The marking of SATs (national exams for children aged 11 and 14) is a national joke with many papers unmarked and some not even collected. These were outsourced for the first time this year but, we are reassured by a government spokesman, all the proper procurement procedure was followed in selecting the company to do it.
This reminds me of the old 19th century verdict on amputations, that “the operation was a success but the patient died”. The fact is that most government procedure is a bureaucratic joke and if it chooses the best supplier it is probably by accident.
Reality check: The process chose the wrong company to mark the SATs papers. Rather than checking if the right boxes were ticked during the process, they should be asking "What is wrong with our procurement system that we cocked up so badly?"
Any of us who have been through government procurement can give some clues. In a recent government tender for IT training, there was just one question on IT training itself and 37 on health & safety (learning about computers being a notoriously dangerous practice).
The bid by Happy Computers was thrown out because the accounts were slightly out of date, a requirement that wasn’t even specified. The fact that a survey by the same body had found Happy to be the most employer-focused provider, and the one most highly regarded by its clients, of any in the UK was apparently irrelevant compared to the 3 month delay in posting accounts.
There clearly need to be formal controls in procurement to stop corruption and to ensure responsible companies are chosen. Would it be so radical to have a process that was simple, that involved minimal paperwork and that focused on the company’s ability to actually do the job?
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