Page last updated at 21:19 GMT, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 22:19 UK

Test pupils were marked 'absent'

By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website

boy taking test
Test results should have been out early last week

Schools are finding children's "Sats" scripts are being returned unmarked - with the pupils wrongly recorded as having been absent for the tests.

This emerging theme in the problems with this year's delayed test results is highlighted in e-mails from schools. It further undermines the claim by government exams chief Ken Boston to MPs on Monday that all primary school test scripts had already been marked.

The QCA chief executive has since apologised again for the situation.

Its spokesman said it was aware of only 20 schools that had reported high numbers of pupils marked absent.

He apologised to them and said the QCA was looking into the reasons.

Any school experiencing problems was asked to contact the ETS helpline.

The deputy head of Harrison Primary School in Fareham, Hampshire, Steve Summerton, told the BBC News website that when his school's science results were published online, on Tuesday, 26 of the children were incorrectly recorded as having been absent.

"We were assured it was just incorrect data entry and would be put right," he said.

"However this morning [Wednesday] the 26 science scripts arrived unmarked.

"I am appalled that the chief exec of the QCA gave evidence to MPs on Monday that 100% of papers were marked. Not true."


The QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) said Dr Boston's reference to 100% had meant "all the material that required marking had been marked" - in the sense that it was known about.

It added: "As in all previous years, there is always a very small amount of material that comes to light subsequently that still requires marking.

"For instance, where a marker may have withheld scripts, have uncollected scripts or where unmarked scripts have been sent back to schools in error."

The QCA said that where pupils were wrongly indicated as absent on the online results table, this was due to incomplete online pupil attendance registers - in other words schools had failed to log all their children.

This is also untrue, according to Harrison Primary's head, Carolyn Clarke.

There had indeed been problems accessing the ETS registration system, she said - but all her pupils had been registered.

All 86 of their science scripts had been sent off for marking in one packet - and all had been returned at the same time, in five packs.

The scripts in four of these had been marked. But - in what is a common thread - a whole batch alphabetically had not been, in this case the last couple of dozen scripts.


Ms Clarke and her staff are at a loss to explain how this could have happened. Some markers have provided a clue.

One who was handling Key Stage 3 papers wrote: "For three of the schools, large alphabetical chunks were missing and I had no option but to register these as absent.

"In spite of numerous calls to ETS where the same details were taken over and over again, and repeated unacknowledged emails, nobody ever got back to me on the whereabouts of these scripts."

Mike Blant, head of Winter Gardens Junior School on Canvey Island, Essex, told us that of 59 children they registered on 16 May as having taken the tests - he has a printout of the online register - 58 of them are now marked in the ETS system with an "A" for absent.

"The frustration in trying to get through on the phone leaves one powerless. E-mails are not answered - out of that frustration I sent multiple copies of e-mails - still no reply," he said.

"I managed to speak to someone on the 'phone today who said that many schools were experiencing similar problems but offered no definite timescale."

Almost all the Key Stage 2 results were supposed to have been published online for schools to access on Tuesday - a week after they should have been available.

It is still unclear when all the Key Stage 3 (14-year-olds') test results will be available, with English being a particular problem because it is more time-consuming to mark than the other tests, in maths and science.

Some of your comments on this issue:

Our Year 6 results were published today with English results wrongly showing many children absent or with missing papers or missing marks. This is despite receiving marked papers some time ago. Another deadline missed. How does this happen? Who will take responsibility?
Ian Miles, Grimsby

I am a headteacher of a large Junior School. Out of 100 pupils, 70 have been graded as being absent for their end of Key Stage Two SATs tests - despite all the students scripts having been returned. The problem is that they have not been completely marked. The grading of the English - Writing scripts is totally unacceptable. The mark schemes have simply not been rigorously adhered to.

Whilst the Department for Children, Families and Schools is demanding financial remuneration from ETS Europe, I feel that every school, every child and every parent affected should share this compensation together with a full, unreserved apology for this inexcusable incompetence.
Ron, Liverpool, Liverpool, England

I received my KS3 English writing papers a week after the training. For 3 of the schools, large alphabetical chunks were missing and I had no option but to register these as absent. In spite of numerous calls to ETs where the same details were taken over and over again, and repeated unacknowledged emails, nobody ever got back to me on the whereabouts of these scripts. I had no option but to return the marked portion of each school on 23 June but fully understand the frustration of schools where pupils are marked absent when staff know they sat the tests.

How can a system go so badly wrong that scripts are lost, not followed up, not marked and returned to schools? And then to read that the reason English results are not ready is due to the fact that they take longer to mark!!! if only we had them to mark in the 1st place! I despair and doubt I will ever mark again in spite of always being an 'A' grade marker for Edexcel and AQA
E Harris, Blackpool

I mark KS3 maths - same chaos. Big alphabetical chunks missing (WHY did ETS unpack the scripts that schools so lovingly packed? WHY didn't scripts go direct from school to marker?) I never received some scripts, so there are two schools out there I know will not get all the results unless someone else had the other bits! ETS helpline took over two weeks to answer calls and never replied to emails. Heads must roll!
Kelvin , East Yorks

I am so incensed that I can no longer resist writing in. The first half of our English results (alphabetically) were published with the rest of the pupils marked as absent. I have been back to check my online register, which is correctly completed and was submitted on time - not our fault as claimed in the media. We have had none of these papers delivered back to us and still no sign of Science results or papers. In short, have received less than half of our results or papers.
Clive Dunn, Faversham, Kent

I have been a Key Stage 2 English marker for 7 years. This year's changes in administration were difficult, particularly the system of benchmarking, or regular assessment of mark application, hitherto done by Team Leaders, this year done online with no opportunity for feedback. However, 98% of my online registers were correct, the remainder swiftly amended by staff at the ETS helpdesk. My scripts were delivered and collected on time.

I also took part in "mop-up" marking in a hotel where, in spite of some markers working long hours, the marks seemed very professionally and fairly given,and there was regular script scrutiny by a senior marker to ensure adherence to the mark scheme.
Dinah Wilcox, Nottingham, UK

By the time I was working towards finishing my allocation - lots of the papers I was trying to enter the data for had been switched to read that the children were absent on the computer system. Although this didn't affect the ability to enter the mark data in my case - I don't know if it altered marks fed back to schools. In other situations, when we'd marked a paper as not received - it locked us out of sending a school's finalized set of marks back to ETS - so we had to go and flag every individual page of the not-received script as damaged/missing in order to allow us to send marks for the full school back.

In light of the 10,000 unread emails to helpdesk, and the 45 minute hold times to get through to someone on the phone - it's amazing we got any marks submitted at all. In order to get scripts sent in error to me collected and (hopefully) sent to the correct home, I resorted to repeatedly emailing every day until after 3 weeks of this - arrangements were made to pick them up. I'm STILL getting UPS visits asking me if any scrips are here for them to collect - despite sending my allocation back, fully marked, before the deadline.
Anon marker, e.mids. uk

English results are missing though the papers were sent together. ETS assured us of quality marking but few scripts have been returned and some results are surprising. Such a lot of money is wasted because schools' judgments are not trusted. These incomplete and questionable results form the basis for how school effectiveness is evaluated through league tables and by OFSTED. On top of this, the effect of their importance is to narrow the curriculum and turn off both pupils and teachers. Parents and schools have lost confidence in the system. Trust the schools to know the children they work with each day, get the most out of them and report on their progress; expect teachers and heads to be professional instead of mocking them with a flawed system.
John Ross, Lancaster

I am a primary headteacher. We have received no test papers for any subject for our 44 year 6 children and only our english and science results were available on line. Just under half of our maths results are missing on line with the children with surnames between M and W being marked absent. Today I sent a letter out to all year 6 parents apologising for this totally unacceptable situation and I spoke to my year 6 pupils who are bitterly disappointed to be ending their primary education in this manner. I only hope that the Department of Children Schools and Families admit to their serious failings and apologise in writing unreservedly to all schools, pupils and parents and that this years SATs results are not used to support the abhorant league tables that this government produce.
Ros, Liverpool

My wife is a marker and almost all of the pupils she had papers for were listed as absent on the ETS website. Somehow they managed to fill in their answer papers anyway... If the markers followed the ETS advice then these papers couldn't have been marked until the website was correct - fortunately some markers have common sense!
Paul, Surrey

Half my schools English results are missing online, one child in maths was marked absent but wasn't, the writing marks are a joke - they are 30% different from last year with the same teachers and similar children. But we did get our papers back. How can they publish the data this year when it has no credibility? Headteacher Raynville Primary
Su Edwards, Leeds UK

I was a KS2 English marker. I could not submit some of my allocated schools' marks, as the children had somehow been marked as absent on my ETS screen - yet I had their papers. What was even stranger, was that the children were present when I verified the papers on receipt of their scripts some days earlier. The attendances had obviously been changed in the meantime. The no-helpline were very difficult to contact (premium rate, and hanging on for a long time), and I had to ring several times in order to get them to eventually update my screens so I could submit marks. It was very frustrating.
Sandy, Liverpool, UK

I have no Science Sats results after having to send back all 50 either unmarked or only partially marked. ETS never came to collect them when promised and it was only after repeated calls that someone came to collect them last Friday. ETS assured me they would still meet the 15th July deadline. One of the sad facts of Sats is that our schools are measured and compared nationally on these results which have been so appallingly generated by this company. For Headteachers to lack faith and belief in the education system they have to uphold has got to be one of the saddest bi-products of this farce.
Ian Tucker, Swindon, Wiltshire

Our English reading papers were returned completely unmarked. We immediately reported this but it took them 4 days to pick them up. It is now the 16th July and I have phoned two or three times every day to find out where they are. I have been lied to and fobbed off each and every time. Eventually they have admitted they don't know where our papers are! As for the English writing and spelling papers...we haven't seen them either yet! This is dreadful!
Steve Hilborne, London

I am a KS2 Marker and have been since the tests started. Over the years there have been mistakes, but this year has been unbelievably bad! ETS have not replied to emails or phone calls and I had to wait weeks for papers to arrive for me to mark. How dare they blame the markers or schools for their obvious incompetence. At my son's school they received their English papers back with 30 of them un marked. I wonder if this is a government ploy; make it look a sham and then withdraw the SATs next year; but they didn't expect it to go so wrong.
Christopher, London

We are still waiting for our English papers back. After checking results online it became apparent that marking was incomplete with only five out of thirty three writing assessments marked. After several attempts to get through to someone at ETS I was told that our papers were probably with a marking panel. However, the gentleman I spoke to had no way of checking the exact location of our papers or when I could expect any results. This is a complete disgrace and a waste of taxpayers money. After looking at some of the papers we have received for maths and science it appears that the marking is far from accurate. When so much rides on results with OFSTED, LA/SIP visits, etc etc this process does not fill me with confidence. Sadly it is the children who are made to suffer as the system has failed them - again!
S.Fallon, North Tyneside

As a teacher at a school on Ed Balls's 638 'HIT LIST'I am watching with interest to see what will happen once the results from the KS3 tests finally become available. How will Mr. Balls justify any comments he now makes when clearly the marking system is totally flawed and pupils, parents and teachers have totally lost confidence in a system that quite frankly undermines the professionalism of the teaching profession. Teachers should be left alone to get on with a job they are more than capable of doing. It is a great pity that government don't leave us alone and let us get on with it.
Catherine Firth, Bolton

I was seriously toying with the idea of leaving my current profession to fulfil a life-long ambition to teach Primary. After this fiasco - no thanks.
Deb, bristol

Having just recieved my sons year 6 sat results and having friends tell me of their chilrens results we feel that this years standard of marking is ludicrous.children who achieved level 4c and above during mock exams now getting level 3, how can this be? also still awaiting year 9 sats for my other son who knows when they will arrive?
anne lloyd, liverpool

As a new school governor I'm so angry hearing what the government and the ETS have put our children and our schools through. Ministers and MP's should be made to sit and read these comments and respond with action not just a vague apology. Any results based on this years marks will be innaccurate untrustworthy and a complete waste of everybody's time. I feel most sorry for the children who've worked so hard and have no choice in this whole matter.
Maria Horner, Lincoln, Lincolnshire

The most ridiculous aspect of this is they are expecting teachers to check these results in a matter of a couple of days. Hard to do this given the fact we haven't even got our papers yet. As a Key Stage 3 English teacher I expected this as for the past few years our results have come out in August rather than at the same time as Maths and Science as English is more difficult to mark. The fact that no borderline checking has been done this year is shameful. Also unless policy has changed checking effectively means re-marking on the writing paper as there is absolutely no indication of where and how the marks have been awarded merely a tick to indicate each page has been read and a numerical mark at the end!
Heidi McFadden, Colchester, Essex

My disbelief was complete when a marker on my team said she was a Music teacher....asked if she had ever taught Science, she answered in the negative. She had applied to mark English papers but had been told she had to mark Science. So not only is the administration a total fiasco, the helpdesk, unhelpful and the papers, missing, but we now have totally inexperienced people marking the papers. There doesn't seem to be much else to say.....
Science Marker, Reigate, Surrey

If we had treated the SATs in the same manner as ETS then our jobs would be on the line. The fact that Ministers are publicly saying what is evidently not true is not only a complete farce, it completely discredits their understanding of what is happening in schools and underlines just how out of touch they are. The next phase will the quality of the marking because our Year 9 English Writing SATs have been marked with complete incompetence. I have had the marking checked independently by another SATs marker and it is a complete disgrace that the quality of the marking of this paper for our Year 9 students has been done so badly. We have not only had to check this out, but now have to go through ETS's system of requesting a 'Review" (they don't like the word Appeal) when we really need to send the whole lot back. I suspect that we are not alone - but again it does Heads a complete disservice for Minsters to say that the marking is of the! usual high quality and the only problem has been with the delivery date of the results. We are not stupid and nor are the public!
Terry Fish, Christchurch Dorset

I am a primary head teacher. SATs results finally arrived today. Reading papers marked but lost. One child with no marks despite being there and sitting the tests. We received the reading papers for three other schools. It's laughably bad. What a waste of time and money. The whole system has become ridiculously bureaucratic over the past ten years. The whole SATs system needs ditching. It perverts the curriculum and spoils primary education. We can assess ourselves. Trust us - we're professionals not shambolic amateurs like ETS.
Peter Harris, Leeds

It is now Wednesday evening and we have had no scripts returned. We have some maths results and 10 of our 68 English results, no science at all. Our children feel very let down and we feel very angry that the return and marking of these papers is obviously of such low priority.
marilyn.mullen, gosport hampshire

Will anyone take responsibility for this fiasco? I have heard apologies to ministers but none to the children. It is difficult enough for year 6 children to be moving to their new schools: this only adds to their stress and anxiety. Leave the assessment to the teachers and trust their professionalism.
Brian Coughlan , York UK

I am a primary head teacher. We have had our English and Science SATs papers back and the results are online, but all 70 Maths results are missing online, and no papers have been returned. How can they claim that all papers have been marked? ETS cannot explain what has happened to my Maths papers. Let us just hope that this fiasco is the final death throes of this corrupt and discredited system - the abolition of these ridiculous tests is long overdue.They distort the curriculum, destroy self esteem and have done nothing to raise standards, only narrow the curriculum. I should add that this particular fiasco is unique to England -the Scots and the Welsh have had the good sense to abolish them already!!
Jane Goodwin, Oldham UK

We have received our Maths and Science results, but we still await the English results. Of the 61 Y6 children 59 were registered on 16th May as having taken the reading and writing tests with 2 children recorded as 'B' i.e. working below test levels - I've got the print out to prove it. According to the results website the 2 children are recorded as 'B' and 1 child has marks for all 3 English tests. The remaining 58 children were - according to the online results, absent 'A'. The frustration in trying to get through on the phone leaves one powerless. E-mails are not answered - out of that frustration I sent multiple copies of e-mails - still no reply. I managed to speak to someone on the 'phone today who said that many schools were experiencing similar problems but offered no definite timescale. I was reluctant to let him end the conversation but he could provide no answers. SATs results were due to be sent out with reports last Friday 11th July. We break up on Friday 18th July and it seems unlikely that children will receive their results before leaving. In a data driven system how can we rely upon the eventual data we receive. I hope data-obsessed Ofsted inspectors have taken note!
Mike Blant, Essex

It's not just the administration of the tests which is a cause for concern. I am sending all my English papers back as I have grave concerns over the standard of marking and I am aware of a growing number of other schools who are doing likewise. We need to have confidence in the system as we are judged on these results. We do everything to the letter in terms of administration of the tests and the integrity of the process. To then have poor quality marking is, to be honest, an insult to the professional integrity of my staff and more importantly an insult to the children who have put everything into their tests. If, as we are told, ETS will incur a significant financial penalty, how much will come to the schools like mine which released senior staff for over three working days to check the marking. If we hadn't done this I do not like to think what would happen if our results are scrutinised and we were thought to be performing at a lower level than we actually are.
Mark Mackley, Leyland

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