Nothing in this report comes as a surprise to those who believe that this government has long had a penchant for micromanaging things it knows little about. What may surprise just a little is lengths to which it is prepared to go to ensure that what it believes to be right is done – in other words, how far it will go to impose its will on those who probably know better .
Ed Balls‘s interference increased the likelihood of the collapse of the Sats system, according to MPs in the first report to officially accuse the schools secretary of playing a significant role in the fiasco.
His department micromanaged the system and prevented the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) from reforming the tests, the report says. But ministers later claimed that they had not been involved and could not be blamed when the tests failed.
The parliamentary committee responsible for schools said Balls and his ministers knew of the problems earlier than has been acknowledged and established a testing system on a scale that made it vulnerable to failure every year. The marking of Sats – taken by 1.2 million children in England – collapsed last year under the auspices of the American firm ETS, which had its contract terminated.
An independent inquiry commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the exams watchdog Ofqual, led by Lord Sutherland, said ETS was ultimately responsible, but heaped blame on the QCA for failing to prevent the escalation of the problems. Balls subsequently scrapped all tests for 14-year-olds and science papers for 11-year-olds.
Ken Boston, the then chief executive of the QCA, had his offer of resignation refused and was eventually fired after Sutherland reported last December. Boston accused Balls of being more involved than had been acknowledged and “sexing up” evidence against him when he appeared before the select committee in April. The report largely backs his version of events.
Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the children, schools and families select committee, said: “The whole process got muddled because there wasn’t a clear line of responsibility. This led to a situation where this [the QCA] was clearly not an independent organisation.
“It’s too easy for Ed Balls and Jim Knight [the then schools minister] to say ‘It wasn’t me, guv, it’s an independent body’. QCA wasn’t independent. If someone is looking over the QCA’s shoulder all the time watching and observing them, even if it’s informally, quietly, beneath the radar, you can’t claim it’s independent.
“Ed Balls and Jim Knight were ultimately responsible for the quality of these bodies. In a system of ministerial responsibility, Ed and his ministerial team can’t escape totally.”
I don’t suppose for one moment that this will make any difference to what either Mr. Balls or his cronies think or do in future.