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Schools tests branded a 'fiasco' as organisers deny papers are missing

Teachers, MPs and watchdog voice concerns over ETS Europe, the company taking charge of the national curriculum exams for the first time

By Richard Garner, Education Editor and Ian Johnston
Sunday, 1 June 2008



As pupils across the UK take crucial exams, there are fears over whether scripts will be marked in time

Scores of teachers involved in marking national curriculum exam papers complained last week that they had not received scripts, raising fears that some had gone missing and results would not be delivered on time to schools.

In the past, papers have been sent directly from schools to markers, but under the management of ETS Europe, which is organising the tests for the first time, they were sent first to a central depot in Yorkshire and then to markers.

One marker – of maths papers for 14-year-olds – told the Times Educational Supplement the situation was an "absolute fiasco", adding: "I honestly don't know if ETS knows where these scripts are."

Another said: "Marking isn't happening because I have no scripts."

However, a spokeswoman for the National Assessment Agency (NAA), the government body that awarded the contract to ETS, said yesterday: "The overwhelming majority of markers will now have them. On Thursday, senior NAA colleagues were at the depot and they confirmed all scripts have gone out for the first time to markers. The scripts aren't missing; they are all in the system."

Some papers would, she said, be sent back to the depot from teachers who failed marking standardisation tests, became ill or were unable to mark papers for some other reason.

She added: "These are really quite small numbers in the grand scheme of things and they [ETS] already have markers lined up as a contingency. It's all looking fairly positive. The first year of a new contract with a new system in place ... inevitably that is a challenge."

ETS Europe has admitted some markers it trained may not receive any scripts and has promised them compensation.

Teachers who receive their scripts late will also receive compensation in the hope of spurring them on to complete their marking in a reduced timescale.

In a statement on its website, the company says: "We apologise to those of you in the frustrating position of having completed training and standardisation only to have not yet received an initial allocation.

"It is possible, albeit unlikely, that despite our best efforts we will not be able to provide all of you with an allocation of papers."

ETS Europe won the £154m, five-year contract in February 2007. By October, some senior markers had resigned after problems with a pilot of the new system.

In early spring, teachers began to report problems, such as ETS failing to register their contact details, and in early May many expressed concern that they did not know where training sessions were due to take place.

Senior examiners have also voiced concerns about standards of marking, saying the vetting system is letting through people who would not have been approved in previous years.

On 19 May, the Liberal Democrats said the Government should withhold payment from ETS because of computer problems that meant teachers were unable to enter pupils' details on a database that records which children took the English, maths and science tests.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman David Laws branded the episode "a shambles" in the House of Commons. Michael Gove, shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, said ETS had a history of failure abroad, pointing out it had given 4,000 graduate teachers in the US the wrong marks for their teaching exams in 2004.

The newly created watchdog Ofqual said it was "aware of some issues, some problems that have arisen" and was continuing to monitor the situation.

The deadline for completing the marking of the tests for 11-year-olds is considered unmissable because they need to be available for secondary schools at the start of the autumn term.

In a statement, Andy Latham, vice-president of ETS Europe, insisted the problems would not have a serious impact on the delivery of the results: "While the schools' administration of the tests went well, as with most projects, we have experienced some initial challenges in implementing our new solution. However, we are on track to complete a successful marking cycle this year."

The NAA spokeswoman added the scripts were delivered by a secure carrier and had to be signed for by markers.

"We have a trace and track service in place and we have no record of any lost scripts at all. If they have not already been delivered, they are in vans, as we speak, being delivered.

"There are absolutely no records of any lost scripts at the moment."

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