Standards and Testing Agency deemed “broadly” fit for purpose, despite “lack of strategy and oversight”

A new review into the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) found a lack of “end-to-end strategy”, data and oversight, as well as a “defensive and silo culture”.

This follows two security breaches – one in 2015 when a KS1 test was cancelled after spelling guidance was published online containing text words, and another in 2016 when the KS2 SPAG test was mistakenly uploaded online and leaked to the Guardian newspaper.

The review was set out to determine whether the agency is fit for purpose and can be relied upon to deliver a robust system for primary assessment, teacher skills and the collection of General Qualifications papers.

Whilst it highlighted some substantial shortcomings of the STA, the report concluded that the agency was “broadly fit for purpose”, but its staff were described as being under “enormous pressure” with a low morale.

There is a culture of defensiveness, with little sense of corporate ownership
or initiative across the Agency. Staff are not always empowered to make decisions,
and have little confidence in their own judgement. This means decisions are
inappropriately escalated, forcing the senior leadership into the position of
arbiters, rather than leaders.

STA staff are under enormous pressure to deliver a perfect process, given levels
of scrutiny, and the potential reputational impact of a mistake. Staff also feel bruised by recent events and morale is low.

Consequently, STA culture is defensive and risk-averse, with too many senior staff
not wanting to take the initiative, or pick up wider corporate issues that fall strictly outside of their direct responsibilities. Some of the behaviours modelled in the senior management team emphasise this silo focus, and mitigate against a corporate approach.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the review identified clear issues around strategic leadership at the agency, as well as “poor value for money and lack of customer focus”.

Claire Burton, Chief Executive of the STA, welcomed the review in her response and said the 2 breaches were “deeply regrettable and highlighted weaknesses in the agency’s practices”.

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