English tests for 14-year-olds were "plagued with a myriad of errors", a devastating official report showed this week as pupils' results were published three months late.
Jonathan Ford, the pound;129,000-a-year managing director of the National Assessment Agency held responsible for the fiasco, resigned after the report found the tests flawed from start to finish.
Hundreds of schools complained about this year's results after some pupils were awarded grades up to five levels lower than expected. Most have received corrected results in the past few weeks but more than 500 still have not had their final scores. The problems were revealed by The TES in July.
Published results showed that the number of pupils reaching the expected level in English increased from 69 per cent in 2003 to 71 per cent. The Government's 2004 target was 75 per cent.
But the results were overshadowed by the findings of the group set up by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to examine complaints. The assessment agency is part of the QCA.
The group was inundated with frustrated and disillusioned submissions from secondary schools angry that results were delivered late and without being properly checked. It found that administration of the tests was "plagued with a myriad of issues and errors".
"The whole process was characterised by poor leadership and inadequate project management," the report added. The Government was criticised for not adopting a more "hands-on" role.
Exam board AQA and Pearson, which ran the online results system, also faced criticism.
But the review group did not support schools' complaints about the quality of marking itself. The group recommended that a team with members from all the organisations involved should be set up to oversee future tests and called for changes in the way in which pupils' results are checked.
Ken Boston, QCA chief executive, apologised to schools for the failures. He said: "I give my personal commitment that the QCA will take forward the recommendations to ensure that we have a smooth tests process in 2005."
Dr Boston, who last year received the highest pay package in education - Pounds 242,000 - was appointed following the A-level marking fiasco in 2002.
David Hart, National Association of Head Teachers general secretary, said:
"The report completely vindicates the complaints from secondary schools."
League tables for 14-year-olds are now not expected until March.
The results published this week show a decline in numbers reaching the expected level 5 in reading, from 68 per cent last year to 65 per cent in 2004. Writing scores rose seven points to 72 per cent. Overall, boys narrowed the gender gap by a single percentage point but with 64 per cent gaining the expected level, they remain 13 points behind girls. The number of pupils reaching level 6 fell from 35 to 34 per cent.