What keeps me awake at night - Making a mockery of our efforts to help

10th January 2014 at 00:00

A few nights ago, I received a Facebook message that left me in despair. A colleague informed me that student X had apparently obtained a copy of the mark scheme for the mock exam we had just run - and had allegedly used it. Student X's best friend had gained an uncommonly high score, as had a number of other students.

Immediately, we made a plan of action. We decided to look at the exam room CCTV the next day and to prepare different papers for the suspects for the rest of mock season. We emailed colleagues, warning them to be particularly vigilant in exams and asking them to inform us if they spotted any unusual results. And we contacted the deputy headteacher to arrange suitable punishments and resits. All this before bedtime.

The incident left me feeling distressed, for two reasons.

The first is that I was relying on the mock exams to devise a programme of intervention for underachieving students. Mocks are the best means of ascertaining which students are falling behind, in order to target support. I had plans to set up support groups for underachieving, high-ability students, and to make course changes that would allow students to benefit from a different structure.

But now I can't rely on the data from the mock exams, so I can't support students in the way that best meets their needs. I am absolutely heartbroken by this.

The second reason why I am so distressed is that the papers we were using were not generally available: they were from the secure materials section of the exam board's website, accessible only to schools. So how did the students get hold of them? We tracked the mark schemes to another school's website where, astonishingly, they were openly available.

The teachers at that school should know better. The value of reliable mock exams cannot be overstated, particularly now that, in England, there are no opportunities for resits. It saddens me deeply that those teachers have scuppered this chance for my school to make a difference - and perhaps for other schools up and down the country.

The writer is a teacher in London

Tell us what keeps you awake at night

Email jon.severs@tes.co.uk.

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