Thursday 23 November 2017

Examiners ‘tipping off’ teachers investigation finds

Alison Kershaw

AN URGENT inquiry into England's exams system has been ordered amid claims that examiners have secretly been advising teachers on how to boost GCSE and A-level results.

An investigation by the Daily Telegraph has found evidence of teachers paying hundreds of pounds a day to attend seminars in which senior examiners offer detailed advice on how pupils can score higher marks in papers.

In one case, the newspaper reported it had recorded a chief examiner informing attendees which questions pupils would face in their next exams, and telling them "we're cheating".

Education Secretary Michael Gove has ordered the exams regulator Ofqual to conduct an urgent inquiry into the allegations, which will report back before Christmas.

In a statement, Mr Gove said that the revelations "confirm that the current system is discredited".

"I have asked Glenys Stacey (chief executive of Ofqual) to investigate the specific concerns identified by the Telegraph, to examine every aspect of the exam boards' conduct which gives rise to concern and to report back to me within two weeks with her conclusions and recommendations for further action," he said.

According to the Telegraph, teachers have paid up to £230 a day for seminars hosted by chief examiners during which they are given advice on the wording students should use to increase their marks.

The examiner who allegedly told teachers which questions their pupils could expect to see in their next exams was said to have been recorded as saying "we're cheating".

"We're telling you the cycle (of the compulsory question). Probably the regulator will tell us off," the Telegraph reported.

The newspaper said its investigation had exposed a system of exam boards competing to win business from schools.

It claimed the boards involved had promised to investigate whether individual examiners broke the rules.

In his statement, Mr Gove said: "As I have always maintained, it is crucial our exams hold their own with the best in the world.

"We will take whatever action is necessary to restore faith in our exam system. Nothing is off the table."

An Ofqual spokesman said: "We have made it clear that this is an issue of significant interest to us. Exams must be run in a way that is fair and open to all candidates.

"We have introduced new regulations to tighten up the requirements awarding organisations must meet to make sure their commercial activities do not impact on the standards and integrity of qualifications. Failure to meet these standards will result in regulatory action.

"We have also recently launched a programme of work to look in detail at possible conflicts of interest in the provision of qualifications, in particular study aids such as text books and training sessions, and have notified government of our determination to tackle any issues this work identifies.

"We therefore welcome the information gathered by the Telegraph and will be interested to study the evidence."

The investigation comes amid growing concern about exams standards and fears that exams have been progressively "dumbed down".

In an interview in June, Mr Gove warned that exams have become easier and the testing system is now "discredited".

He said: "I want to refocus our curriculum to get rid of unnecessary extras and change our discredited exam system."

And at a conference organised by Ofqual in October, Mr Gove said: "It's important that collectively we recognise that exam boards and awarding bodies, in the natural and healthy desire to be the best as an exam board, don't succumb to the commercial temptation to elbow others out of the way, by saying to schools and to others 'we provide an easier route to more passes than others'."

This summer 8.2% of entries were awarded an A* at A-level while more than one in four (27%) exams achieved at least an A.

Last year, there were more than 370,000 A* grades achieved at GCSE, compared to 114,000 in 1994.

And in the last 15 years, the proportion of pupils achieving at least one A at A-level has risen by around 11 percentage points.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "These allegations are extremely serious and go to the heart of a fair system of examinations. The investigation by Ofqual must leave no stone unturned.

"Parents rightly expect that their children are taking tests on a level playing field with others. The Government must act quickly and decisively to ensure faith in A-levels and GCSEs."

Edexcel, one of England's main exam boards, said that, like all awarding bodies, it runs "feedback events" for teachers which look back at the previous year's exams.

"We are certain that Edexcel exams meet the same standards as those of other awarding bodies. We do not actively market them as easier exams.

"When this has happened in the past, we have acted quickly to tighten up internal controls to ensure it does not happen again."

The statement added that their examiners' contracts specifically state that no discussion of the content of future exam questions should ever take place.

"Any breach of this clear contractual obligation is something we would take extremely seriously, and act on."

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