More than 2,000 users of the social media platform Discord are sharing information on "exams" in around 70 “channels” that contain information on the questions they are likely to face in a wide range of subjects.
In some cases, papers – at Advanced Higher, Higher and National 5 – are being shared in their entirety; in other cases, sections of "exams" are being shared.
The news follows the Tes Scotland exclusive earlier this week about exam questions being leaked on the video sharing platform TikTok, which led to the first minister Nicola Sturgeon facing questions, during her coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, on how assessment is being carried out this year.
Students who have already taken the tests – which are routinely being described as "exams", despite insistence from government ministers and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) that there are to be no exams this year – are passing on information about the questions they had to answer, while other students are being encouraged to try and take pictures of papers they are due to sit.
Discord is a platform that allows communities or "servers" to be set up so participants can communicate with voice calls, video calls, text messaging, media and files.
In the N5 maths channel, one user shared the questions they had “memorised” from the calculator paper “and a few of the answers”. Another user says: “I can confirm this is all true."
In the N5 biology channel, a user comments that, “Biology is almost the only subject that there isnt a single picture of the actual exam."
The teachers who contacted Tes Scotland about students migrating to social media platforms such as Discord to share information are adamant that the children should not be blamed.
One teacher said: “I entirely blame the SQA and the government – this is incredibly mismanaged. I've had lots of pupils try to cheat who wouldn't normally; and it's entirely down to the pressure that's being put on them.
SQA assessment: Students 'under tremendous pressure'
“They've been given less notice to sit more assessments. It's immoral. I don't blame the pupils at all – but the issue is that it impacts other pupils who aren't cheating.”
Another teacher – who thought the students had moved to Discord because it would be “less obvious that TikTok” – said the current assessment system had failed them.
The teacher said: “Anyone who did not think that this was going to happen clearly does not understand the tremendous pressure that has been put on our young people. Students are desperate to grasp any shred of assistance, help or hope that they can.
“The SQA had ample time to put in place a true alternative certification model but their failure to do so has left students and staff stressed, with a system that does not recognise the disruption of the last year.
“And now it has created further inequity between students who have already sat these papers, versus those who now have access to them.”
A common theme in all the channels on the SQA Discord server – which was set up on Wednesday evening and at the time of writing had 2,059 members – is students discussing whether or not the information being posted is accurate.
Although it is often unclear whether papers are the ones that students will actually sit, teachers have confirmed to Tes Scotland that the content being shared, in at least some instances, is genuine.
One teacher said: “We have pupils sitting a Higher paper on Monday and the questions for that are available on Discord.”
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The Scottish government and the SQA have insisted – following the cancellation of the usual SQA exams this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – that there is no need to “replicate full formal exams or prelims this year”.
However, many schools are using the 2020 exam papers that were never sat as a means of assessing students and this will provide evidence of students’ provisional results.
The problem is that the approach to assessment this year differs from school to school, which means students are sitting the 2020 exam paper, in part or in full, at different times and are therefore able to share the content.
Earlier this week Tes Scotland reported on a TikTok post related to the exams that contained information on the questions students were facing in a wide range of subjects in the 4,000-plus comments that followed. That post had over 160,000 views.
In response, the SQA said that "appropriate penalties should be applied" by schools and colleges if cases of "candidate malpractice" are identified.
On Discord, however, participants are warned “don’t use your real name on this discord in case someone snitches”. There are a wide range of usernames but some students have opted for “John Swinney”, others “Nicola Sturgeon”.
Discussions among the students touch on what will happen if it is uncovered “abt answers being spread n stuff” and if papers might change. But they say “surely they won’t have enough time".
In total there are 13 "channels" relating to the exams at Advanced Higher; 32 Higher "channels"; and 24 "channels" on the N5 exams. The subjects covered range from physics, English and maths to business, accounting, and engineering.
An SQA spokesperson said: “The security and confidentiality of assessment material protects its integrity and helps ensure fairness to all learners. SQA has provided secure assessment materials to help teachers and lecturers gather evidence for provisional results, if they choose to use them. Teachers and lecturers have the flexibility to decide how and when to use these materials, which can be used in part or in their entirety. However, we are taking these incidents very seriously and are contacting schools and colleges to ensure that posts are removed as soon as possible.”
The SQA also stated the following:
- "SQA has reminded schools and colleges of the guidance provided last month regarding the security and confidentiality of assessment materials.
- "Learners should also be reminded that they must not discuss or share the content of such materials.
- "As National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications are being assessed internally this year, any malpractice concerns will be managed by schools and colleges.
- "If a school or college is made aware of a potential case of malpractice, not only should they notify SQA, but also apply their own malpractice procedures as quickly as possible."
In an open letter to first minister Nicola Sturgeon and the SQA, the executive director of national parents' organisation Connect said that young people are doing assessments which are, in effect, exams "within school time".
Eileen Prior warned that pupils face "an even more challenging timetable than SQA exams" and, with no study leave, have been driven to "cram for tests rather than to learn".
She added: "We also understand that these tests, with answers, are being circulated on TikTok.
"How can there be any hope of this being a fair system, when indeed different schools are adopting different approaches?"