Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Monday, 15 December 2008

Exams watchdog facing criticism

Ken Boston
Ken Boston said officials must take responsibility when things go wrong

An inquiry into the fiasco surrounding this summer's Sats tests in England will strongly criticise the exams watchdog, the BBC has learned.

Dr Ken Boston, head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, has resigned ahead of the report into the chaos.

Hundreds of thousands of pupils' test results were delayed and this year's league tables have been postponed.

For next year's test, Edexcel has now been named as the preferred bidder.

Edexcel, the firm which administered the tests before the contract was awarded to ETS Europe, now seems set to return to run the Sats tests for 2009.

However the financial details of the contract will not be made public until the deal is formally signed.

Heads rolling

The findings of the inquiry by Lord Sutherland into the problems with last year's are due to be published on Tuesday.

Dr Boston, who had held the post since 2002, said his resignation followed the "delivery failure" for the tests.

"I have always believed in public bodies and public officials taking responsibility when things go wrong," he said.

"Lord Sutherland will publish his report into the delivery failure. He will draw his own conclusions, and I have no doubt that the final report will be a thorough analysis of what went wrong, and set out a number of lessons for the future."

BBC education correspondent James Westhead said Dr Boston's resignation on Saturday had not yet been accepted by the QCA, which could instead choose to sack him depending on the report's findings.

The BBC has learned that Lord Sutherland's report into the delays will be highly critical of the QCA's role.

Dr Boston is the latest casualty of the administrative failures that affected primary and secondary school tests, taken by 11 and 14 year olds.

ETS Europe, the private outsourcing company hired to administer the tests, has seen its contract terminated.

Half of the tests themselves are being scrapped - with the Children's Secretary Ed Balls having announced in October that there will be no more compulsory Sats tests for 14 year olds.

If Lord Sutherland produces a damning report into what the government calls "severe problems" with the tests, then it could raise the prospect of further heads rolling.

He has been the victim of an entirely unviable, unwieldy and unmanageable system
Christine Blower

The QCA and its testing arm, the National Assessment Agency, were responsible for hiring the US-owned contractor.

Lord Sutherland's report will seek to establish what caused the problems that saw so much confusion over the tests - and why it appeared to take so long for a response.

Head teachers, teachers and markers had been warning of problems with the organization of this year's test from the spring.

In May, MPs in the House of Commons had said the tests had become a "shambles" - long before the scheduled results date in July.

Following the missed deadlines, Dr Boston appeared before a committee of MPs in July and assured them that all the tests taken by 11 year olds had been marked.

However a photograph sent soon after to the BBC News website showed boxes of unmarked test papers still lying uncollected in a Lancashire primary school - prompting accusations from opposition parties that the test authorities had lost control.

Australian-born Dr Boston had faced intense pressure in the wake of the test problems.

But his decision to quit ahead of the inquiry report was regretted by teachers' leaders.

'Magnificent job'

Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said Dr Boston had done a "magnificent job".

He said: "Six years ago he arrived in England in the middle of a crisis about A-levels and he is leaving in the middle of a crisis about key stage testing. None of these crises were of his making."

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said it was a "real blow" that Dr Boston had left his post.

"He was independent, set up a sensible curriculum and assessment policy, he has been the victim of an entirely unviable, unwieldy and unmanageable system," she said.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said it would be "inappropriate for ministers to comment on any issues related to the summer's delays until the Sutherland report is published".

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