Doomed spelling and grammar test cost government £1 million

The government spent almost £1 million developing this year’s doomed key stage 1 spelling and grammar test, Schools Week can exclusively reveal.

Information released under the freedom of information act shows the Department for Education spent at least £952,602 on developing the spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG) test for seven-year-olds, only to have to abandon the test months later after the paper was leaked online.

The schools minister Nick Gibb announced in April that primary schools would not have to administer the controversial test in May, and ordered an investigation after Schools Week revealed that the paper had been available to download from the website of the Standards and Testing Agency for several months.

Now it has been confirmed that hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent on the design, trialing and production of the tests by external organisations, and it is not yet known how much of the work, if any, can be carried over into next year.

Angela Rayner MP
Angela Rayner MP

Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said: “I am appalled at this shocking waste of public money which has been revealed by Schools Week.

“If a teacher or a school had been responsible for such a monumental security blunder, heads would have rolled. Now thanks to Schools Week, we have found out the full cost, yet the schools minister Nick Gibb is still in his job.

“And we are still waiting to find out the full outcome of the ‘root and branch’ investigation which was promised. People in education will wonder ‘where is the justice?’”

Rayner claimed that the debacle was a “direct result of the government’s incompetence and mishandling” of the test, which “affected more than half a million primary school children”.

The information released this morning – three days after the end of the 20-day statutory response period – shows that the largest chunk of the spending was for the trial of the test, for which £468,114 was paid out to the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

The government also shelled out £156,709 to Granby Marketing for “collation”, while £145,285 was spent on print and production with the communications firm Communisis.

Other costs included £80,000 paid to schools, councils and education experts for “quality assurance and review”, £35,000 to printing solutions company Pia for “modification” and £28,520 for “item writing” conducted by NFER and the University of New South Wales in Australia.

But the actual total amount spent on the test is likely to be even larger because the figure released by the department does not account for staff time, which is not calculated on a project-by-project basis.

“If a teacher or a school had been responsible for such a monumental security blunder, heads would have rolled.” – Angela Rayner

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said teachers and parents would be “horrified” that the government had “wasted nearly £1 million due to its incompetent implementation of its rushed SATs reform”, particularly when school budgets are under “intense pressure”.

“The department needs to learn lessons from the shambles of this year’s SATs,” said Bousted, who added that

teachers had been designing effective tests “for free for years”, and were able to judge pupil performance without the SPAG test.

The leak of the test paper, which has been blamed on “human error” was just one of a series of embarassing blunders for the government’s assessment reform programme.

Earlier in April, the government was forced to abandon the use of controversial new primary baseline tests as a school performance measure after a study revealed problems with comparability.

And in May, the answers to a key stage 2 English test were uploaded onto a password-protected site accessible to exam markers the night before pupils were due to sit it.

A government spokesperson said key stage 1 tests had an “important part to play” in its drive to raise standards, as they “help teachers assess pupils’ progress and identify early where extra help may be needed”.

He added: “The costs involved in developing this years KS1 grammar, punctuation and spelling test will be offset against the cost of developing and trialing future KS1 assessments.

“The KS1 grammar, punctuation and spelling test breach was clearly regrettable, and a root and branch review is underway to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Schools were still free to administer the test this year, and to use it to help pupils master essential skills.”

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