Put to the test getting the tests

6th November 2009 at 00:00

All I am trying to do is order this year's key stage 1 tests. I find the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency website and tap in my email address and password. Simple. Should have everything sorted before assembly.

I get a message saying that something I have typed isn't correct, so I try again and get the same message. I know the email address is correct, so I phone to check the password.

A pleasant lady answers and asks for the school's DCSF number. Then she asks me to confirm the school's name and address, just for security purposes. That all seems OK. She asks my name and my job title. Yep, that's all fine too, and she wants to know how she can help. I explain the problem and she tells me that I can't use last year's password. They need changing every year and I must compose a new one.

Back on the website, I think of a new password, one I'll remember easily, and I confirm it in the next checkbox. One click and I can complete this test ordering and get off to assembly. It doesn't work, so I phone again. A different lady answers, asks for the school's DCSF number and could I please confirm the school's address and who I am. Just for security purposes.

Then she tells me I can't choose any old password. If I care to look at the site carefully, it tells me that the password must contain at least eight characters, with upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbol characters. I also have to copy a hard-to-read security coding that appears on the screen.

Time is at a premium, so I return two hours later and construct a password on paper before typing it in. Then I copy the additional security code and press submit. A message in red tells me it has not worked. More than a little irritated now, I phone again. "Sorry sir, but we can't answer any questions until you have given the school's DCSF number, a confirmation of the address and your job title. For security purposes, sir."

The lady sympathises with my frustration and says that their controllers will reset the screen and email me a new foolproof password within 24 hours. She is as good as her word and I type the new one in. It doesn't work.

This is the stuff of stress, so I go away, have some coffee, do lots of other jobs and return to it the next afternoon. I telephone and say: "Look, all I want to do is order some tests. Can't I please, oh please, just do it over the phone?" I'm told: "Sorry, Sir. We are not permitted to do that. However, when there are continuing problems with passwords, we do accept telephone orders, although it's us that will have to ring you, and we can't do that until later next week. For security purposes, you understand."

I then ask if I can speak to the supervisor about my predicament, but get: "Sorry, she has gone home now. It's after five."

I put the phone down and stare at the computer screen in bewilderment. Who, I wonder, is the raving idiot responsible for this ludicrous level of so-called security? It's bad enough that our infants are subjected to these awful tests, but breaking into Fort Knox would be a doddle compared with getting hold of a set. And why this ridiculous insistence on such complex passwords? I can only assume that the boxes of tests are so highly prized the underworld would give an arm and a leg to get hold of them.

I give up and go to Sainsbury's. At least the PIN number on my credit card only has four numbers. Even I can handle that.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary School in Camberwell, South London. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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