The Department for Education suffered a second major embarrassment over its controversial exams for primary school pupils, after answers for a test due to be sat by all 10- and 11-year-olds in England were leaked online.
Nearly 600,000 year 6 state school pupils are to sit the test of spelling, punctuation and grammar (Spag) on Tuesday, but it emerged that both the test paper and its answers were posted to a website the day before by the department’s contractor, Pearson.
The error means that the answers – such as lists of words pupils were to be asked to spell – could have easily been downloaded, copied and distributed a day ahead of the crucial test, potentially allowing parents and teachers to teach pupils the correct answers.
Labour accused the education department of compromising the test, which was already a subject of national protests last week by parents concerned that primary-age pupils were being placed under too much pressure, and criticism from authors such as Philip Pullman claimed the tests themselves were too demanding.
It is the second time in just the space of three weeks that the department has been embarrassed in its attempts to impose tougher Spag tests on primary school pupils.
Last month the scheduled Spag test for six- and seven-year-olds at key stage 1 had to be scrapped after the education department’s testing agency mistakenly included the actual test paper within a bundle of practice material published three months earlier.
Lucy Powell, Labour’s education secretary, called for an emergency review of the assessment programme, and said the leaked tests “call into question the ability of ministers in the department to properly manage our education system”, as well as undermining parent and teacher confidence.
“The failure to ensure integrity in primary assessment lies at the door of education ministers who have meddled in the primary curriculum on personal whim, causing chaos and confusion in the system with their constant chopping and changing,” Powell said.
“Their lax attitude to delivering these assessments on time and in a proper fashion means that the work of thousands of children, parents and teachers could be for nothing. Ministers must undertake an emergency review to assure parents and teachers of the reliability of the primary assessment system.”
The latest leak was caused when Pearson, the multinational education publisher responsible for administering the Sats, uploaded the answers and questions on to a dedicated website for exam markers a day before it was scheduled to do so.
The education department conformed that the test paper and answers had been uploaded to the site. The site was taken offline on Monday evening.
A spokesman said: “We are aware that Pearson, the external marking supplier responsible for key stage 2 tests, published the key stage 2 grammar, punctuation and spelling test on its secure marker site, for a short period of time. We are urgently investigating this breach.
“The site can only be accessed by Pearson’s approved markers, all of whom are under secure contract. Any distribution of materials constitutes a clear breach of that contract.”
The site is password-protected, so that only registered users could access the papers. But with many primary school teachers also acting as markers, Pearson’s blunder left the department vulnerable to accusations that the test had been compromised.
The new key stage 2 tests for 10- and 11-year-olds have also been widely criticised by teachers and parents who say they are too difficult for the age group. Last week parents across the country took their children out of school in protest at the tests.
One experienced primary school headteacher said the new grammar tests due to be sat by 10- and 11-year-olds this week would have stumped Jane Austen. “I have a degree in English language and there are a number of questions that I couldn’t answer,” she said.
Labour, meanwhile, has complained about the confusion surrounding the new tests, with Powell claiming the department had published, updated or clarified at least one document on primary school testing every other working day since the new school year began in September.
Following Monday’s English reading test for key stage 2, some teachers complained on Twitter that children were left in tears, while others said there was not enough time and their pupils had been unable to finish the test.