Panic and chaos at Hotel Sats

11th July 2008 at 01:00
As ETS Europe puts up teachers working long hours to tackle the backlog, markers tell The TES of 'frazzled' ETS staff, lax security and being asked to mark papers outside their subject areas
As ETS Europe puts up teachers working long hours to tackle the backlog, markers tell The TES of 'frazzled' ETS staff, lax security and being asked to mark papers outside their subject areas

Last weekend saw some of the most extraordinary scenes to date in this summer's Sats marking debacle, with chaos embroiling markers in emergency centres set up in Leeds and Manchester hotels. Incidents included technical faults, markers being given papers in the wrong subject and security being employed against the press.

These bizarre episodes are the latest chapter in the controversy which last week saw the Government announce that the results - originally promised for this week - were being delayed. KS2 results have been put back a week, to next Tuesday, while most KS3 scores are promised by Friday. However, some will not be with schools until after that date. In the absence of results, teachers are being asked to use teacher assessments to inform parents of the levels pupils have reached in their learning.

Markers have told The TES of an atmosphere of disorganisation and panic inside the centres, run by the contractor ETS Europe, as they and administrators rushed to meet long-missed deadlines.

One KS2 English marker - let's call her Janet - described how she had been asked by a "frazzled" ETS employee if she'd mind marking KS3 science papers. "I just said No. I could not do it. Science is simply not my forte," said Janet, who was speaking to The TES on condition of anonymity. She said the scene at her Leeds hotel had been "chaotic", as good-natured members of ETS staff tried to deal with the pressure on the company to deliver the results. Most worrying, she said, were concerns about the security of the papers being marked.

In a large room in the hotel, Janet said, boxes of test scripts were piled high. Sitting at a desk, a young woman with a laptop was allocating scripts to markers.

"I do not know how this poor girl could work because there were papers everywhere," said Janet.

She said security surrounding the test papers had been lax. ETS staff had handed her scripts without checking whether she had any connection to the schools whose scripts she was marking. And markers had been allowed to take papers back to their hotels. Early last Saturday morning, she said, the fire alarm went off at a hotel where many markers were staying. They had to leave their rooms for several hours. Janet, who expects to be paid pound;180 a day, said: "If there had been a fire, I do not know what would have happened to these papers."

Yet last weekend, security staff were hired to guard the hotel doors against unwanted press inquiries. Markers had been given name badges. One changed his to read "press", said Janet, and yet he was still allowed in.

Temporary administrative staff have been hired to input the marks given to each paper at the computer screen. But "amazingly", Janet said, these staff had to "mark" some mock test papers on screen at intervals during the inputting. These were designed as a check on the work of markers but ETS had found no way of switching them off.

At another hotel in Manchester, KS3 writing markers have been working 7.5 hour days in total silence in two large rooms on the ground floor. Security staff have also been posted on the hotel doors.

Jenny, not her real name, said that quality control checks on the markers were more stringent than they were earlier this year.

Bill, the pseudonym of a colleague, said his work at the centre was being supervised by a senior marker. This had not happened when he had marked hundreds of Shakespeare papers at home. The checks at the centre had found he was marking too generously. He said: "Nice to know, but what a shame I've already marked nearly 1,000 Shakespeare papers."

Many schools have now been sent their scripts back. But some have told The TES of receiving completely unmarked papers.

Catherine Winzor, head of St James CE Junior in Whitehaven, Cumbria, had seven boxes of unopened, unmarked papers sitting in her school on Tuesday.

The papers, three boxes of KS2 English and four boxes of KS3 science, were sent to a teacher at her school who is a KS2 maths marker.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, told MPs this week that 71 per cent of KS3 papers and 92 per cent of KS2 scripts were now marked. Lord Sutherland, former chief inspector, is to lead an inquiry into this year's marking for Ofqual, the regulator.

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