Page last updated at 11:11 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 12:11 UK

MPs told Sats evidence 'sexed up'


MPs told Sats evidence 'sexed up'

The former exam chief for England, who resigned over last summer's Sats marking fiasco, says evidence against him was "sexed up".

Ken Boston told a committee of MPs that accounts of his meetings with ministers given to the inquiry into the delays in marking test papers were "false".

He also accused ministers of putting a "protective fence" around themselves.

The government says Dr Boston should take any complaint to Lord Sutherland, whose inquiry blamed his organisation.

The official inquiry blamed failures in the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - but Dr Boston described ministers' version of what happened as "fiction".

'False evidence'

He revealed to MPs that he was being asked to take the blame by resigning even before ministers had given evidence to the inquiry.

What I resent is evidence against me being sexed up... on the basis of false evidence given by ministers to characterise me as something that I am not
Ken Boston, former QCA chief

And he challenged attempts by education ministers to distance themselves from the failures - saying that Lord Sutherland's inquiry was structured in a way that removed the spotlight from the education department.

He claimed that this "placed a protective fence around DCSF and ministers, focused the spotlight on QCA and ETS, and prevented some of the major causes of the failure from being identified".

"I was managing an organisation which had a difficult task ahead of it... but it failed and I resigned," Dr Boston told a select committee of MPs.

"What I resent is evidence against me being sexed up, in a report by Lord Sutherland, on the basis of false evidence given by ministers to characterise me as something that I am not."

The marking of more than a million test papers taken by 11 and 14-year-olds was delayed when the company contracted to run the marking - ETS Europe - ran into problems. It later lost the contract.

Results of the controversial tests are used to draw up the primary school league tables. And the results of 11-year-olds' tests are used by their new high schools.

Last year's results were only published earlier this month.

'Totally false'

Dr Boston told the Children, Schools and Families Committee he took issue with an account given to the Sutherland inquiry of a meeting in June between the QCA and ministers, which he says was "quite incorrect" and "quite unsound".


He said that Schools Minister Jim Knight had wrongly claimed he (Dr Boston) had been present at one meeting last June when the Sats tests were discussed - when he had not even been invited.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said that Mr Knight had already acknowledged this "error" in a letter sent earlier this year.

Dr Boston told MPs on the committee he was willing to accept responsibility for the failures with the test administration - but resented how he had been portrayed.

He also said it was "totally false" to say that he had been "pressed" by ministers when it became apparent there were problems with marking the Sats tests.

Asked directly if he thought that ministers were "lying" over placing blame for what went wrong with the tests, Dr Boston said he did not - but that wrong evidence had been given.

Dr Ken Boston
Dr Boston says the remit of the inquiry was flawed

Dr Boston told MPs that even before ministers had given their evidence to the Sutherland inquiry, he had been approached by education department officials who wanted him to quit.

"The skids were under me," said Dr Boston.

David Bell, permanent secretary at the department, acknowledged afterwards that he had had a discussion with Dr Boston about "his position" - but that ministers "were not informed that this conversation was taking place".

Dr Boston tendered his resignation ahead of Lord Sutherland's report last December.

Lord Sutherland laid the blame at the door of ETS - but also blamed the QCA - for having "failed its remit". He said there had been "insufficient corporate oversight" at the QCA at executive and board level.

The QCA disbanded its assessment agency but refused to accept Dr Boston's resignation, pending its own inquiry.

It finally did so only on 1 April, saying it was deeply grateful to him for his significant and lasting contribution to education reform.

'No difference'

In a statement, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said Mr Knight had written to Lord Sutherland, and to select committee chairman Barry Sheerman, admitting his error on the issue of the meeting.

"Lord Sutherland was clear in his response that this made no difference to his findings," a spokesman said.

In a letter to the committee ahead of Wednesday's hearing, Dr Boston challenged the inquiry's finding - read out by Mr Balls in the Commons - that ministers had "usually pressed" him for answers about the Sats marking problems and that the QCA had given "strong reassurances" that the tests were on track.

"This too is fiction," he said.

'Far from the truth'

"I was not asked to meet directly with the schools minister in the months leading up to the delivery failure at the end of June, including the critical marking period in the final eight weeks.

"Nor was I being 'pressed' by ministers for answers on the telephone or by e-mail," Dr Boston wrote.

"The flawed evidence... has been used to portray me as complacent, disengaged, and constantly beleaguered by ministers with questions I was unable to answer," he said.

Lord Sutherland rejected Dr Boston's claim that his report was limited.

"I reject entirely any suggestion that my activities during the course of the inquiry were constrained... I was clear in the report that the prime responsibility lay with ETS, but that there were significant failures in the QCA. I stand by it strongly," said Lord Sutherland.

Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove said: "Ed Balls stands accused of deliberately misleading the public over the Sats fiasco.

"He claims to have been a vigilant defender of the public interest, asking tough questions to ensure tests were delivered properly. But Ken Boston now reveals he took next to no action to ensure these crucial tests were delivered."

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws said: "Ken Boston's evidence to the select committee casts serious doubt on the account of the Sats fiasco which has been given by Ed Balls."

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