The police are investigating a leak of an Edexcel A-level maths paper as a “criminal matter”.
On Thursday night, photos were circulated on Twitter of the exam, which was due to be sat by students the following afternoon. Tweets accompanying the images offered the whole paper for £70.
It was the third time Edexcel’s A-level maths paper had been leaked in three years.
Pearson today said they had information the paper had also been "shared on closed networks", and revealed that the questions that are feared to have been compromised could be removed from the overall assessment "to ensure a level playing field".
The leak is believed to have taken place at a London school, with a Pearson spokesman revealing that the Metropolitan Police are investigating the incident.
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In a letter sent to exam centres today, Sharon Hague, Pearson’s senior for vice president for UK schools, said: “We now know the paper was also shared on closed networks before the exam, and we are currently conducting face-to-face interviews with the small number of people on closed networks who had access to the full version of the paper from where these images came from.”
“While it is, of course, impossible to be completely sure who has seen it, we have no evidence that this was widely shared and we are completing a thorough investigation.
“We know the vast majority of students want to get results through hard work and fair effort. As a result, we are always contacted by students who have been offered materials ahead of the exam and very few students have come to us through this route.”
Ms Hague said “decisive action” had been taken to secure the paper that was due to be sat, and that Pearson was able to “quickly narrow the source of the leak to a specific geographic area” because of its “enhanced security measures”. The company is reported to have begun adding microchips to exam packs that can flag when they have been prematurely opened.
Ms Hague went on: “We visited every school in that area and found one centre in serious breach of correct practice.
“As a result of further investigations, we retrieved sufficient information to inform the police and they will now investigate this as a criminal matter.
“We are extremely grateful for the support and cooperation of the schools we visited in these very unfortunate and difficult circumstances. There is no evidence that this linked to previous security breaches that have occurred.”
Ms Hague said that the paper was currently being marked, and that the board had the option to “remove” the questions which were made available prior to the exam – from the overall assessment “should we find evidence that this is necessary to ensure a level playing field”.
“In addition, we will undertake additional statistical analysis once the marking is completed which will be used to both consider individual student performance as well as that of the whole cohort.
“Together with the detailed interviews and investigations that are taking place with those that we believe are involved, we will be able to identify whether there are patterns in the results that are unusual for a particular centre or student.
“For those individuals found to be have been involved in malpractice, we will follow the JCQ guidance which can include withholding results for individual students.”
Ms Hague said Pearson recognised that exam season is a “stressful time for students”, and that the firm was “reviewing any further actions that we need to take to further protect the security of the remaining Further Maths papers and will be in touch with examinations officers separately, should any action be required”.
“I know that the vast majority of students take their examinations in good faith and will be concerned about the potential impact that this might have on their grades, again, I would like to reassure you and them that we will take all of the necessary action to ensure fairness to all students.”
In the letter, Ms Hague also tried to allay concerns about another of the maths paper, which triggered online petitions from pupils protesting it was "extremely difficult and unreasonable".
“Separately, some candidates have also raised concerns about the level of difficulty of paper 2. Grade boundaries are set on every paper each year in order to allow for any differences in the level of difficulty of an exam paper from one year to the next. As we do for every exam series, we will be analysing the evidence from a review of students’ scripts and statistical data to ensure that the grade boundaries are set fairly and reflect the level of demand of this year’s papers.”
The Metropolitan Police has been contacted for comment.