back to article Sats blunder firm sacked

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has put ETS out of its misery with an agreement to “dissolve” their five year contract for national curriculum tests after just one year. The mercifully quick despatching of the hapless US examination organisaton follows a chaotic summer marking season for the tests which are taken …


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  1. Christoph Silver badge

    What would count as a failure?

    So they still say that "the quality of the marking is high".

    And they will definitely sort it out for next year with an accelerated process, even though the standard process produced a disaster.

    Is there ANY set of circumstances at all which would make them admit that maybe they made a mistake, and farming out the marking like this DOES NOT WORK, and they should maybe go back to the old system?

  2. Steven

    Maybe this time...

    ...they'll learn a thing or two and give the contract to someone in this country. Outsourcing millions when the countries in an economic slump isn't exactly a genius idea now is it. Also goes to show that the cheapest is often far from the best.

  3. Solomon Grundy

    High Quality but Slow Delivery

    Still mean Fail. It's not like checking tests is that hard. People were doing in for a long, long time before ETS types came along. Screw em. Give everybody an 'A' and put them to work in the mines.

  4. Greg


    I believe the company they sacked off said that, not the QCA. And let's face it, they would. ;-)

  5. James

    Front runner for ...

    .. a replacement has to be Pivotal Integration !

  6. Mickey Porkpies

    Impossible Dream

    You ask for the impossible and they can't deliver it what is the surprise here? Most of the other players AQA et all won't touch it with a barge pole because they new it couldn't be done. The first thing the Govt needs to do for education is to get their meddling sticky fingers off and leave it to the people who know what they are talking about. Targets is not the way but reality doesn't win you votes!

  7. Andy Brown

    the quality of the marking is high?

    "the quality of the marking is high"?

    From what I've heard, some schools have been sending back anywhere up to half their papers for remarking because the original marking was so poor.

  8. Tom

    Re: Maybe this time...

    Errm... surely when the contract was outsourced (I'd imagine well over a year ago), the country wasn't in a massive economic slump. So your arugement falls flat there...

  9. Big Al

    What the...

    OMG... does this mean that someone *in government* actually wrote a sensible contract that DOES allow the instant removal of a contractor who completely fails to live up to their end of the deal...?

    This could be a watershed moment...

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Who will bid?

    Most of the people with the experience walked away from the tender process last year, because the terms were too onerous. So the government can launch a tender process, but that's assuming that anyone credible will actually tender.

    I'm reminded of an incident a few years ago. My employer was one side of a joint venture, and we'd got saddled with providing the IT. It was a pain, and my department was siphoning resources off to service the JV which wasn't really paying us enough. But because the JV was replicating on a larger scale a line of business we were in, using some in-house software, we were the only people who could realistically provide the systems.

    Then the JV manager came to us and told us the SLAs we were working to weren't adequate, and either we could volunteer to tighten them up or he would put the work out to tender. Hardly able to believe my luck, I picked up a piece of paper on his desk, wrote ``no bid'' on it, signed it and walked out.

    Sadly, he backed down, and we were caught with the work until the JV died a horrible death a year or so later. But they were much nicer to me, it must be said.

    Don't assume that issuing an ITT and a set of pre-qual requirements will get you any tenders, let alone a realistic competition.

    Mine the one with six hundred unmarked papers in the pockets.

  11. Mister Cheese


    "The QCA has paid ETS £39.6M to date. Under the cancellation deal, ETS will pay back £24.1M."

    Assuming they were paid in advance for the contract, I work that out at about £8M/year. They do one year's "work" and get to keep 2-years worth of the money...

    Mind you, compared to some govt contracts this one seems a little on the tiny side...

  12. GrahamT

    What is wrong with...

    ...paying the teachers to mark the scripts, like they used to do. It was a nice bit of extra pocket money for the overworked, underpaid plebs at the chalkface, and something to do during the dog days. Obviously you need invigilators to ensure consistency, but what do school inspecters do during the summer?

    Alien because, it is an alien concept to get involved people doing what they know best, when you can pay ignoramuses a fortune to do a worse job.

  13. Lukin Brewer

    Why not cut out the redundant processes?

    For private schools and state schools in nice areas:

    Head meets with staff, tells them they're doing a good job.

    Head speaks at assembly, tells pupils that they're doing well but must continue to strive for more, quotes school motto.

    For state schools in poor areas:

    Head meets with staff, tells them that they're useless and couldn't teach their way out of a wet paper bag.

    Head speaks at assembly, tells pupils that they are horrible little scrotes and retards and will never amount to anything, quotes weapons policy.

    For lucky large private firm:

    Holds out hand, receives wedge of public money.

    The results are the same: everyone's existing impressions are reinforced, and private enterprise is enriched from the public purse. But it will be cheaper to administrate and so will cost less.

    Cynical?!? Whatever gave you that impression?

  14. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

    @Big Al

    No it's probably the same crap contract they all use but this time the converasation probably went along the lines of

    How much would you liked to be sued for?

    Are contract last 5 years you must pay us.

    We could sue you every year! We could sue you on behalf of every student, we don't have class action in the UK you could be facing spending the rest of your life in the court room facing a series of case alleging you ruined a child's life the laywers bills alone could ruin you. Then the juries would each try to out do the last one. Want to play?

    You still have to pay us!

    How about you give us all are money back and go away and we promise got to come after you.


    Go ahead make my day.

    OK, heres the money can we get on a plane now?

  15. Ian Johnston Silver badge
    Paris Hilton


    The system Pivotal Integration sold the Fringe is reported to be running perfectly well now.

    Paris, because she too doesn't go down in public as much as she used to.

  16. Hyman Ginsberg

    Blame who?

    Upon doing research it seems that ETS does have a long history of successfully creating and administering assessments, including SAT's, Advances Placement Tests, and Certifications. Has anyone worked with or for a government agency before? If so, you undoubtedly know most are useless or totally incompetent! My bet is that ETS's biggest mistake was agreeing to this contract!

    Good luck finding a new vendor. Vendors will stay away from this contract like the plague!

  17. mh.


    SATs do seem to be one of the most pointless exams around. You don't get a certificate for them and you can't use them as a qualification. Their only purpose seems to be for school league tables. Would it really be a major problem if league tables were abolished and the money spent on something a bit more useful such as new books and equipment? Sometimes the best way to deal with something broken is just to throw it away.

  18. MD Rackham

    Good Riddance

    Well done.

    Now, do you Brits have any ideas on how we can get rid of ETS here in the States?

    There was a movement among some universities here to stop paying attention to SAT scores, but that seems to have stalled.

  19. Alex Barwell

    Mr Cheese right on the money

    Yep, they royaly stuffed up in the first of five years but still walk away with more than two years worth of money, rather than a size 12 winkle-picker up the jacksy (shoe, not chinese immigrant!). Yet again proof we are all collectively in the wrong job for money. Maybe something bad will happen to the morons responsible for this fantastic piece of negotiation. Alternatively they can employ me for a job I'm wholly incapable of carrying out and they can pay me a mere £1million a year, £2million if they want to get rid of me again.

  20. Richard Silver badge

    @Hyman Ginsberg

    Doing what research, where?

    The *owner* of ETS Europe appear to be doing reasonably well in a commercial sense, but a lot of US schools don't seem to like them.

    ETS failed for the following reasons (among others):

    1) Inability to organise.

    - Many markers were not told where and when their marking training would be until the day before. In some cases, the day after. To top it off, they were usually sent to the other side of the country instead of the local training session.

    - Some markers were never told who their team leader ('line manager' to the rest of us) was.

    - Many markers failed to receive proper contracts. Some markers were told "As you marked well last year...", despite this year being the first year they did it.

    2) Massive logistics errors.

    - ETS insisted that all papers had to be sent to marker's home address on a weekday. This resulted in almost every delivery being returned on first attempt, as most markers are teachers with jobs.

    - ETS insisted that all schools send the papers to a central warehouse for re-labelling and forwarding. Previously, the papers were sent directly to the markers.

    This meant that the warehouse was incredibly over-full - the delivery company eventually decided to deliver on weekends to clear the backlog.

    3) Inability to create usable online data-entry system.

    - Markers were required to enter the mark for every individual question, instead of the page totals. (Previously only grand totals were entered)

    - Markers were not given proper login credentials until after deadlines.

    - It was impossible to enter any marks for students that had not completed all the papers.

    The data-entry system was also very difficult to use.

    The online marking system used to 'ratify' markers was also incredibly difficult to use, allowing markers to go back and check sometimes, but not every time, and giving no indication of how much was remaining.

    The helpline was rather understaffed - not surprising, given the above problems!

  21. Anonymous Coward

    As a wise man once said...

    Good, fast, cheap... You can only ever have two at the same time.

    I must get a contract like the ETS one. Work for 20% of the contract duration, screw it up and get paid double for the time I worked. Plus I get to put the remaining 60% of the money in the bank and make interest on it for a year. Where do I sign? :)

  22. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Alien KISSes

    "What is wrong with......paying the teachers to mark the scripts, like they used to do. It was a nice bit of extra pocket money for the overworked, underpaid plebs at the chalkface, and something to do during the dog days. Obviously you need invigilators to ensure consistency, but what do school inspecters do during the summer? "

    By GrahamT ... Posted Friday 15th August 2008 14:49 GMT

    Putting all testing online, and as securely so as one can, [there's no point in denying that there is no absolute security guarantee nowadays] will allow for all manner of Instant Solutions/Marking/Mentoring/SuperVision........ and bring the Nation into the Digital Mainstream with IT Leading the Way.

    And the first person to say that it would to too expensive goes to the Bottom of the Class for all it would cost are Fistsful of Dollars/Currency/Pretty Worthless Easily Printed Paper, for that appears to buy everything for that is what everyone accepts, with the Banks Contracting Printers to Print Reams of the stuff for their Both their Valued and Valueless Customers....... Those who would Deserve it with their Plots and those who Lose it, having Lost the Plot.

    It doesn't Really Matter to them at All, although they would like us to Think so, so that their Scheming and Scams can continue unabated Underground/in the Background/in the Club.

    And of course, it isn't really that Simple whenever you Complicate IT to hide the Ruse.

    And whoever thought to contract out National Testing to a Foreign Power, needs Investigation for trying to Steal Secrets/National Treasures? Maybe we should consider Georgia who may also need the Money, and who could also fail spectacularly really trying but who would also have the same problem as ETS... different intelligence and a language problem guaranteeing failure at every level..

    Such Marking of Intelligent Progress will All eventually be done Online and Virtually Anyway, and in many Ways ...... so why bother Waiting, Spinning another Yarn/Tall Tale? Where is the Intelligence in that Stupidity and Inaction?

  23. Ian

    Aren't SATs are all a bit pointless really...

    When they just give away 'A' levels in the end anyway.

  24. Ascylto

    REAL Education

    I implore all of you who would like to see what real education is about to watch the DVD/Film "Etre et Avoir" (subtitles in English). Forget SATS, here's a REAL teacher using his gifts.

    You'll cry at what we've lost.

  25. RRRoamer

    @Mickey Porkpies


    The government schools (aka: "public schools") in the US are a complete and utter joke. Hell, their goal isn't even about educating the kids, it's about securing jobs for all the teachers and administrators. The current high school graduates wouldn't have been able to get out of the SEVENTH GRADE just 30 years ago.

    Yet we keep pouring money into this monster.

    Answer me this: With over $200,000 in a class room of only 20 kids (In my state, we pay almost $10,000 per kid per year), how in the world could you NOT put together a good education system and manage to get those kids educated? And actually have money left for things like paper. And pencils.

    But the government schools can't teach those kids for that much money. And they won't be able to teach them on ANY amount of money.

    It's time to dissolve the Federal education boards, the state education boards, etc. all the way down to the local school level. Let the school boards decide how to run the schools and let THEM be directly responsible to the parents.

    Of course, it will never happy. The US (and most of the developed world it seems) is way too stuck on "government knows best".

    Based on the test scores, you can't prove it to me.

  26. Wayland Sothcott Bronze badge
    Thumb Up

    I am suprized

    I thought they were defending the marking and that it was gubbumint policy to farm out crucial functions to American companys. I suppose it was even worse than they were planning for.

  27. Anonymous Coward


    But of course American education has been destroyed over the last 30+ years - how else to keep the sheeple from insurrection when their livelihood, their safety, even their very government is taken away to satisfy ever-increasing corporate rapists and undeservedly-influential tiny foreign countries?

    If Nixon had tried something like the TSA or Homeland Insecurity back in '73 or '74, he wouldn't have been impeached; he and every Senator and Representative who voted for anything he favored would have been LYNCHED. Sic semper tyrannis and all that.

    Oops, I forgot. American schools don't teach Latin any more. They barely teach something that almost resembles American English. Teachers don't teach anymore; not if they want to be paid more than starvation wages; they administrate, they manage, the push paper to fill unfunded government mandates, they liaise with police and security contractors...teachers today spend far less time on direct teaching-related work now than they did before No Corporation Left Behind...)

    (member of family with a dozen or more teachers as brothers/uncles/aunts/cousins in what was once the United States.)

    Mine's the one with the "Pink Floyd/'The Wall' Memorial Tour" ad across the back. Thanks very much!

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