Exam results at the top performing primary school in Peterborough were declared invalid after an investigation revealed some papers had been altered once the tests had finished.
Eye CofE Primary School saw its 2017 Year 6 SATs papers for English grammar, punctuation and spelling annulled due to ‘maladministration’, the cause of which was never explained.
But a document uncovered by the PT has revealed that children’s script papers were changed after the exams had finished, prompting the government watchdog the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) to take action.
The full details can only now be revealed after a year-long campaign by the PT in the face of opposition from the school, Peterborough City Council and the STA, which all fiercely opposed the release of any documents relating to the annulment.
However, the PT’s campaign was successful when both the council and STA were ordered by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to release a letter outlining the overall findings of the investigation into Eye’s SATs results.
The ICO also rapped the council for breaching Freedom of Information (FOI) law.
The ‘letter to close’, which has now been released to the PT, stated: “A script investigation has identified evidence of amendments to a number of Key Stage 2 (Year 6) test scripts within the cohort, which were administered at Eye Church of England Primary School.
“The nature of the evidence identified from this review shows that the amendments can only have occurred after completion of the tests and outside of test conditions.”
The letter added: “It was decided that there was significant doubt over the English grammar punctuation and spelling: Paper 2 results for the school. It was decided that these results would be annulled for all pupils within the cohort.”
The investigation was carried out, the letter states, following “an allegation that pupils’ were being over-aided during the Key Stage 2 test administration at the school”.
Eye Primary headteacher Jason Webster, who declined to comment when the PT broke the story of its maladministration last year, said after being contacted this week that the allegation of pupils being over-aided had proved to be “unfounded”.
But he said the school had already apologised to parents and children affected and “do so again unreservedly”.
He added: “A small number of children were affected by what happened and we took every step we could to discover how it occurred and we have since taken steps to ensure that it does not happen again.”
Asked what changes the school has made, he replied: “We have increased the number of governors who act as independent observers in all the test rooms on each day of the tests.
“These governors also observe that the tests are securely locked away before the tests begin, they witness the papers being opened in front of the pupils, how the tests are carried out and how completed test scripts are returned for secure storage.
“We have also reduced the number of test rooms to help ensure we can more closely monitor our own procedures. Reducing the number of test rooms has ensured that there is a minimum of two adults supporting the test administration in all rooms.”
The PT, which broke the story of the school’s maladministration, has been campaigning for the release of all documents and emails relating to Eye Primary’s 2017 SATs results since last April under the Freedom of Information Act.
The act requires public bodies to release information that it holds within 20 working days unless it issues an exemption permitted by law, but it took the council nine months before it delivered a response which met legal requirements.
Remarkably, the authority then argued that because so much time had passed since the PT’s initial request, there was no longer any public interest in the matter.
The PT appealed to the ICO which said there was a “compelling public interest” in understanding why the SATs results had been annulled, although it decided the full investigation report into the matter should not be disclosed.
Eye was the top performing primary school in Peterborough in 2017, with 94 per cent of its pupils meeting the expected standard for reading, writing and maths.
When the PT first revealed the annulment of the test papers the council’s service director for education Jonathan Lewis said the papers were “inappropriately handled”.
The matter was only made public because the school was forced to write to parents explaining that their children’s results had been annulled, which led to a parent contacting the PT.
The letter written by Eye Primary to parents said the annulment was due to a “problem with the administration of the test”, but despite repeated requests for answers from the PT neither the school, nor the council nor the STA would reveal any more details.
The ICO is still deliberating as to whether it should ask the school to release a report produced by its Board of Governors into the annulled results.
The school has defended its decision not to release the documents, including telling the ombudsman that the PT has written “sensationalised” articles on the subject.
Asked if he agreed with that description, Mr Webster said: “A small number of children were affected by what happened and we took every step we could to discover how it occurred and we have since taken steps to ensure that it does not happen again.”
The PT asked the council if chief executive Gillian Beasley would take action after the council was found to have been in breach of the Freedom of Information Act.
A council spokeswoman said: “The ICO upheld our decision to withhold one document, however, it disagreed with our decision to withhold a second document.
“Weighing up the various aspects of the public interest test can often be difficult to judge.
“Gillian will be asking the council’s Director of Law & Governance to review the council’s response to identify any learning points for how we deal with similar requests in the future.”
Reacting to the order to release the ‘letter to close’, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “Any instances of maladministration of the national curriculum tests are completely unacceptable.
“Following an investigation by the Standards and Testing Agency, the 2017 results for ‘KS2 English grammar, punctuation and spelling: Paper 2’ were annulled at Eye Church of England Primary School.”
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