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ETS – what went wrong?

publication date: Aug 2, 2008
author/source: Ed Tranham

‘It will be interesting to see how ETS fare’ was how we concluded our article in March 2007 following the National Assessment Agency’s announcement to award the US company ETS the £156m five-year SATs contract. Well, now we know.

And to help everyone understand what has gone wrong, Ofqual – the regulator of qualifications, exams and tests in England – has set up an enquiry headed by Lord Sutherland to report on the following issues:

* the nature and extent of the failures
* risk identification, management and contingency planning by ETS and NAA
* quality and use of management information provided by ETS to NAA, and NAA to Ofqual
* administration of the marking process, including the training and management of markers
* communication with schools by ETS and NAA
* the effectiveness of regulation of national curriculum tests by QCA (as regulator) and subsequently Ofqual.

However, missing from these terms of reference is any specific review of the process undertaken by NAA to award US-based ETS the contract in the first place.

At its board meeting in December 2006, the QCA board congratulated the NAA on their hard work and thorough process. Sir Anthony Greener, QCA chairman, went one step further, recommending that the process be used as a case study to share best practice within the QCA. But how thoroughly did the NAA and its procurement advisers PricewaterhouseCoopers carry out the risk assessment on ETS and its ability to deliver the project as proposed, prior to the contract being awarded?

The contract was awarded to ETS because they ‘offered QCA the best value for money’. QCA probably don’t think that now!

And if QCA needed reminding about other potential suppliers waiting in the wings if the ETS contract was terminated, Pearson – who lost out to ETS in last year’s tender – made a number of pointed references to Edexcel, its UK testing business, in its latest set of interim results.

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