Marking contract may be split four ways

William Stewart, David Marley & Warwick Mansell

The next contract for national testing could be divided among as many as four contractors as exam bosses try to avoid a repeat of this year's marking debacle.

The National Assessment Agency (NAA) is urgently seeking replacements for ETS Europe to run the national tests in 2009 following the termination of the US company's five-year pound;156 million deal after just one year.

The TES has learnt that due to the tight deadline involved - the new contractors will have to start work in November - some aspects of the contract are being taken in-house by the NAA.

The work being contracted out is being divided into four sections. When ETS was appointed, potential contractors had to tender for all four of the elements. But this time round, in an effort to spread the risk, they can bid for just one.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families official told The TES: "No one in the department thinks that things can stay the same after what happened this summer. The public would not accept it."

It is understood that the new contracting process has been designed to allow comparisons to be made between bids made from education companies for particular aspects of the work, such as running a call centre, to be compared with those from specialist contractors. This year's shambolic summer meant tens of thousands of pupils taking national tests had to wait weeks to receive their marks.

The new contract will have four different "lots". The first will cover management of senior markers, development of marker training materials, monitoring and driving of marker progress, quality assurance of marking, and a telephone helpdesk for schools and markers.

The second will cover the recruitment and management of 12,000 markers and 100 marker training events; the third, systems and data services; and the fourth, the physical movement of test scripts and the printing and distribution of guidance for schools and markers.

Of the three leading exam boards, only Edexcel has not yet ruled itself out from bidding for the national testing contracts. Capita has been rumoured to be another contender.

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William Stewart, David Marley & Warwick Mansell

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