Sheerman stokes fires over Boston's QCA departure

22nd May 2009 at 01:00

The Chairman of the Commons schools select committee has told ministers their actions following last year's national tests marking fiasco smacked of a "conspiracy".

Labour MP Barry Sheerman questioned the actions of Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, and David Bell, permanent secretary at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, in the aftermath of the Sats shambles which delayed the results of 1.2 million pupils and led to the suspension and subsequent resignation of Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Mr Sheerman told his committee on Wednesday that Dr Boston was "frustrated" by his suspension, which prevented him from being able to give evidence to the committee for three to four months after offering his resignation.

The accusation of a "conspiracy" came after Dr Boston complained that he had not seen a letter from Mr Knight admitting that he had made an error about Dr Boston being at a meeting on June 17 last year. Mr Sheerman said: "Ken Boston's frustration was (due to the fact that) you or the QCA suspended him for about three and a half to four months, which made him unable to come to this committee and give evidence.

"He was in limbo, couldn't give evidence to anyone, couldn't speak to anyone. He was not on gardening leave: he was suspended. We contacted him: 'Will you come in and see the committee? He said: 'I can't, I'm suspended'.

"To add to that, when he eventually comes to the committee he finds this letter that he has no knowledge of. So it does look like a bit of a conspiracy, doesn't it?"

Mr Balls said that any suggestion of an attempt to "mislead or conceal" was completely "untrue". As soon as Mr Knight's mistake was known, a letter was sent to the Sutherland inquiry - which was investigating the marking problem - and to the select committee to highlight the mistake. Furthermore, Lord Sutherland stated that the error had "no effect" on his findings or conclusion, he said.

The Conservatives accused the department of continuing to employ the politics of "cosy stitch-ups", and called for Mr Balls to publish his correspondence with Dr Boston.

Nick Gibb, the shadow schools minister, said: "We cannot continue with the politics of cosy stitch-ups behind closed doors. Ministers should publish all evidence submitted to the Sutherland inquiry immediately and subject themselves to proper scrutiny.

"Until they do so, we can't be sure that we won't see a repeat of last summer's Sats fiasco this year."

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