Drop exams contractor, Tories implore

17 July 2008
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18 July 2008 | Paul Snell

The Conservative party is urging the government to scrap its deal with its exam-marking contractor.

MP Michael Gove, shadow education secretary, said ETS, the firm responsible for overseeing the marking of national tests, "have forfeited the right to run future SATs tests. Every day brings new evidence of their serial incompetence".

Results of key stage tests have been delayed, caused by a number of factors including the recruitment and retention of markers, delays in getting papers to them and unmarked papers being returned to schools.

ETS was appointed in a five-year, £156 million deal to handle test operations, which includes organising marking, collection and delivery of test results and from 2009 printing and distribution of test materials.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which appointed ETS, told a government select committee that his organisation had done "everything within the terms of the contract" to ensure these problems would not happen. He added the QCA had held ETS accountable for meeting the service level agreements in its contract.

He also highlighted that the procurement process was reviewed twice by the OGC and given a "green" rating both times. "This company has a very good track record. Its failure here is something we certainly did not predict."

Boston added the agency was now pursuing "all commercial and legal avenues" of action, with financial penalties potentially running into "millions of pounds". In addition, Peer Lord Sutherland has been appointed by schools minister Jim Knight to lead a review into the failures.

But this was not enough for Gove. "The government can't hide behind legalese. If ministers signed a contract which ties them to an incompetent firm, that only underlines their own incompetence."

SMjul2008

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