The delivery of this summer’s national curriculum tests for 11 and 14-year-olds was a shambles. I want to say to all the teachers, pupils, parents and markers who have been affected how sorry I am for all their inconvenience, stress and frustration. What happened this year was completely unacceptable. It was because I was determined to get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong and to ensure that it does not happen again that, in July, I asked Lord Sutherland to conduct an independent inquiry. I laid a copy of Lord Sutherland’s final report before the House at 2.30 this afternoon, and I have already acted to ensure that all his recommendations will be implemented in full.
In this statement, I will set out the Government’s initial response, and the steps that we are taking to ensure that the 2009 test results will be successfully delivered on time. I am grateful to Lord Sutherland for his very thorough report, and in January I will publish a detailed response setting out how we are implementing all his recommendations in full.
Lord Sutherland begins his report with these words:
“At its heart, this summer’s test delivery failure represented a failure in customer service—to…pupils, to their schools, and to the markers upon whom the National Curriculum testing regime relies.”
He finds that
“failures occurred at almost every stage of the test delivery process”.
He also says:
“The primary responsibility must therefore rest with the American”
“organisation, ETS Global BV…which won the public contract to deliver the tests and failed its customers.”
In particular, Lord Sutherland finds that
“ETS’s project management was not fit-for-purpose…ETS failed to identify and assess risks accurately and failed to report risks to NAA transparently…There were cumulative failures in different components and interfaces of the ETS delivery system…ETS did not invest in its relationship with schools and markers, and its level of customer service was wholly unacceptable and lacked professionalism”.
That is why, on 15 August, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority dissolved ETS’s contract. ETS forfeited a significant amount of future earnings and repaid £24.1 million to the taxpayer, which is two thirds of the money due to ETS for the first year of its then five-year contract.
Lord Sutherland then says:
“The events of this summer also represent a failure on the part of one of the Government’s Non-Departmental Public Bodies, the QCA…to deliver its remit.”
“describes the procurement process that QCA used to select its delivery supplier, ETS, how it managed the contract, and why it should have realised sooner that the test results could well be seriously delayed.”
In particular, he finds:
“QCA had project and risk management systems in place, but did not use these effectively to support and challenge ETS and inform decision-making”.
He finds that
“The QCA Board had insufficient oversight of the management and risks associated with the delivery of its biggest contract”.
He finds that
“neither NAA senior personnel, the QCA Executive, or QCA Board appear to have assessed the mounting risks appropriately”,
“the issues that arose during the test process should have alerted ETS, and in turn QCA, to the severity of the situation and the inevitability that test results would not be delivered on time.”
I have today written to the new chair of the QCA board, Mr. Christopher Trinick, asking him to implement in full all Lord Sutherland’s recommendations relating to the QCA, and to provide me with a full report on progress by 16 January. In a statement this afternoon, the QCA board has announced that its chief executive, Dr. Ken Boston, and Mr. David Gee, the managing director of the National Assessment Agency, have been suspended pending a full board inquiry into Lord Sutherland’s findings. The QCA board has, with our agreement, appointed Mr. Andrew Hall, currently its director of strategic resource management, as interim chief executive while that inquiry takes place.
Lord Sutherland’s report also makes recommendations covering the procurement process; the role of Department for Children, Schools and Families officials and Ministers; the role of Ofqual; and the procurement and delivery of future tests. On the procurement of the contract with ETS by the QCA, Lord Sutherland concludes:
“The procurement procedure was sound”,
but he highlights the fact that, despite
“sound checks on the financial strength and liquidity”
of the supplier and two Office of Government Commerce gateway reviews, the procurement
“failed to identify relevant information”
regarding the supplier’s
“reputation and track record.”
Lord Sutherland finds that
“In future, QCA should seek better information on the knowledge, capacity, experience, and track record of its preferred test operations supplier”.
Although this is not an explicit recommendation of Lord Sutherland’s report, my permanent secretary David Bell has today written to Nigel Smith, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce, asking him to consider whether there are wider lessons from Lord Sutherland’s report for OGC gateway reviews. We will report on that in January as well.
On my Department, Lord Sutherland finds that
“DCSF had comprehensive mechanisms in place to monitor QCA’s overall corporate performance and delivery against specific success measures”.
He also says:
“In practice in 2008 what happened was that DCSF observers escalated their own assessment of risks to the DCSF ministers on a number of occasions. On this basis, ministers usually pressed the QCA Chief Executive for answers. At this point, because information was not being escalated within QCA effectively”,
the consequence was that
“ministers were given strong reassurances, by QCA that all was on track. As late as 17 June when the Schools Minister met QCA’s Chief Executive and NAA’s Managing Director, they provided reassurances.”
Lord Sutherland also confirms in his report:
“In practice, the first time QCA notified Ministers that ETS would not deliver test results on time was 30 June 2008”—
four days before I announced that the tests would be delayed and Ofqual and I launched Lord Sutherland’s independent inquiry. While Lord Sutherland concludes that
“DCSF had good project and risk management processes and a pragmatic approach”,
he does say that
“officials may not have challenged QCA sufficiently on its project and risk management of the tests”.
He also recommends:
“The role of DCSF observers to meetings such as the operational, programme and corporate boards should be clarified on a case-by-case basis and those expectations articulated clearly”.
That is an important recommendation, and I will report in January on how we can further strengthen and clarify those governance arrangements.
On regulation, Lord Sutherland
“welcomes the creation of Ofqual as an independent regulator of National Curriculum tests as a positive development, and believes it represents a significant improvement on the previous arrangements”.
However, he identifies some weaknesses to be addressed and makes recommendations to strengthen and clarify the role of Ofqual. In her letter to me today, the chair of Ofqual, Kathleen Tattersall, confirms that she has also accepted those recommendations in full. We intend to legislate accordingly in the children, skills and learning Bill.
On test delivery, Lord Sutherland makes recommendations on how procedures can be modernised and improved in future years. As I told the House in a statement on 16 October, with Lord Sutherland’s advice, the QCA tendered for a single year contract for the delivery of the 2009 national tests. Last week, following the receipt of his report, I wrote to Lord Sutherland asking him to advise me on the QCA’s handling of the procurement process, and I have published his reply to me this afternoon.
In my statement to the House in October, I said that I agreed with the Select Committee that the principle of national testing is sound. I announced that we will not require pupils to take key stage 3 tests from 2009 onwards, but that externally marked key stage 2 national curriculum tests are essential to give parents, teachers and the public the information they need about the progress of each primary age child and of every primary school. I also said, however, that the current testing and assessment regime is not set in stone; that we will continue to look at the emerging evidence from our single level test pilots; and that I had asked our expert group to report in the spring.
I know that there are some who do not agree with me about the importance of externally marked national tests, but even they will agree that where we have national tests, they should be delivered successfully and on time, as they have been in the past. That did not happen this year. As Lord Sutherland concludes:
“It is undoubtedly the case that pupils were let down.”
I am determined to ensure that this does not happen again, which is why we will now implement all of Lord Sutherland’s recommendations in full. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his kindness in sending me prior notice of his statement and also in allowing me to read Lord Sutherland’s report in his Department earlier this afternoon.
The Sutherland report is an epic catalogue of incompetence, inefficiency and blinkered inactivity in the delivery of a vital public service. It paints an unremittingly depressing picture of the fiasco that was this year’s national curriculum test process. It points the finger at a series of figures, some of them still in office, who did not act as they should have done to safeguard the interests of our children.
May I express agreement with the Secretary of State that Lord Sutherland does us all a service in revealing that the company responsible for running those tests, ETS, was guilty of a series of fundamental mistakes? May I also ask the Secretary of State how ETS was allowed to get a multi-million pound contract in the first place? The procurement process that led to ETS getting its contract took 10 months. As well as a huge team of bureaucrats, the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers were asked to scrutinise the company’s credentials, but in all that time not a single person uncovered the fact that ETS had a record of failure and poor performance in America.
Conservative Members supplied Lord Sutherland’s inquiry with a dossier of ETS’s past failures, and he records that the stories we uncovered
“were not identified and considered as part of the due diligence”—
[Hon. Members: “Shameful!”] It is entirely shameful.
Lord Sutherland further recommends that the QCA should have carried out the due diligence that we carried out to assess potential suppliers’ track records. It took us 10 minutes on the internet to find out what the whole of Government could not establish in 10 months. How can Ministers ever have been satisfied with a procurement process that did not identify the most basic problem with a bidder—serial incompetence in the past?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the fact that the Government will now change the way in which they award contracts, but given the horrendous failure of the procurement process, will he explain why we still cannot see the original contract with ETS? We have still ended up paying money to ETS for its failure. Why did the contract not specify that ETS would pay fines rather than just have payments docked when it failed? In a case such as this, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) indicated earlier, the taxpayer should be compensated. We can judge whether our interests were properly safeguarded only if the contract is made public. So why can we not see it?
Blame for what went wrong properly rests on many shoulders. ETS has paid the price, although not as heavily as it should, and the QCA’s chief executive, Ken Boston, has rightly resigned, but Ministers have argued that their responsibility is limited because the process of managing those tests was at arm’s length—the Pontius Pilate defence.
In the House on 22 July, the Secretary of State said that Ministers did not even see the contracts drawn up with ETS, yet in evidence to Lord Sutherland, Ken Boston pointed out:
“Government is at arm’s length only from the detail of the test questions and from the marking and level-setting… throughout the process of procuring the contract and delivering the tests… Ministers and officials had access to exactly the same data and information as the QCA—they were active participants in the process”.
Does the Secretary of State accept his Department’s share of responsibility? Does he accept that Ministers were active participants in this fiasco? Or does he think Ken Boston was lying?
The Sutherland report also reveals that Department for Children, Schools and Families officials sat in on the crucial meetings throughout 2007 when flaws were revealed with the handling of those tests. Lord Sutherland points out that problems were raised at the Department’s own senior management review group in February 2008. He reports that DCSF observers escalated their own assessment of risks to Ministers on a number of occasions in 2008. Will the Secretary of State tell us when those occasions were? Will he tell us why, when his officials were escalating their assessment of risk, he did nothing?
The Secretary of State said that it was not appropriate for him to challenge the complacent judgment of those delivering the tests, but the facts about failure were in the public domain long before he took any action. When we raised problems concerning ETS and its track record in May, the Secretary of State told us that matters were on track, and he did nothing.
On 11 June, the Minister for Schools and Learners told us that he had been in regular contact with the test delivery body, the National Assessment Agency, but the Sutherland report reveals that the first time the Minister had a substantial discussion with the man in charge of the NAA was only on 17 June, one week later. How does the Secretary of State explain such culpable inactivity? Does he not regret the fact that Ministers did not act earlier? Why, when his officials knew what was going wrong, his Department’s review group knew that things were going wrong and we told him that they were going wrong, did he ignore all these warnings? Why were so many signals flashing danger so studiously ignored?
It is crucial that we have confidence in national curriculum tests. They are vital measures by which we hold schools and heads accountable. It is only fair that those in charge of this process are also held accountable. This Government have failed, and no Minister has acknowledged their role in this failure. Until they do, parents and teachers will conclude that this Government believe that everyone should be accountable for failure apart from them.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that there was a clear failure, and that is why we commissioned an independent report. The report makes it clear that the primary failure was a failure by ETS, the supplier, but there was also a failure of the QCA to deliver on its remit. That is where the failure lies, and it is where the recommendations for action are. It is clear from the comments that I made in my opening statement that Lord Sutherland himself said that
“the first time QCA notified Ministers that ETS would not deliver test results…was 30 June”.
He makes it clear in a litany of comments throughout the report that there was a systemic failure by NAA and QCA executives to assess risks properly, and then to pass those risks to the board and to Ministers. That is where the failure lies, and it is a failure that we will address.
The hon. Gentleman asked about procurement, and I repeat what I said in my statement. Lord Sutherland says that
“The procurement procedure was sound”,
and he notes that there were two Office of Government Commerce reviews into that procurement procedure, the first of which gave a green light to the procurement, and the second of which gave an amber light because of a payment issue, which was subsequently resolved. As the Minister for Schools and Learners said in his evidence to Lord Sutherland,
“in this case, two OGC reviews satisfied me that there had been proper oversight of the process and that the QCA Board in turn, that we appoint, had approved it and had in fact endorsed it very strongly as an example of best practice.”
We know, and Lord Sutherland says, that while there was proper due diligence on financial strength and liquidity, the reviews did not look at the 180 countries in which ETS operates, or the 2,600 staff that it employs all around the world, to find some of the examples that subsequently came to light. I say, quite rightly, that that was a failure. It was a failure in the procurement process, and a failure that should have been spotted, as Lord Sutherland says—[Interruption.]
If hon. Members had taken time to read the report, they would have found that the answers are right here on the page. I am afraid that their questions betray the fact that they have not yet had time to study the report.
We have asked the OGC to implement Lord Sutherland’s recommendation that in future we should ensure that such information comes to light. When the information came to light in May, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I had a phone call and a meeting with Mr. Ken Boston, who assured me in a meeting on 2 June that things were on track with the delivery of the tests in 2008. The hon. Gentleman asked what Ministers did, and I just say again that in February, March, April, June and July, Ministers were informed by DCSF officials that there were concerns. [Interruption.] I will state what Lord Sutherland says, because he conducted the independent review:
“On this basis, ministers usually pressed QCA’s Chief Executive for answers.”—[Interruption.]
Well, the word “usually” means that that is what they did, and that is what we did on 2 June and 17 June. Lord Sutherland continues:
“At this point, because information was not being escalated within QCA effectively, ministers were given strong reassurances by QCA that all was on track.”
The assurance I gave the hon. Gentleman was the assurance we were receiving from the QCA. It was the responsible body and it had the remit to deliver those tests. It failed to deliver that remit, as Lord Sutherland’s report—[Interruption.] Well, I advise the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) to read the report; as a Select Committee member, I am sure he will.
We did not take the advice of Conservative Members, however. We did not take the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, who throughout July repeatedly called on us to sack summarily the contractor, ETS. As the legal advice made clear to me, if we had done so we would have been in a legal dispute with ETS, and we would not have got the £24 million back to the taxpayer, which we secured in August. Throughout July, Opposition Members, having made no comment on this matter at all until May, grandstanded time and again, calling for steps that would have cost the taxpayer millions of pounds. We did the proper thing, which was to ignore their calls, their grandstanding and their irresponsibility; instead, we did the right thing by the taxpayer, and that is what I am determined to do.
The fact is that, as Lord Sutherland’s report makes clear, there was a delivery failure by the QCA. The leaders of the QCA and of the part of it that delivered the test, the NAA, have both now been suspended. There are a number of recommendations, all of which will be implemented in full. That will not repair the damage of the tests this year, and I cannot take away the inconvenience suffered by pupils and teachers. What I can do, however, is take seriously the conclusions of an independent inquiry that clearly says where the blame lies, and act upon that to ensure that in future we return to the way things were before ETS Europe, with a proper delivery of tests in our country.
I, too, thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of both his statement and Lord Sutherland’s report.
On page 30 of the report, which was issued today, Lord Sutherland quotes the chairman of the QCA back in December 2006 rather optimistically suggesting that this contract might eventually be seen as a case study in best practice. Sadly, what Lord Sutherland has reported seems to be a masterclass in incompetent project management, with ETS, the NAA, the QCA and perhaps Ministers to blame in varying degrees.
First, I want to make it clear that I support the action that the Government have taken so far in removing the contract from ETS and in changing the management of the QCA and the NAA. Those actions are justified by the information provided by Lord Sutherland. However, I am not quite so clear that the Secretary of State’s statement is satisfactory in relation to the role of his Department and Ministers. Indeed, his statement could be summed up as follows: “Everybody is to blame other than Ministers.” Even officials in his Department get the blame, along with ETS, the QCA and the NAA.
May I take the Secretary of State back to two points raised by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), which I fear he did not respond to? First, the Secretary of State quoted paragraph 4.137 on page 85 of the report. It suggests that what happened in 2008 was that his Department’s observers escalated their own assessment of risks to Ministers on a number of occasions, and it goes on to say that
“ministers usually pressed QCA’s Chief Executive for answers.”
A moment ago, the Secretary of State seemed to indicate that “usually” means “always”, but it does not. Therefore, after today’s sitting, could he send the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and me a list of all the occasions when DCSF observers raised these issues with Ministers, and will he describe what the concerns were on each occasion and how Ministers decided to act, if at all?
Will the Secretary of State also return to another point raised by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath? On page 37 of the report, Lord Sutherland quotes Ken Boston of the QCA, who wrote the following in evidence as recently as three weeks ago, on 27 November:
“Throughout the process…ministers and officials had access to exactly the same data and information as the NAA and the QCA; they were active participants in the process; and…were…in no way at ‘arm’s length’.”
Is that not the clearest possible signal, given just three weeks ago, that the head of the QCA was anticipating that he and the NAA would be expected by Ministers to shoulder the full responsibility? He clearly does not believe that that should fall only to the QCA and the NAA. Did the Secretary of State request Ken Boston’s resignation or was that offered by the chief executive of the QCA on an entirely voluntary basis? Let me make it clear to the Secretary of State that I am not suggesting that ETS, the NAA and the QCA do not have the primary burden of blame, because they clearly do. I am suggesting that it is also the case that Ministers appear to be asleep at the wheel and that they should accept some responsibility.
May I raise three brief final points about the future of the key stage tests? First, we understand from one of the letters that the Secretary of State has issued today that he—or the QCA—will be releasing information today on the number of appeals against the 2008 test results and what proportion of them have been upheld. Why was that information not available to the House before this statement, and can he shed some light on that today? Secondly, does he accept that, given the short time scale before the key stage 2 tests in 2009, Ministers will need to accept direct oversight and responsibility for ensuring that those tests are delivered effectively? They will not be able to get away with distancing themselves in the way that they have done this year.
Thirdly, and finally, may I ask the Secretary of State about the future of key stage 2 national tests? May I suggest that those should be retained and that he should not proceed with the single level tests? However, in the review that is under way, will he ensure that the opportunity is taken for a fundamental reappraisal of what is being tested and of the scope for improving and streamlining the tests and for using more internal assessment, complemented by both external assessment and external checks? If he manages this review effectively, it is still possible that we will salvage something from the shambles that Lord Sutherland describes so effectively today.
Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions first. I shall ensure that the expert group does a thorough job, and I will forward its conclusions on future testing to the House. We will need to make future decisions at that point, because as I have said, the regime is not set in stone. However, I disagree with his proposals for key stage 2 tests.
The review process is ongoing, but the evidence we have so far on the number of reviews is that it has increased. Out of a potential 3.9 million applications for review, the total number of review applications that have so far been received and processed is less than 200,000. That compares with 50,000 in the previous years. That may partly be to do with heightened concern because of this year’s events, but the change to borderlining will also have led to a substantial increase in the number of reviews. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer as to which of those two things has been more important, but I shall keep him and the House updated on those figures.
I will also ensure that the procurement process is properly managed. Indeed, I hope that the letter from Lord Sutherland that I have released today, which says that he will continue to oversee how the procurement works, will give the hon. Gentleman some assurance.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this was a case study in poor risk management. That is made very clear in Sutherland’s report, but it is also clear that the contract was delivered at arm’s length from Ministers by trusted delivery partners in the QCA and NAA. On repeated occasions, the QCA and NAA at executive level failed to escalate risks upwards to the board and to Ministers, who were given repeated assurances that things were okay when they were not. Those executives then failed to follow up problems when they were identified. I read out the quote from Lord Sutherland because it is telling. It points out that time and again during 2008 my officials and Ministers raised questions with the QCA and were reassured that things were okay.
Usually, it was the chief executive of the QCA, Ken Boston, who responded, but sometimes it was the managing director of the NAA, David Gee. Whichever it was, they reassured us that things were on track. As Sutherland says, it was only on 30 June that it was brought to our attention that tests were being delayed—
Well, I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the Sutherland inquiry. It says, in terms and as I quoted in my statement, that in practice it was only on 30 June that Ministers were informed by the QCA that there would be delays in the tests. There was a meeting on 17 June, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners asked for a meeting with David Gee and Ken Boston because he was concerned about the advice that he had had from DCFS officials—not from LEAs or the QCA. My right hon. Friend asked for that meeting, in which Ken Boston deferred to David Gee who assured my right hon. Friend that things were on track. In retrospect, David Gee got that badly wrong, but it was our job to ask our delivery agent to deliver. We regularly asked questions and we were told that they were delivering. It is all substantiated in the report.
The delivery failure was by the QCA and the NAA, and Lord Sutherland is very clear on that point. Ken Boston said in his evidence that the information that was being made available to him was also being made available to Ministers and our Department. The problem was—as the report makes clear—that he did not have a management system in place that meant that concerns in the NAA were escalated up to him. In fact, months earlier, the NAA had a red risk rating and put scores of its own staff in to run the ETS contract, while telling Ken Boston that things were okay. But when he knew about the red risk ratings he did not act, and he assured us that things were okay. We did not have all the same information, but in any case it was his responsibility to act and he did not do so. That was the problem, and that is why the suspensions have occurred. That is why the inquiry was carried out, and that is why Sutherland says that while the primary responsibility was with ETS Europe, there was a failure on the part of the QCA to deliver.
There was a fundamental failure of the QCA to deliver, but with a new chair, an interim chief executive, these recommendations from Lord Sutherland and this independent report, we can move forward. That is what we are determined to do.
My right hon. Friend will know that the Children, Schools and Families Committee is undertaking an ongoing investigation into these matters, which also takes in the contract for education maintenance allowances. As part of that, we will take evidence from Ken Boston and Lord Sutherland in the new year.
May I ask my right hon. Friend just two questions today? First, we all understand the game of “Get the Secretary of State” that is being played between the parties, but does he regret—
I just want to ask the Secretary of State whether he now regrets the advice that he was given to publish 90 per cent. of the tests immediately. Does he think that that would have solved the problem? Does he think that too many cooks spoiled the broth, because of the shadow authority? Thirdly, will he say one word about Ken Boston, who I have found to be a fine public servant in my experience as Chairman of the Select Committee? Ken Boston might have made mistakes on this contract but somebody should say that he is a fine public servant. He might have made a mistake, but we should not forget his record over a number of years of change to qualifications and to the curriculum in this country.
I am happy to put on the record my thanks to Ken Boston. I worked with him over the past year and a half and thought that he delivered the key stage 3 reforms, which have been widely welcomed in schools, extremely well. We never had a difficult word, but I regret, as does Ken Boston now, that when he gave me reassurances in face-to-face meetings that things were on track, that turned out not to be the case. I am very sorry about what has happened today, but we are where we are and we have to move forward.
I know that the Select Committee is doing its review and I will ensure that my more detailed response is provided to my hon. Friend so that we can give evidence to that Select Committee. I hope that by then the Opposition members of the Committee will have had a chance to study it, because that might mean that they will be rather more informed in their barracking in the Committee.
I do not accept the point about the shadow authority, but I accept the point about too many cooks spoiling the broth. The NAA was a division of QCA, with no separate independent function. The QCA chief executive was responsible to the board for the delivery of tests, not the NAA, although the NAA was a member of the executive board. The QCA has today taken the step of removing the NAA label, which, I believe, got in the way. Sutherland makes it very clear that that label confused accountabilities and allowed Ken Boston to manage things at arm’s length, which was not the right thing to do. My hon. Friend is right on that point.
Sutherland makes it clear that it was a problem when the regulator was within the QCA and not a distinct organisation. The appointment of an independent regulator in the form of Ofqual represented a significant step forward, and Sutherland says that that has made things better. They will be better still when we finally have the necessary legislation on the statute book. We can do certain things now to implement Sutherland’s recommendations, but there is no evidence in the report that the establishment of Ofqual in shadow form made things worse. In fact, the Sutherland report shows that it made things better over the past few months.
The Secretary of State will be aware that I previously served as a Minister in his Department. We had our share, too, of administrative difficulties of the kind that he has described today, although not on the same scale. Will he reflect first on the fact that non-departmental public bodies should never be used as a smokescreen for any inefficiency on the part of Ministers? Secondly, will he at least search his conscience to satisfy himself, because if everybody else has failed, it is miraculous that Ministers have somehow absolved themselves from any share of the blame? Finally, and much more importantly as we look forward, will he explain to the House why, if he and his senior management were free from blame, the situation is likely to be different on any future occasion when it comes to reporting, asking the salient questions and getting the right result?
I searched my conscience, and I also asked Lord Sutherland to carry out an independent review. Not only did I search my conscience, but I read that review, which clearly states that the way in which we set up the arm’s length relationship with QCA was right and normal practice and that the blame lies in the failure of risk management and the escalation failure in QCA and ETS. If the hon. Gentleman can find in the copy of the report that he has in front of him a quote that shows that I failed in my duty as Secretary of State, he should read it out. His Front-Bench spokesman failed to make any such point—
I have answered the question so many times—it is so trivial.
I have searched my conscience. I asked for an independent report and I have responded to it. The implementation of the report’s recommendations will ensure that such things will not happen again. The right way to proceed was to commission an independent inquiry, to read the report and to act on it. That is what I am doing and that is why my conscience is clear.
Given the difficulties this year, particularly those about the number of opinions and the changes to the borderlining practice, is there any point in publishing the key stage 3 results on a school-by-school basis? Should we not now simply put key stage 3 to bed and forget about it? On key stage 2, does the Secretary of State accept that it is possible to support a policy of national testing without requiring every child in every school to sit a test every year in each of the key subjects at the same time? There are other forms of perfectly valid national testing that could be more effective and would certainly be cheaper. On the NAA, the Sutherland inquiry refers to the ambiguous relationship between the NAA and the QCA. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be no ambiguity whatever in that relationship in the new legislation that will disaggregate the QCA?
I shall definitely ensure that there is no ambiguity. We will use the processes that we are now going through with the expert group to ensure that what we do is not only cost-effective but effective in the way in which we test. That is our challenge. On my hon. Friend’s particular point, we will publish the national figures for key stage 3 results. Given my announcement in October, I do not think that it makes sense to put schools through the process of checking the individual results school by school and so it is not my intention to do so.
The Secretary of State is right to characterise this whole sorry episode as a complete failure that has let pupils down very badly. As the right hon. Gentleman is lending a great amount of weight to the recommendations in the report, will he look again at the EMA payments and the delays and consider whether a separate independent inquiry should be forthcoming in that regard? Recommendations might well flow from such an inquiry that he would want to take on board.
That issue is currently being looked at by the Select Committee, which is the right forum for that purpose. What has happened with the EMAs has been unacceptable, but it is clear why it happened and the Select Committee will consider the subject. I do not think that an independent review is the right way to proceed, but I am happy to listen to and give evidence to the Select Committee to ensure that if there are any lessons to be learned in the case of EMAs, we will learn them.
The Secretary of State said in his statement that Lord Sutherland concluded that the procurement procedure was sound, yet it is clear from the report that although the procedure underwent two OGC gateway reviews as well as the expensive involvement of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the procedure did not produce good value for money for the taxpayer. Is there not an issue about the entire procurement? What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that the Government learn the lesson from this procurement exercise and ensure that we put more emphasis on good value for the taxpayer in the future? What action will he take to ensure that pupils, schools and markers feel confident in next year’s tests?
My hon. Friend is right to stress “pupils, schools and markers”, because markers had a raw deal in the summer. The customer service to markers from ETS was frankly unacceptable and that must improve in the future. That is why we are returning to the tried and tested methods with the previous deliverer of the tests, Edexcel, as announced yesterday by the QCA. I will ensure through the work that we will now do with the OGC that if there are wider lessons to be learned on procurement, we will learn them.
It is the case that Lord Sutherland says that the procurement procedure was sound, and he explains why in detail, but we must do everything that we can to deliver value for money. One thing that would definitely not have delivered value for money would have been to forfeit the £24 million that the taxpayer got back. That would be to give in to the Opposition’s irresponsible political posturing, which I was completely right to ignore.
May I begin by congratulating the Secretary of State on saying sorry today? He was unable to bring himself to do that in October, and I am sure that his apology will be appreciated.
The report comments on the responsibility of Ministers and, as both Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have noted, on page 37 it quotes Ken Boston as saying that
“ministers and officials had access to exactly the same data and information as the NAA and the QCA; they were active participants in the process…and in no way at ‘arm’s length’.”
That is what Ken Boston said: was he lying?
It was said by Ken Boston, who was suspended this afternoon by the QCA board on the basis of a report that said that Ministers were not properly informed. It also said that information was not provided properly by the NAA to the QCA executive, by the QCA executive to the board, and by the QCA executive and the board to Ministers. We had reassurances that things were okay, even though the NAA had information that they were not. [Interruption.] If he wants to, the hon. Gentleman can quote again and again from the remarks that Ken Boston made to Lord Sutherland, but I think that those remarks reveal the nature of the problem and why we needed to act. That is what we have done.
The QCA appears to have failed, and it seems that it is going to be transformed into two quangos. The Learning and Skills Council seems—to me and many others, and I think to the Government—also to have failed, and it is to be transformed into three quangos. One of them will rejoice in the initials “SFA”, and one wonders what it will do. I am confused about the approach adopted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills as, when quangos fail, they seem to be replaced by new and more quangos. Can the Secretary of State explain that to me?
I can explain that to my hon. Friend. There was a body called the QCA. That single body was responsible for the procurement, management, delivery and regulation of tests and, clearly, it did not succeed. We have decided to have one organisation to procure, manage and deliver the tests, and a separate organisation independent of Government called Ofqual to regulate them. [Interruption.] I thought that the Opposition supported the establishment of Ofqual, although the comments being made by Conservative Members suggest otherwise. However, it is right to split delivery and regulation, and that is what we are doing. Lord Sutherland makes it clear that, in his view, that approach will strengthen the regime and lead to more confidence for teachers, pupils and markers in the future.
In this case, I believe that we are doing the right thing, although I agree that the proliferation of quangos is not always ideal.
The number of papers with questionable results that have had to be returned this year has increased dramatically this year, and that has caused huge anxiety among pupils and imposed an administrative burden on schools. Will the Secretary of State ensure that his proposals will not also be a financial burden on school budgets?
The position is clear: a school pays a financial penalty only if a review is unsuccessful. That is an important principle, as it means that it is not possible for there to be review after review. If there were no financial cost to a litigious review, everyone would appeal. We have had 200,000 reviews this year, compared with 50,000 in 2007, and it is estimated that a further, and final, 18,000 review outcomes will be issued to schools. The rise is partly due to concern about test marking, although in her letter to me today the head of Ofqual makes it clear that she retains the view that she expressed in July—that marking standards were maintained and that there was no decline in marking quality.
The review process will continue and, as I have said, we decided some years ago to remove borderlining. Its abolition means that cases that in the old days would have been allowed a bit of an upgrade do not receive one now. That will have led to an increase in the number of reviews, but it is really important that the review process is undertaken properly and with integrity. A school that succeeds does not pay the fee, whereas one that fails does.
It is certainly true that faith among teachers, parents and families in national curriculum testing has been badly hit by what has happened. Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, it is hard to conclude that the procurement procedure was sound, when the reputation and track record of ETS and the capacity of its staff were not flagged up.
The dogs that did not bark seem to have been the OGC and its gateway reviews. That body had similarly lamentable failures with the Rural Payments Agency saga some time ago, but another problem has to do with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Will the Secretary of State say whether there exists in the public domain copies of the brief given to PricewaterhouseCoopers and of the report that was received from the company—no doubt at some great cost that we shall never know?
At paragraph 2.59 of his report, Lord Sutherland says that
“the procurement procedure followed by PricewaterhouseCoopers and NAA on behalf of QCA was sound. It used the most up-to-date technique, Competitive Dialogue, which enabled QCA to refine its requirements and suppliers to develop their proposals during the procurement exercise.”
That was then endorsed by two OGC reviews. I have found no reason in the Sutherland inquiry to fault PricewaterhouseCoopers, other than the fact that there should have been the exercise of wider due diligence that should have been picked up by the OGC. That is one of the recommendations that I am acting on.
As for the wider financial information about PricewaterhouseCoopers, I shall have to come back to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), as I do not have the answer in front of me. [Interruption.] I do not have the answer in front of me, so I shall have to get back to my hon. Friend.
I asked Lord Sutherland to look at procurement in 2009. He has done so, and in his letter to me he says:
“It appears that a very thorough risk assessment has been conducted, which I believe is an essential component of any good procurement process. It will now be important to ensure that these risks continue to be actively monitored and addressed throughout the duration of the contract.”
I have today asked the QCA’s new leadership to make sure that that happens. We are very aware of the matter, and it is one of the lessons from the Sutherland inquiry. In all cases, the Government will make sure that the recommendations are implemented properly, because that is the right way to rebuild confidence in testing for the future.