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UK Economy

“US firm loses contract after Sats exam fiasco”


“The company at the centre of this year’s Sats test debacle had its contract terminated today by the government’s exams watchdog.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and ETS Europe agreed to dissolve the five-year contract to handle the national curriculum tests with immediate effect, after test results were delayed this summer. Under the deal, ETS will make a payment of £19.5m to QCA, and the watchdog will save approximately £4.6m in cancelled invoices and charges.

Full results for tests sat by 14-year-olds this year were still not available when national figures were released earlier this week.

The agreement to end the contract early has been made by both parties and there will be no payments made by QCA to ETS Europe for any future years of the contract.

It was feared QCA would have to pay off ETS Europe for breaking the deal.

QCA signed the £156m five-year contract with ETS in February last year. However, serious problems with the administration and marking of the tests this year meant the publication of results for key stage 2 and 3, which should have been released on July 8, were delayed by almost a month. KS3 results were released on Tuesday, although schools still did not have complete results.

ETS will continue to work to conclude this year’s Sats operations, publishing outstanding results and making sure all schools have a complete set of results and any unreturned scripts.

Schools are expected to call for a record number of remarks over disputed results this year.

The QCA said information about the arrangements for next year’s Sats tests would be made available to schools in the autumn.

The exams regulator, Ofqual, has asked Lord Sutherland to lead an inquiry into the delays in this year’s Sats results, which will conclude in the autumn.

The Conservatives have asked Sir Richard Sykes, the former vice-chancellor of Imperial College, London, to carry out a separate inquiry into the debacle.

Last month, ministers refused to sever the contract with ETS. Ed Balls, the schools secretary, insisted that negotiations should be kept “at arms length from ministers, to ensure the independence and objectivity of the testing regime”.

Ken Boston, the QCA’s chief executive, said today: “ETS Europe was selected due to the strength of their worldwide experience in delivering large scale assessments.

“It is disappointing that the issues with this year’s national curriculum test results have meant that the partnership between QCA and ETS Europe must end early.”

Zoubir Yazid, ETS Global BV’s managing director, said: “ETS Europe has apologised to schools for the delays in marking national curriculum assessments in England.

“As a subsidiary of a global, non-profit company, we are dedicated to assuring quality and equity for all pupils, and we are sorry that the results this summer were delayed for some schools.

In a letter to the Commons schools select committee chairman, Barry Sheerman, the schools secretary said the contractual discussions have legally been a matter for the QCA and ETS.

He added: “My department has sought to ensure that due process has been followed throughout, that the public purse is protected.”

Balls said that contractual costs to the end of the 2008 test cycle were £39.6m, of which £24.1m had been recovered from the £35m ETS Europe received from QCA.

He said schools now had 99% of KS2 and 95% of KS3 results – 93% in English, 97% in maths and 96% in science.

Balls told Sheerman the Sutherland inquiry would help “learn the lessons of this year’s delays” and QCA would offer a single year contract to run the 2009 Sats.

The shadow schools secretary, Michael Gove, said today’s announcement was long overdue.

“ETS had a long history of international failure before they were signed up by this government to run Sats tests. Ministers bear direct responsibility for signing up with a firm that let down children and teachers so badly,” he said.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, called for next year’s Sats to be cancelled.

“It is simply not possible for the QCA to appoint a new test contractor to deliver the Sats exams for 2009,” she said.

“The government needs to take this golden opportunity to completely overhaul its testing regime, and in the interim should suspend Sats for 2009.”

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed.

“Nine months is an incredibly short time in which to appoint a new provider, prepare the infrastructure and recruit and train markers. Many markers have lost confidence in the system and, even with ETS out of the picture, it will be difficult to deliver a wholly successful system in 2009,” he said.

The testing and examination system is “sinking under its own weight”, he added, and it is time for the government to “examine seriously how it can streamline the assessment regime and again make it fit for purpose”.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said the termination of the contract was “good news”. But the Sutherland review would be “critically important” to identify the causes of the problems and to try to ensure that they do not arise in the future, she said.

“Given the high stakes nature of testing, schools, teachers, parents and presumably the government will want to ensure that the inquiry examines fully the implications of arms-length private companies being charged with such onerous responsibilities.””

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