'Compromised' GCSE paper withdrawn
A GCSE paper has been postponed after examiners shared "inappropriate" information with teachers about its content.
Ofqual said an information and communications technology (ICT) paper set by the WJEC, the Welsh exam board, had been compromised, and would be withdrawn to protect the "integrity and security" of the qualification. The paper will be amended and pupils will take it in early March.
The move was included in an urgent report ordered by ministers earlier this month in the wake of allegations that examiners had been secretly advising teachers on how to boost GCSE and A-level results.
The regulator's report found that, at a WJEC seminar on part of a GCSE ICT course, attendees were told which topics pupils would be assessed on. "This is in clear breach of regulatory requirements, and it compromises the planned exam," the report said. Around 450 pupils were due to sit the paper next month, and schools and colleges will be informed of its withdrawal.
In response to the report, Education Secretary Michael Gove warned that "larger-scale reform" of exams may be necessary in the future. He said he was aware that, in some cases, it had been argued that "actions were within the letter of the existing rules for exams". "Nonetheless, I am clear, and the public reaction proves, that they have overstepped the mark on what is felt to be an acceptable level of advance information," Mr Gove wrote in a letter to Ofqual.
Three examiners, two from WJEC and one from Edexcel, were suspended as inquiries began earlier this month into claims that teachers were given unfair advice and told that one exam board set easier tests. The allegations, made in the Daily Telegraph, centred on teachers being given detailed advice at exams seminars on forthcoming exam questions and how students could score higher marks.
Mr Gove ordered Ofqual to look into the claims and report back by Christmas. Their report said that the newspaper had also highlighted concerns in particular about WJEC GCSE history. No papers for this qualification are due to be taken in January, Ofqual said, and issues relating to this course and others would be investigated at a later date.
Exam boards have also been ordered to put in extra controls on seminars, and told to review their published guidance and seminar material on exams.
Ofqual chief executive Glenys Stacey said: "This update outlines our initial plans and findings and the actions taken to protect future exams. Where we have found evidence that a question paper has been compromised we have taken action. We are continuing our work to study the material provided by the Daily Telegraph. There is no evidence at this stage that other exams in January are similarly affected."
WJEC chief executive Gareth Pierce said: "In relation to GCSE history, our investigations confirm that advice given to teachers at the seminar attended by the Daily Telegraph is well known to all centres through our published teachers' guide, and was also a feature of the previous specification; hence no question papers have been compromised."