Reporter’s take: Why have we seen more exam leaks?

After three A-level leaks in three years, Tes reporter Will Hazell looks at what exam boards can do about it

Will Hazell

Exam leaks A level GCSE

If you had a feeling of déjà vu last Friday afternoon, you weren’t alone.

For the third time in three years, questions from Edexcel’s A-level maths paper were leaked on social media shortly before the exam was due to start, with posts offering the full paper for £70

We don’t know the precise circumstances of the leak yet. Pearson, the owners of the Edexcel exam board, said they identified one exam centre “in serious breach of correct practice”, and they have referred the case to the police as a “criminal matter”.

How the story broke: Edexcel investigating A-level maths exam leak

Police probe: Investigation into ‘criminal’ A-level maths leak

Read: Exam cheating commission wants to 'future proof' the system

The incident capped off a dreadful week for Edexcel and has forced it to replace a paper for A-level further maths, which was also subject to a breach at the school or college under investigation. To rub salt into the wounds, the board could be stung by a fine from the exam regulator Ofqual.

Beyond the immediate fallout, the leak prompts several questions. Why Edexcel A-level maths? And is there anything exam boards can do to plug the leaks?

To answer the first one, maths is the highest entry A level, and the Edexcel paper is the most popular – 60,000 candidates sat it this year. It’s also a challenging and high-stakes qualification, featuring among the A levels needed to gain entry to competitive university courses like medicine and veterinary science. For unscrupulous individuals looking to make a buck, it’s a tempting target.

The boards insist they have invested a huge amount in recent years to guard against leaks. They use sophisticated technology which can allow them to accurately pinpoint where a breach has taken place.

Unfortunately, this still means boards are essentially in reactive mode, closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Like many organisations, they have been upended by the rise of social media and instant messaging. It only takes one leak for sensitive material to be splashed all over the internet. As well as compromising the assessment, social media allows confusion and anxiety to spread like wildfire among pupils after a leak.

But while technology might be the problem, it could also be the solution. Boards are looking at using artificial intelligence to detect “abnormal” results. And rather than sending out hard copies of papers weeks in advance, candidates could access exams on electronic devices (though their answers might still be on paper). If boards got wind of a leak, they could replace the paper literally minutes before the exam starts.

That brave new world is some years away. In the meantime, all eyes will be on Sir John Dunford’s independent commission into exam malpractice, which is due to report in September.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

Latest stories

New headteachers - here are 9 things you need to know

Headteacher wellbeing and sources of 'streth'

Former headteacher Chris McDermott set out to find out the true causes of leader stress and support – and in doing so coined a whole new term, as he explains here
Chris McDermott 2 Dec 2021
Transdisciplinary learning: how to embed it in your school

Why you need a transdisciplinary curriculum

At the Aspirations Academies, six hours a week are dedicated to applied transdisciplinary learning - but how does it work? And should you apply something similar at your school?
Steve Kenning 2 Dec 2021
Expert governors can now come and help schools and trusts

Why schools and trusts can now hire 'expert governors'

Providing access to expert governors for struggling settings - or those willing to pay £500 a day for their insights - could have a huge benefit across education, claims the National Governance Association
Emily Attwood 2 Dec 2021