Incidents where teacher-examiners have leaked questions to their students ahead of exams have been "deeply corrosive to public confidence", a high-ranking Ofqual official has said.
Richard Garrett, the regulator's director of strategic relationships, also said that social media posed "new challenges" to protecting the integrity of exams, though he added that it sometimes helped instances of malpractice to "come to light".
Last summer Eton College's deputy headmaster left the school following an investigation by Cambridge International Examinations, amid claims that he leaked questions from a Pre-U economics exam which he had helped set. A teacher at Winchester College was also suspended in relation to similar claims.
Speaking this morning at a Westminster Education Forum event in London, Mr Garrett said: “This summer there were two well-publicised incidents when teachers involved in writing exam papers disclosed confidential information to their students.”
"Incidents of this type are deeply corrosive to public confidence," he said.
Exams 'benefit' from teachers
Mr Garrett said that Ofqual had looked at preventing teachers from setting questions but had concluded: “the exam system benefits greatly from teachers contributing to papers".
“There would be significant risk to the quality of papers if we took any action to restrict teachers from being able to contribute,” he said.
However, he said Ofqual would launch a consultation later this month on "changes to our rules and guidance relating to how papers are produced".
This would look at "things like whether or not teachers would know that the questions they’ve written would be used in a particular year", he said.
It would also cover Ofqual's "expectations for the support that’s available to those who are undertaking these [teacher-examiner] roles…and our expectations in relation to the way in which examiners monitor and look for and try and detect malpractice in the system.”
Clamping down on malpractice
In separate incidents last summer, details of A-level maths and economics papers were leaked via social media. Mr Garrett said that this technology posed "new challenges" to maintaining the integrity of exams.
"Something can be all around the world in seconds. It does present new challenges. It does mean that increased emphasis [is needed] really about the security of materials – and making sure that all of the expectations that are there about the security of materials are followed."
However, he said that social media also had some "benefits" for those tasked with clamping down on exam malpractice.
"The issues don’t all just go one way," he said. "One of the things that’s also the case is that some instances of malpractice and of problems in the system perhaps can also come to light through social media.
"It’s much harder if you like for people to keep to a small area certain issues."
He added: "There’s two sides to the coin with social media – there are some new challenges around security but there are perhaps some other benefits."