Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sats Whitewash Lets Balls Off Hook

Ministers have been let off the hook over the Sats shambles with a widely-leaked whitewash which laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the government quangos and contractor. Nowhere did the report answer a simple question - what was Ed Balls doing while the Sats fiasco was falling around his ears? 

As expected and highlighted by the Orange Party here, the Sutherland report, out today, blamed the exam watchdog QCA and private contractor ETS Europe, under a tight remit drawn up by the school's secretary, Ed Balls, craftily crafted to get him off the hook. 

As Balls apologised to schools and families for "all their inconvenience, stress and frustration", questions still need to be asked over how on earth ministers could sit back and let this all happen, when teachers and markers were shouting from the rooftops that something was amiss. 

The 178 page Sutherland report is full of strong criticism of government quangos. 

The QCA watchdog "failed its remit". Pupils, parents, schools and markers were "badly let down". The impact had been "massive". There had been a culture within the QCA and its National Assessment Agency (NAA) that "it'll be all right on the night". It has not delivered and there have been "massive failures."

And the report blames ETS Europe and its "insufficient" capacity to deliver the tests with a "lack of comprehensive planning and testing" of the systems used for the tests.

Not a word about the government. Setting up government quangos and then watching them implode at arms length is irresponsible. But ministers have found a neat device to hide behind, saying they know nothing and it's all down to their own complacent quangos. 

Teachers were telling the secretary of state there were problems long before the marking stage. 

The Tories want answers: Ken Boston has pointed out that ministers were closely involved at every stage of the process. They cannot escape their role in the fiasco by claiming, as Ed Balls has done, that they were at 'arms length' from this disaster."

The LibDems also called for ministers to accept responsibility: "Ministers themselves should also accept some blame for their complacent attitude to the delivery of the tests. It is clear that they were asleep at the wheel."

But Downing Street spinners have managed to work their warped magic and control the fall out from the summer Sats fiasco, shifting the blame away from the school's secretary. 

Most ministers are elected MPs and that makes them both accountable and responsible to parliament and the electorate. 

Political voices from both ends of the spectrum speak with one voice but in vain if they expect Brown's trusty lieutenant to hold up his hands over this latest cock-up. As with the Baby P scandal, saying sorry isn't good enough.

6pm UPDATE: Balls has said he's sorry again, telling the commons he blames ETS and QCA and, er, that's it. 

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