Watchdog says stronger safeguards needed to prevent teachers leaking exam papers

Teachers involved in exam setting may have to take annual oath of confidentiality, as watchdog acts to ensure public confidence in the exam system

Eleanor Busby

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The safeguards preventing teachers disclosing confidential information about exams should be strengthened to reduce the risk of malpractice, a new progress report from Ofqual says.

The exams regulator called for evidence in September about the benefits and risks of serving teachers also setting exam papers following claims some had leaked questions to their students.

And today Ofqual has released an update on their review of the rules about serving teachers setting exam papers after the concerns received national publicity this summer – which could involve teacher examiners taking an annual oath of confidentiality.

In August, Eton College's deputy headmaster left the school amid claims he leaked questions from a Pre-U economics exam following an investigation by the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). 

'Deeply damaging'

Today's report says: "While incidents of the type we saw this summer are rare, they can be deeply damaging to public confidence.  

"We believe the current safeguards should be strengthened to maintain public confidence in the exam system and reduce the risk of malpractice in future."

Ofqual is looking at options to address the risks in three categories: the processes used to produce confidential assessment materials, arrangements to support the appropriate behaviour of teachers who develop assessment materials, and improved detection of inappropriate disclosure where this occurs. 

The exams regulator will finalise their preferred package of safeguards in January 2018 on which they will then consult. 

But today's report suggests that teachers' involvement in the development of exam papers is unlikely to be stopped altogether. 

Teacher benefit

In a typical year, approximately 1,300 teachers are involved in writing the exams taken in England for GCSEs, AS and A-levels and the main alternative qualifications.

And Ofqual said today: "The exam system clearly benefits from the contributions of teachers and we believe that the system generally works well.

"There is a risk the quality of exam papers will decline if teachers are not permitted to contribute to their development.

"No other pool of people has the specific subject knowledge and understands how students across the ability range will respond to the questions."  

Instead, the exams regulator is considering a number of steps that exam boards could take to detect inappropriate disclosure of confidential information and to ensure teachers understand their responsibilities. 

These include: 

  • Maintaining up-to-date registers in which the conflicts of interests of all their examiners are recorded.
  • Having direct contact with each school and college that employs a teacher involved with developing assessments to make sure ethical practice is valued and supported.
  • Requiring annual declarations from teacher and examiners that they understand and at all times comply with their obligations to protect the confidentiality of assessment materials.
  • Routinely reviewing the work of students whose teacher had prior knowledge of the assessments to look for any unusual patterns in their responses.
  • Sampling the teaching plans and materials used by teachers who have prior knowledge of assessments to look for signs they are narrowing their teaching.
  • Extending their monitoring of social media to look for signs that confidential information has been disclosed.

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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