Exclusive: Only 4 staff to probe 800 Sats cheat cases

Tes investigation also reveals concerns that DfE staff lack necessary qualifications and are expected to carry out a statistically impossible task

Amy Gibbons

School exam

The government has been accused of taking a "half-hearted approach" to stamping out cheating on the Sats tests, as a Tes investigation reveals just four people are employed to investigate maladministration in schools.

The National Education Union (NEU) has warned that unethical practices are inevitable in a "high-stakes" testing process, while a secondary school head who claims his school's Progress 8 score were warped by inflated Sats grades has criticised what he deems to be a "fatally flawed" system.

The anonymous headteacher is calling for more staff to ensure cheating is "truly being investigated" in all its forms.

His demand for action comes as a freedom of information request reveals that the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) employs just four people, none of whom have qualified teacher status (QTS), to investigate nearly 800 cases of maladministration in schools a year.


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This "core" team is responsible for investigating any allegations of cheating in national curriculum assessments, including key stage 1 and key stage 2 Sats and the phonics screening check.

The news comes shortly after figures released by the STA revealed the number of primary test cheating cases has soared by more than 50 per cent in two years.

In 2018, the STA completed 793 maladministration investigations – up from 599 in 2017, and 524 in 2016. This means each team member would have been expected to cover an average of more than one investigation every two working days.

But Tes  has previously reported on cases which took up to two months to investigate.

The National Association for Primary Education (NAPE) said it would be "very surprised" if two days was a sufficient amount of time to conduct an investigation into maladministration.

It added that more staff are needed to bring cases to a "speedy resolution" as a "high-stakes testing environment" had pushed many schools to take drastic measures to meet expectations. 

A spokesperson said: "I would presume that any investigation included questions asked of the staff, parents and possibly children at any given school. Since schools are not open for at least three months of the year, I would imagine that investigating such an allegation on the ground would take longer than two days.

"The fact that members of staff, including headteachers, are likely to be suspended from their posts while under investigation, strengthens the case for a more speedy resolution. Therefore the need to appoint more staff to deal with this vexed area of Sats maladministration is a strong one."

They added: "One would also expect that the team dealing with such cases would include some with QTS qualifications and who would by implication have a sound understanding of teacher role and conditions of service. 

"The consequence of imposing a regime which causes schools to do all they can to get high scores, is that some in our profession lose sight of the importance of a broad and balanced education for the children in our care, which sometimes leads them to forget that this includes having a moral compass.

"The government's oversight of this situation should be a positive contribution not a half-hearted approach to doling out punishment to those who are caught."

System under pressure

The secondary school head, who doesn't want his identity revealed, was told no action would be taken after he uncovered evidence that suggested one of his feeder primary schools had been inflating its KS2 Sats results. He said more staff were needed to ensure maladministration is "truly being investigated" in all its forms.

Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: "In a high-stakes testing system, where the penalties for failure are high, cases of maladministration are going to occur.

"They are signs of a system under pressure. No one wants schools to seek competitive advantage by adopting unethical practices.

"The way to eliminate such practices is not to create a larger apparatus of surveillance, but to lower the stakes of primary assessment, so that it becomes a way of supporting children’s learning, rather than of holding schools to account."

Duncan Baldwin, deputy director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said, he could not comment on the circumstances in an individual case, but "it is certainly the case that the stakes surrounding KS2 tests are excessively high".

However, he said there was "no evidence" to suggest there are widespread problems with the conduct of KS2 tests.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Teachers and parents must have confidence in the integrity of the assessment system, which is why the department will always take allegations of maladministration seriously and take action where evidence of wrongdoing is found.”

The department says the STA’s maladministration team is supported in the decision making process by staff holding QTS.

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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