Socialist Worker

Litany of failures at private firm sparks Sats chaos

by Sian Ruddick
Issue No. 2111

Almost a third of 14 years olds taking their Sats tests in English at school will have their results delayed this year thanks to bungling by the private company ETS Europe, which was hired to process their exam papers.

ETS, a US-based company, was awarded a five-year contract worth £156 million to mark the tests by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Over a million sets of test results have been called into question as a result of ETS’s incompetence.

The mistakes range from exam scripts being sent to the wrong schools through to students being marked absent for exams they sat.

This catalogue of failings has shattered confidence in Sats results among students and teachers. The workers paid a pittance to mark the tests are also angry, with some threatening to refuse to work unless ETS is dismissed from its contract.

But late exam results are not the only problem with privatised exam marking. Teachers have also raised concerns about inconsistent and inaccurate marking standards.

The firms push their workers to prioritise speed of marking over accuracy, they say. In one case an exam marker made 29 mistakes over five exam scripts – but was still accepted by the company’s automated quality control procedures.

The Ofsted education standards agency uses Sats results to determine whether schools are “failing” and how well they score in league tables.

Many schools are likely respond to these problems by launching challenges to the privatised Sats results.

But this will just be a recipe for even more chaos, disruption and distress for students trying to decide which GCSEs to take.

In fact, creeping privatisation in the examination process is just one aspect of the problems that are intrinsic to an education system based on testing, league tables and competition.

Sally Kincaid is a secondary school teacher and NUT union activist in Wakefield. “Pupils learn more effectively in groups and discussion, but this system sets them against each other,” she told Socialist Worker.

“Policy in the last 20 years has turned schools into factories for passing exams. At the same time pupils are worried about the increasing financial burdens of further and higher education.

“All this results in mass demoralisation among both pupils and staff. We need an education system based on collaboration and creativity, not competition.”

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