‘Significant weaknesses’ in DfE oversight of Sats

Shortcomings uncovered by government auditors in Department for Education supervision of Sats contract prompts concern from headteachers

pupil doing test

Official auditors have found significant weaknesses in the government’s preparedness to oversee a £109 million Sats contract.

Capita was awarded the sum in July 2018 to deliver the key stage 1 tests, the key stage 2 tests and the phonics screening check from 2020 to 2024.

The new contract brings together a number of services, from printing to marking, previously delivered through separate contracts.

But now the Department for Education (DfE) has revealed, in its DfE consolidated annual report and accounts, that the Government Internal Audit Agency (GIAA), said “significant weaknesses” were found in the framework set up to oversee the Sats contract by the DfE's Standards and Testing Agency (STA).

The NAHT headteachers’ union has said the report is a “cause for concern”.

The auditors reached their conclusions in September, only two years after the STA was told it had insufficient expertise in contract management, following problems with the previous Sats contract.


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Sarah Hannafin, NAHT senior policy adviser on assessment, said: “The STA have invited independent scrutiny of their approach, but the auditors have not given them their full backing. This is certainly a cause for concern.

“What’s critical now is for STA to show that they have a strong grasp of the weaknesses that have been identified.

“The school system in England is one of the most highly regulated in the world. Since schools are expected to meet the highest standards, it is only right that the machinery of government is held accountable to the same degree.”

The DfE’s annual report, published this week, revealed that GIAA, which checks governance and risk management within government departments, gave a limited assurance rating to the STA’s “test operations readiness”, meaning that “there are significant weaknesses in the framework of governance, risk management and control such that it could be or become inadequate and ineffective”.

The GIAA audit was carried out at the invitation of the STA in September 2018 during the early stages of the Sats contract for the delivery of tests from 2020. The aim was to check that robust structures and sufficient oversight were in place.

The DfE says that all the recommendations made by the GIAA to the STA have been addressed.

The report comes after the STA went through a “root and branch” independent review in 2016, the first year of the new Sats tests – when the system was provided by several different contractors – following leaks of papers.

The 2016 review found that, while the STA was broadly fit for purpose, there were issues that needed to be addressed, including insufficient expertise in contract or financial management.

The review recommended that the STA establish clear oversight of all procurement, contracts, grants, the commercial pipeline and financial information, and ensure it had a central, up-to-date and complete source of all contract and grant information.

The overall rating from GIAA for the DfE group (which covers the DfE, and 16 agencies and other bodies) is moderate, which means that “some improvements are required to enhance the adequacy and effectiveness of the framework of government, risk management and control”.

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