DfE doesn’t make it easy to respond to Key Stage 4 Qualifications consultation

Janet Downs's picture
The Government’s plans for examinations at age 16 are deeply flawed – unimaginative, backward-looking and out-of-touch.  The consultation’s based on false premises and fails to address whether it matches the best in the world.

However, as Fiona Millar argues, it’s essential that people respond.

So, what can those responding to the questionnaire expect? Here are some hints:

First, download the consultation. Now, I’m not a computer whizz kid and didn’t realise the significance of the downloaded document changing from the ending .doc to another ending .wps. Tell the truth, I didn’t even notice, but this brought problems later.

Second, complete the consultation. But this isn’t easy – whoever designed the form should never be allowed to do so again.

1 There are blue boxes and white boxes. Blue boxes contain columns and more boxes. White boxes let you type lengthy comments.

2 Blue boxes usually have three headings: “Yes, No, Not sure” is typical. But there are six columns. The first column contains a side heading, usually “Comments:”. But the column is so thin that "Comments:" straddles four lines.  Two of the six columns are superfluous.

3 The columns are not the same width. Some are so narrow that any word longer than, say, six letters is split into two. In one particularly bad case the column only allows two letters to be typed before bouncing to the next line.

4 The form asks you to mark some boxes but doesn’t say how. So, choose your own mark: a tick perhaps, an asterisk or even an emoticon.

5 The questions presuppose that the new 16+ exam has already been more-or-less decided and only the finer details remain (eg grading structure, how much curriculum time should be allocated to English Baccalaureate Certificate subjects).  Don't expect any deep questions about the philosophy behind the tests or how they contribute to a child's education.

Third, save the questionnaire and upload it. This should be easy. There’s a link on the DfE page called “online form” which is supposed to help you upload your response. But there are further obstacles: first you have to decipher one of those captcha images – a wobbly string of letters where a tumbling x looks like a t, and g resembles q. If you successfully reproduce the squiggle you will reach another page where you can attach your questionnaire. But if your completed questionnaire was saved in a format with .wps at the end (like mine) then you will receive this message:

“The file 'reforming key stage 4 response form 3.wps' is not a format we accept. For more information see note below”

If you are more competent than I am with the inner workings of computers then you will probably be crying with laughter at this point. I’ve since discovered that it might be possible to convert documents ending .wps into ones ending .doc which the DfE will accept. But I took the easy option – I emailed my completed questionnaire to the Department.

I’ve requested an acknowledgement. It hasn’t yet arrived.

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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 15/11/2012 - 12:25


An MS Works programme discontinued by Microsoft in 2008.

Time to write to Santa at the North Pole and drop a heavy hint about a new software package (or maybe a whole new computer) for Christmas.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/11/2012 - 15:54

Dear Santa - you needn't send me a new computer, the one I've got isn't very old. Someone stuck a Works programme on it but I never use it although sometimes, as I've found out, some downloaded stuff comes in this format.

I've since discovered that I can change the .wps (henceforth called woopsy) into docs. However, I think the woopsy dumped on my computer by the DfE was their error. They've sent me an apologetic email saying there was technical fault, the site was suspended and an interim one put in its place. Normally, users could complete consultations online but the MSWord document wasn't set up to be completed electronically.

The DfE says it's got my response. The question is: can they read it?

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