Only four investigators for almost 800 cases of cheating in Sats exams

Eleanor Busby

The government has been criticised for taking a “half-hearted approach” to cheating in primary schools after it emerged that only four people are employed to investigate cases of maladministration in Sats exams each year.

Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request by education magazine Tes revealed that the investigators, none of whom have qualified teacher status, work at the government’s Standards and Testing Agency (STA) to look into hundreds of cases a year of cheating in statutory primary-school assessments.

Official figures from the STA revealed that 793 maladministration investigations were carried out in 2018 – a rise of more than 50 per cent in two years.

Calculations suggest that each of the four investigators would have been expected to cover more than one case every two working days last year.

The National Association for Primary Education (Nape) argues that more qualified staff are needed to ensure maladministration cases in primary schools are thoroughly investigated across the county.

A Nape spokesperson told Tes: “Since schools are not open for at least three months of the year, I would imagine that investigating such an allegation on the ground would take longer than two days.

“The fact that members of staff, including headteachers, are likely to be suspended from their posts while under investigation, strengthens the case for a more speedy resolution. Therefore, the need to appoint more staff to deal with this vexed area of Sats maladministration is a strong one.”

They added: “The government’s oversight of this situation should be a positive contribution, not a half-hearted approach to doling out punishment to those who are caught.“

Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “In a high-stakes testing system, where the penalties for failure are high, cases of maladministration are going to occur.

“They are signs of a system under pressure. No one wants schools to seek competitive advantage by adopting unethical practices.

“The way to eliminate such practices is not to create a larger apparatus of surveillance, but to lower the stakes of primary assessment, so that it becomes a way of supporting children’s learning, rather than of holding schools to account.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teachers and parents must have confidence in the integrity of the assessment system, which is why the department will always take allegations of maladministration seriously and take action where evidence of wrongdoing is found.”

They added that the maladministration team is supported by staff with qualified teacher status (QTS).

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