Monday, December 15, 2008

Blame Balls For Sats Shambles

The government is trying to control the fall out from the summer Sats fiasco and shift the blame away from school's secretary, Ed Balls, who should shoulder responsibility for the shambles. 

With some crafty footwork and shifty spin, the children's secretary managed to wriggle out of any responsibility for the Baby P scandal. Now Brown's trusty lieutenant looks set to do it again.

The Sats shambles is just the latest in a whole series of government cock-ups over big IT projects awarded to their pals in the IT industry. It's costing the country billions of pounds and countless suffering to people. 

But ministers have found a neat little device to hide behind, saying they know nothing and it's all down to their own complacent quangos.

The carefully leaked outcome of the Sutherland inquiry has been quick to point the finger at US-based contractor ETS Europe and the head of the exams quango, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).

Time and again the Orange Party has called into question the role of government ministers in this whole affair, pointing out that a government minister must have signed off the £156m five-year contract and with that responsibility comes accountability. 

That view is shared today by both the Tories and the LibDems.

Warning bells were sounded months before the government finally got round to scrapping the ETS contract and with it tests for 14 year olds. 

But the Sutherland inquiry can only examine what it was set up to examine. It was carefully framed to avoid any remit which would question why the contract was awarded in the first place to a US company with a poor track record and the government's failed testing policies.

Hundreds of thousands of pupils' test results were delayed, this year's league tables were postponed and half of the tests were scrapped.

The government must now face questions over its role in the debacle as they were repeatedly warned something was wrong. 

However much Balls and ministers try to wriggle out of it, the government used taxpayers cash to sign a multi-million-pound contract with a firm with such an appalling track record. Ministers have a duty to make sure that cash is spent wisely and efficiently.

Head teachers, teachers and markers had been warning of problems since the spring. MPs were told the tests had become a "shambles" long before the results date in July.

Balls is not the only one who should shoulder responsibility. There are other legacy ministers involved in the fiasco and the inquiry needed to examine the role of all of them, including the chairman of the QCA and head of the QCA’s testing arm, the National Assessment Agency.

But so far QCA chief, Ken Boston, is the only head to roll in this appalling affair.

Ministers must bear direct responsibility for signing up with a firm that let down children and teachers so badly. 

The sheer arrogance of a government minister, who can hide behind weak excuses while the fiasco unfolded, leaving parents and youngsters frantic with worry, is quite beyond belief.

These get-out clauses used by ministers for big IT projects are a scandal. Ministers are accountable and responsible. And if they don't like that, or they preside over a cock-up, they should quit the job.

No comments: