Will exam malpractice commission focus on complexity?

Independent commission launched to look at exam malpractice is also expected to investigate how to 'future-proof' system

Exams: What will the new exam malpractice commission report on?

An independent commission set up to look into cheating and other forms of exams malpractice is likely to focus on the complicated nature of instructions for exams officers, which can lead to inadvertent breaches of the rules, Tes understands.

The commission, chaired by Sir John Dunford, former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, will publish its findings next week.


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The commission was set up by the Joint Council for Qualifications, the membership body for exam boards, in July 2018.

Tes understands that the report is likely to highlight the need to simplify overly complex instructions to school leaders and exams officers.

'Complicated' exams guidance

In one JCQ guidance document on general regulations, a change in the rules obliges headteachers to notify awarding bodies if exams officers have family members entered for assessments “at the centre itself or at other centres".

Headteachers would also need to notify the awarding body if members of staff were teaching or preparing relatives or friends for qualifications taken at the centre.

In effect, this would mean that any teacher who helps one of their children or relatives with schoolwork for a qualification would need to notify the head of centre to avoid a breach of the rules.

The commission is expected to look at the number of changes to regulations each year, as well as the complicated wording of guidance documents, which may lead to unwitting malpractice.

There are 21 changes to the regulations this year, in the guidance for organising exams within schools published by JCQ. The changes to regulations each year are undated, and there is no index for exams officers to find alterations easily.

Six of this year's changes relate to the secure storage of exam papers once they are received by centres, while another change asks centres to alert the awarding body “immediately if material has been received in error”.

These changes may have been influenced by cases of leaked exam papers during this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams.

In June, Edexcel began investigating a leak after its A-level maths paper was circulated on “closed social networks” online. Seventy-eight pupils' results were withheld following the leak.

And in the same month, a leak of an AQA GCSE religious studies paper was investigated by police.

Tightened security measures on the storage of papers may help to prevent leaks in future.

In one change highlighted in the JCQ document, the guidance states: “At the point of delivery, the question paper packets, still in their despatch packaging, must be moved immediately to the secure room for checking and transferral to the centre’s secure storage facility.”

It is understood that the commission's report will also focus on the increasing use of new technology in incidents of malpractice.

Dunford has said previously that exam boards must keep abreast of technological change – such as the rising number of students who own smartwatches – to “future-proof” the qualifications system.

In 2018, mobile phones accounted for 75 per cent of all unauthorised materials in exams, and mobile phones accounted for 47 per cent of all student penalties – 1,295 penalties in 2018, compared with 1,060 in 2017 – a 22 per cent increase, according to data published by Ofqual.

Carrying a mobile phone was the main reason for student penalties.

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