You'd think it would all be easy, post-Sats

6th June 2008 at 01:00
Well, this year's Sats are history now
Well, this year's Sats are history now. As usual, Year 6 worried themselves silly, dropped their pencils, ate their rubbers, broke their rulers and wrestled with calculators whose solar panels always seem to pack up in test week.

But as the Sats ended, so my own troubles began. You'd think that sending the tests to external markers would be easy. Pop the test papers in bags, attach a sticky label with the marker's address, and then take the bags to the post office. It used to be like that, more or less.

But this year, everything changed. The three subjects are never marked by the same person, and in the past it seems many schools had mixed the papers in the bags, causing huge problems with getting the right papers to the right markers.

So now all the packages were to go to a central depot, where the outer bags would be discarded, and the inner bags checked before mailing them on to the people who would mark. I had no problem with that, provided it worked.

Unfortunately, it didn't. Checking through our mailing kit earlier in Sats week, we discovered that we had the outer bags for mailing to the depot, but no inner bags to put the markers' labels on. Without the inner bags we had nothing to seal the tests in, and therefore nothing to put in the outer bag.

A fat booklet of rules and instructions came with the kit, and since it included a phone number, one of my Year 6 teachers rang it immediately.

It took a while to get through, as she was sixth in line, but eventually a lady answered the phone. 'No problem,' she said, 'We'll get some off to you straight away.'

When nothing had arrived three days later, my teacher rang again, just to make certain the bags were on their way. This time she was fifteenth in line and after hanging on for 40 minutes, she spoke to an operator who asked her to hang on, because she'd check.

Within seconds, my teacher was cut off. She rang again. Tenth in line this time. After an eternity a disgruntled voice eventually told her it wasn't possible to check whether the bags had been posted, because the place was in chaos, but here was the depot number to try. The number was unobtainable.

Meanwhile, my other Year 6 teacher was attempting to log on to the National Assessment Agency, to complete the register of children who'd taken the tests. This year's new streamlined process meant we had to do it online, rather than using pencil and paper.

As usual with this kind of site, an ID number and a PIN number were required, just in case a band of ruffians was out to flog our Sats results to the highest bidder in Kazakhstan. Our PIN, so carefully stored, didn't work.

Never mind, there was a helpdesk, so I rang the number. Could they give me another PIN? I just need to tick the register. No, it seemed they couldn't ... security, you understand. They could post or e-mail another one to me, but unfortunately it would take at least 72 hours.

Four nights later, our new PIN arrived at my in-box and, hurrah, it worked. Until the next morning, when the site refused to let me in again.

After four more PINs, I managed to get one that worked. And the bags did eventually arrive ... at exactly the same time as a collection courier, who gave us just five minutes to pack them.

The words "party" and "brewery" spring readily to mind.

Mike Kent, Headteacher of Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London.

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