Page last updated at 15:15 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 16:15 UK

MPs criticise testing 'shambles'

Pupil taking Key Stage 2 test
Pupils have now finished taking the tests

Concerns about the administration of this year's school tests in England have prompted a call for payment to be withheld from the test contractor, ETS.

In the Commons, Liberal Democrat education spokesman David Laws called the situation a "shambles".

Schools Secretary Ed Balls said the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority had said that action had been taken "to get things back on track".

But markers and schools report ongoing problems with the "Sats" process.

There are complaints that pupils' scripts have not been collected from some schools.

Some of those who have been trained and are waiting to start marking say the scripts have not been delivered to their homes.

ETS Europe has said previously that it is addressing the issues that have arisen and has promised that the results will be back with schools as scheduled by 8 July.

'Under review'

During Commons questions, Mr Laws asked Mr Balls: "The secretary of state will know of the shambles that we have seen over the past couple of weeks in the marking of 1.2 million Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 test papers. What action is he taking over this issue?

"Will he consider withholding some of the £153 million due to be paid to ETS, which is administering this contract, over the next five years?"

Mr Balls said it was a very serious matter.

The schools minister had consulted the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority which had responsibility for delivering the tests, he said.

"It informs us that the actions that have been taken are sufficient to get things back on track, but clearly we will keep the matter closely under review, and he will take an active watching brief on the issue."

A spokesman for the National Assessment Agency said the marking of the scripts was well underway and it expected that all would be returned to schools as scheduled by 8 July.

People contacting the BBC News website - including concerned markers who say their contracts forbid them from talking to journalists - have highlighted various issues.

Let us know your experiences using the form below:

Our KS3 [Key Stage 3] Sats papers have been ready for collection since Monday 12th May, but are still sitting in my office. I reminded NAA [National Assessment Agency] on Wednesday 14th that they had not been collected and was told "it is in hand"!

I too have been a Team Leader since 1995 & as such passed standardisation 3 weeks ago. However, ETS didn't bother allocating me a team & insisted I go to Marker training at a different venue. I didn't go as I was actually training a substantial proportion of the 20-30 Markers who turned up for training without a team leader allocated. So now ETS have blocked me & still insist (despite contract, registers & pleas from their own staff + high level markers from Senior upwards) that I'm a Marker who hasn't attended training.

So no scripts to mark & no pay for any of the training I've already received & given - or for the team I'm mentoring (despite ETS' determined efforts to block me from them). Or for the fortune 7 weeks' calls to the 'Helpline' has cost me. Will I be doing this again? Will anyone?
Exasperated Marker

I am a KS3 maths marker and I feel sorry for the helpdesk. I don't blame them but the have had my wrath and they probably have had the same off everyone. The person at the helpdesk said to me off the record "you may get the scripts after bank holiday Monday", to which I replied "off the record they wont get marked by the 8th June then". This is a shambles! Why the scripts were not sent direct to markers is beyond me. They should of been sent direct to the markers and if we failed standardisation we would send them on to ETS. This would have saved so much time and wasted energy. I would of been half way through my allocation by now. Schools by 8th July no chance!!!! GCSE results will come out first!
Simon C

I am a KS3 Maths Team Leader. ... No supervising markers for KS3 maths have received any scripts. We cannot monitor our markers because ETS are refusing to allow us access to the relevant part of the website until we receive scripts. ETS are not responding to any phone or email queries beyond "passing it to my supervisor". NAA and Ed Balls have their heads in the sand!
[Contact details provided]

Well it's 2200 on the 19th....that's 9 days since I passed KS3 maths standardisation. I was promised 450 scripts. My quota so far appears to be 270. 79 have arrived. No-one seems to know where the rest are. Some have all 3 papers, others 2. This is an absolute shambles. We wait and wait, but ETS take ages to answer the phones (while I pay premium rates for the calls) and the call centres have no idea what's going on either. Delivery should be finished by now and we should be marking! Next week is holiday week for many of us, and I bet UPS will try 3 times to deliver and then give up. There's no-one to tell that I won't be here! there's no facility to change the delivery address to that of my parents fornext week. I WANT MY SCRIPTS!!!!!!

I have marked KS3 Science SATs for 5 years and usually by now would have marked in excess of 200 scripts, I have only marked 50 as they are all I have actually received - from many different centres. Some of the box contained scripts that were not assigned to me, when I spoke to ETS they said mark them or send them back, it was up to me. I have friends who are markers who have not even received any scripts so the process must already be two weeks behind, the chances of making the 8th July deadline look slim, especially when you consider that people also mark GCSE and A Level as the SATs are usually finished by this time. The poor organisation of ETS means added pressure on these markers who already have a short turn around time.

I am marking KS3 English Writing Papers, having previously marked them four years ago. I am finding it difficult to comprehend the lack of organisation and professionalism shown by ETS. Having passed my online standardisation a week ago, I finally received two boxes of exam papers on Saturday. The boxes contained 150 of the 600-plus exam papers I have been allocated, plus another 24 that are not on my allocation list. I cannot mark all of the papers as I need to have whole sets before I can complete the online verification process. I am also having to keep hold of the additional papers as ETS have not replied to my email asking what I should do with them. There has been no indication of when the remaining scripts will be delivered, and unfortunately I have a job I cannot stay in at home waiting on the off-chance that they might materialise. Schools are depending on ETS to provide all pupils at Key Stages 2 and 3 with a mark for English, Maths and Science in July. How can this happen if there are unmarked scripts floating about in the ether?

I passed the standardisation test 8 days ago (KS3 Maths) and still have no papers to mark. Last weekend I should (and would normally have) been marking, so my weekend in this respect was wasted. In 8 days time I am starting GCSE marking, and not being able to get on with my SATs marking now is going to cause me a lot more extra stress due to having the extra pressure of marking two exams at the same time for a longer over-lap of time. This is not something I am looking forward to.

ETS have promised that English results will be back in school by 8th July. I have enough knowledge of the system to predict that, though some schools may well be fortunate enough to receive English results, a sizeable number will not. Most English markers have already lost up to 7 days of marking time, some up to 10 days and some, such as me, are still waiting to receive scripts. The failings of ETS which are now apparent are of a considerable magnitude. Their inability to understand the English assessment system and its scale, their low level of staffing, which does not match the massive ones of the existing exam boards which previously ran the system well, and their insistence on driving ahead with (not unworthy) IT innovations without adequate trialling of procedures and preparation for markers throughout the marking hierarchy, mean that the errors will continue to accumulate and compound. Amongst the dedicated teams of English markers, who mark because they what to see the right marks awarded to every pupil there is already a deeply troubling element of frustration and despair that they are not being allowed to carry out their tasks with their usual alacrity and dedication. The checking element which has lead to marking generally being securely with tolerances in previous years is being seriously compromised having already been heavily reduced for this year. The end result of all this confusion and delay will be that schools will be forced to appeal on results in huge numbers.
[Contact details provided]

As an experienced KS3 Maths Team Leader I am astonished that despite passing standardisation weeks ago I have not recieved any scripts. I understand that the majority of Team Leaders have no scripts yet, half my team have no scripts yet and no Senior Marker (my bosses) have scripts yet. Oh no Deputy Chief Markers have scripts yet and..... the Chief Marker is also believed to be without scripts. It seems that people who did their standardisation on paper rather than online (Team Leaders and above) are going to have a long wait for scripts. ... I've already warned my Head and Head of Department to think very carefully before they make any set changes based on the results as markers will be incredibly highly pressured in order to finish anywhere near on time. ...
[Contact details provided]

Like many others - I passed my KS3 maths standardisation the day after the training. The day now seems lost in the mists of time as my scripts fail to be delivered. It's happened twice now (I suppose I'm lucky that mine are moving). Why? I'm a teacher - I teach - in school - Monday to Friday. I can't be in to take collection of scripts because.....I'm teaching maths in school. ETS don't seem to understand this and are insisting on scripts being delivered to my home. I wonder if ETS would have a chat to my school's SMT and ask them to allow me a day at home to wait for scripts? Was that an pig I saw behind the clouds then?? Maybe they'll arrive this Saturday!! Any chance of meeting the ETS deadline? I'm sorry, I've just fallen off my chair laughing! At least I can look forward to the nice straightforward Edexcel A level papers I'll be marking soon.
Paul Reeves

The username and pin number supplied to access the online attendance register did not work. It was not possible to get through to the 'helpline' for the three days that I tried. In the end I contacted the NAA who faxed ETS. Not enough bags and labels were supplied for our large school so it was impossible to follow ETS instructions for packing papers. Oh, and the scheduled pickup of our papers hasn't happened - so far.
Bryony Freeman

I am a KS3 [Key Stage 3] maths marker. I have marked papers since the beginning which is so long ago I can't even remember! Unlike some of the people who have made comments, my training venue was the closest I'd ever had and the training whilst different to before I felt was very good. However I passed my standardisation on Sunday 11th May. It is now Monday evening on 19th May and I have still not received a single paper to mark. When I phoned ETS I was told it was the schools fault - 'but I have 6 schools on my list, surely they can't all have failed to send their papers in?' - 'Dunno - must be UPS's fault. Ring them.' 'But I can't. I don't have a tracking number and besides according to the internet you haven't even tried to send any to me!''Dunno' 'Well do you think you could send some papers to me so I could start?' 'Dunno'. 'Well when might I find out about my missing papers?' 'Dunno'. So a message to those people who have thought about ringing the help line - It isn't!

I am marking the KS3 maths Sats. As my girlfriend and I both teach, we cannot be in the house between 8am and 5pm to wait for UPS to deliver. They suggested we get someone to sit in the house and wait until they arrive, without any warning of date or time. As I passed the standardisation on Sunday, I could have potentially asked someone to sit in my house from 8am till 5pm every day this week. It would have been pointless, as the scripts did not arrive. UPS insist they will not deliver on a Saturday because ETS are only using standard delivery charges. Lo and behold my papers turn up this morning..... on a Saturday. Half the papers from one school, half from another. Remaining boxes of scripts could be anywhere. An absolute joke!
Ian Palmer

With such rigid administration of KS2 Sats it is frustrating to have to spend so much of the week trying to complete registration on-line, only to be told our password was incorrect to then eventually be sent another. This subsequently did not work. Currently awaiting any response to countless emails and phone calls (when the lines were not cut off that is). Please this fiasco needs to be sorted out asap.
Keeley Ungerechts

I am a KS2 Team Leader Maths marker, and have marked for 12 years. This year I have had emails from ETS sent to my old email address, a 'last minute' appointment as a team leader, four different venues (in a week) suggested to me for team leader training, and my team leader materials arriving the day before training. They also couldn't manage to send my correct phone number to my senior marker. This year there was no pre-training practice marking as in all previous years, so absolutely no chance to get familiar with the scripts, mark scheme or markers handbook, or to fathom the unfathomable online requirements. But what caused me to pull out totally was the 'online mark capture' to be used. There are 100 possible marks for KS2 maths, and each and every one of them was to be transferred from the pupil's marked paper scripts (there are 3) onto the computer. For 400 pupils I calculate that to be 40,000 entries !!I reckon it will take about 10 to 15 minutes to enter the marks of each child, so that means 4 children done per hour. I calculate THAT task alone will therefore take 100 hours !!! We were to be paid 25p per child, i.e. £1 per hour for that Herculean effort, which is nothing short of an insult. Plus it would be a soul destroying task. To enter each child's 3 totals would have been manageable, but not 100 marks for each. That's utter lunacy. ... I know for sure that maths KS2 markers, team leaders and above are pulling out in droves. After yesterday's marker training, the first sight markers will have had of any materials at all, I imagine most of the rest will pull out tomorrow! I imagine it is meltdown at ETS now.
[Contact details provided]

I'm a primary head. Are we really expected simply to accept this situation? Children's life chances and therefore the choices that are available to them in the future are affected by the results of these tests - often the classes they are allocated in Y7 are decided on the basis of their KS2 levels. Headteachers and Y6 class teachers reputations and careers can be made or broken by these results. Is anybody taking this seriously? The whole situation is beyond belief.
Stef Edwards

I am a marker for KS2 English. I marked last year for EdExcel and experienced no problems at all. This year has been very different! 1.Information has been late arriving 2.Instructions have not always been clear 3.I have had several instances where online instructions could not be followed due to ETS website problems 4. I have sent emails and made telephone calls to ETS but have received no reply 5.I did not receive notification from my Team Leader before the training meeting (yesterday 17th May) and was horrified to discover that I had not even been given a Team Leader! 6.The training session was chaotic, with so much noise from other groups cramped together in one room that I was unable to hear much of the vital information given out. (The lunch was very nice though!) 7. I was finally given a Team Leader who was really helpful. I was reassured by senior training staff that I would now be put onto her list of markers. When I began the online standardisation this morning, I discovered I had not been put onto her list and so was unable to continue. This now means I may not be able to complete standardisation before the deadline as I teach full time during the week.

I have talked to other markers and read many markers' stories online and am disgusted to learn further details of the fiasco! As a British tax payer, I believe it is obscene to waste money sending people to training sessions all over the country when a more local venue could be found. Urgent and immediate action needs to be taken to support markers and ensure that they can complete this important task in the professional manner it has been done in previous years.
Judy Kasper

I am a Key Stage 3 Maths Team Leader. I have not received any scripts yet although some of my team who passed the standardisation procedure a week after me have received theirs. One member of my team passed standardisation with 29 errors on the scripts of 5 students. His attempts were very poor indeed but clearly not as poor as the person who passed (?) with 78 mistakes in another team. One has to log on over 80 individual marks for each student and are paid the princely sum of 25p. This must be below the national minimum wage!!!
[Anon: phone number provided]

Still waiting for the papers to arrive even though they said they would be here today, a friend received 1 box which wasn't even his and when rang they said they would pick it up next week sometime. Another friend received only one box at around 10 this morning. So much for getting them out to us by the end of today, a wasted weekend!! I've now lost a weekend for getting the papers marked, which is already going to be difficult to fit in my full time teaching job. This company needs to sort this out!!

Unlike this present fiasco, SLT tests are well organised and the process clear and professional. I have had wrong information , no information, wrong email and password, last minute late evening begging phone calls all from ETS. I have marked for 10 years, at A grade, but not this year. Being assured of a helpline response in ‘One working day', I waited one working week and withdrew, thus goes a marker who cleared 1500 papers at KS2 last year including remarks. The chap thinks it will all be back by July 8th, try September....
[Name provided]

Well its now close of Saturday and my consignment of KS3 Science SATs papers has not only not arrived yet, its not even in transit!! I suppose this means that Tuesday is the earliest that I can expect to see them. This will be a complete week since I finished the standardisation scripts. So far I am far from impressed with the service given by ETS Europe.
Sheila Handley

I passed my standardisation to mark key stage 3 Sats papers last Sunday, after spending the day marking training scripts. These used to be done before the training so that we got a "feel" for the possible answers that could come up. I also only got notification of the training venue a matter of days before the training date. I am still waiting for test papers to mark, there is no indication on the relevant part of the ETS website that they have even left the central distribution centre yet. I also work full time, and because of the rules stating that you must take delivery of the scripts at your home address, will not be able to get them until NEXT Saturday! I informed ETS of this potential problem by email (ignored) and then by phone. I was told that DHL would attempt delivery 3 times if I wasn't in. I tried to explain that this wouldn't help me if I was at work when they tried again, but the woman I spoke to didn't seem to understand why that would be a problem as I could re-schedule delivery. The same problem will arise when the papers are due to be collected. The final collection is due to be by Friday 27th June, which means I will have to be finished and have the papers picked up on Sat. 21st. That will give me 27 days to mark 380 scripts, as well as completing standardisation of up to 30 scripts online. And they think the results will still come out on time?
Joanne Gisby

Compared to previous years, this year is a nightmare! Half the markers were absent from my marking conference, I was reallocated to another team leader on the day of the conference and have only just found out that I've been reallocated yet again. Online standardisation scripts for English are barely legible and no-one at ETS is responding to my emails. My new team leader does not appear to know what's going on and I have yet to receive any scripts.

Been marking SATs for 4 years. Had gone through the ETS application with only a few problems. I knew my training was going to be on the 17th May (Science) so had cleared my schedule (and apologised to my son and grandmother who were both having their birthday on that day!).

On Monday 12th of May was starting to worry as I hadn't been informed of the training venue. E-mailed to explain but haven't received a reply to date. Telephoned ETS to find out what was going on. Very unhelpful helpline! Didn't know where the venue was or could give me a phone number or contact for me to ask. They said I should wait for the 'training invitation' through the post or e-mail. Contacted helpline every day that week and sent another e-mail. Same story.

The helpline guaranteed the information would be with me on Friday - i.e. the night before. It never arrived. I both e-mailed and sent a letter of complaint to ETS about such poor communication and sheer unprofessional behaviour. I'm not even confident I'll receive a reply!

I have been in education for 10 years; marking SATs in Wales for 4 years and in England for 4 years ... I'm in a senior management position, I have an MEd, NPQH and I am an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Education Assessors. So all in all I feel pretty confident in being able to say that ETS Europe has entered the marking arena for SATs unprepared and with poor lines of communication, with at times an unprofessional approach to situations. Total shambles.
Tony Bate

My concerns, and those of many experienced markers, have now gone beyond the affect on markers of this total breakdown in ETS's administrative processes. They decided this year to abolish borderline checks - the process by which markers revisit the scripts of those pupils who are only a few marks from the next level boundary. Their justification was the robustness of the online standardisation for markers and the subsequent benchmark checks (like standardisation) at regular intervals online throughout the marking cycle. It has already been shown and reported that their standardisation processes have failed at the first hurdle. In Maths, my subject, markers should not have passed if they got more than 12 errors but Team Leaders are reporting markers passing with as high as 22 errors. Under EDEXCEL, a British exam board, the ceiling for passing was lower than 22. Also, why say 12 and then pass with higher - perhaps it is because they have lost so many markers through the shambolic mess we have experienced. ETS would then need to pass more markers at standardisation to have any chance of getting the papers marked. If markers are not marking to the required standard then the validity of this years testing series has to be called into question. The problems that ETS has created are not just a 'few' as they would claim - I have only cited some of the more serious ones here. The system is in complete chaos and they risk losing Team Leaders and markers - they have already lost a lot of markers over the last few months in the run up to the current fiasco. ...
Susan Perkins

I have just finished SATs week with my Year 6 class. Their attitude in sitting the tests was exemplary. We have not "crammed" for the tests, simply worked hard all year. I know that each and every one of them have done their best - all that I and their parents could ask.

If we expect this of the children, surely we should expect this of ETS. I am a marker of four years experience for KS2 English. I have taught Year 6 for seven out of the last ten years. I consider that I have the requisite qualifications , experience and professionalism to mark these tests. However, this year I have withdrawn from the process at the last minute. This is because of the gross incompetence of ETS Europe, who do not seem to think that they should communicate with their markers. I received notice of my training day far later than in previous years and was expected to make a 170 mile round trip to Birmingham rather than travel 15 miles to the nearest centre in Bristol. (I have since discovered that other markers from Birmingham are travelling to Bristol!) Contacting ETS is fruitless - the call centre has been "out-sourced" and are incapable of responding to the simplest request for information. Worst of all, ETS seem to think that they know better than previous boards and have put in place a ridiculously complex system of checks and administration which insult our professionalism. I feel wholly pessimistic about the chance that the children in my class have of receiving the fair appraisal of their skills that their efforts have deserved. ...
Dan Johnson

I have been marking SATs since the first year they started, and this has been the worst year for organisation and communication I have ever experienced. As a team leader, I passed my standardisation a fortnight ago - but, as of today Friday 16th, I am still awaiting delivery of my scripts, and there is no sign that they are even in transit. In the past, I am usually about half way through my allocation by now, getting ready to do my final standardisation before checking my team's work. Because of this delay, things like the national scrutiny of marking and level boundary setting is way behind schedule. Trying to contact ETS by telephone is impossible as the helpline always gives a message of queues, and emails are not replied to. Could this be my final year of marking? Unless there is a major improvement, probably yes!

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