of papers had been grossly mis-marked: one head of department said she had returned 50% of her papers for re-marking because they had been hugely overscored. Hmm... you'd almost think ETS had rushed things through, rounding up marks on the basis that nobody ever complains about high marks.

Boston continued: ah... er... mumble... these are isolated cases... mumble...

Well, judging from the vast number of teachers contacting the programme, it doesn't seem to be isolated. When are you going to sack ETS?

Ah, well, it's not as simple as that - ah... er... they have a five-year contract.

A five year contract? But surely if they've been shown to be incompetent, you can sack them.

Well... ummm... I'm not in the lead on this... er... mumble...

But they're incompetent! WTF did you hire them in the first place?!

Well, there was a tendering process, and as it happens they were cheapest... ah, no! That is to say they were the cheapest, but they're also big - really BIG. They do loads of marking in America and... yes, they satisfied us they were fully competent and... er... well, that's it.

Readers will recognise this as the IBM defence: nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM. Except of course, ETS is no IBM, and they had no existing UK operation capable of delivering the SATS contract.

We can see exactly what's happened here - it's yet another example of our bumbling Simple Shopper hiring a sharp private sector operator, picking someone who later proves incapable of delivering, and signing a contract which provides no restitution and apparently no way out. Worse, the man we all thought was in charge, reckons he's "not in the lead". So WTF is in the lead? I'll tell you - nobody.

God help the kids caught in the fall-out.

The sooner we get our hopeless self-serving commissars out of educating our children the better. Not only will parental choice and school competition do a much better job of actually teaching the kids, allowing schools to pick their own test and examination regime will mean a return to qualifications that actually have a value in the real world.

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