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Blog - Examiners could be barred from setting papers in courses they teach to pupils, exam regulator says

Teachers could be barred from setting exam papers under proposals being considered by Ofqual in the wake of the public schools cheating scandal.

In a clampdown on exam malpractice, teachers who are also employed by exam boards would only be allowed to write individual questions, which would then go into a “bank” and be selected at random for upcoming tests.

Alternatively, the regulator may allow teachers to continue to set exams, but stop them from teaching the courses to their own pupils.

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A third option could be for teachers to prepare multiple exam papers but not be told which is the official version, meaning no individual teacher would know what the questions will be.

This would stop examiners from gaining advanced knowledge of the papers, and prevent them from leaking the information to their pupils in order to boost grades.

The proposals were discussed yesterday during a Parliamentary inquiry into the “integrity of public examinations”, which is being overseen by the Commons education committee.

The inquiry was launched earlier this summer, after The Telegraph revealed that teachers at some of England’s leading independent schools had leaked exam questions to their students.

They include the former head of economics at Eton College, Mo Tanweer, and the head of art history at Winchester College, Laurence Wolff.

Both were employed as examiners for Cambridge International Examinations (CIE).

The controversy saw pupils at both schools have their marks voided in several papers. Mr Tanweer was dismissed for gross misconduct, while Mr Wolff opted to take early retirement.

This newspaper also revealed that the head of art at Radley College had been found to have committed “technical breaches” in art GCSE exams over two years.

Meanwhile, pupils studying A-level French at Queen’s Gate school were found to have been given pre-prepared answers for their oral exams.

The disclosures forced the Government to launch an inquiry, with an Ofqual report, due to be published next year, likely to recommend wholesale changes to the way public examinations are set.

Appearing before the committee, Ofqual’s executive director of strategy Michelle Meadows said exam malpractice was “deeply unfair” and undermined public confidence in the exam system.

“One possibility is that teachers can continue but are not allowed to teach the specification which they are writing,” she added.

“[Alternatively] there’s the proposition that teachers can continue to teach the specification but they won’t know when the questions they are working on will come up.

“But there are also some straightforward, quick wins…improved transparency around sanctions [against teachers] and campaigns around whistleblowing”.

It came as the exam board at the centre of the scandal, CIE, admitted that it had uncovered 719 proven cases of exam malpractice last year, nearly treble the number reported in 2013.

However, it’s chief executive, Michael O’Sullivan, was unable to provide figures showing how many teachers had been investigated, or how many cases related to exams sat in England.

Members of the education committee said the trend was “deeply worrying”, and expressed concern that the CIE’s procedures for monitoring exam malpractice were not regulated by Ofqual.

CIE is also one of the only major exam boards not affiliated with the Joint Qualifications Council, a body which monitors the GCSE and A-Level qualifications.

Asked about the predominance of independent school teachers employed as examiners, Eton College’s headmaster, Simon Henderson, revealed that eight of his teachers set exams in England. Seven are sat by pupils at Eton.

Whilst welcoming Ofqual’s proposals, Mr Henderson stressed that new safeguards had already been implemented following Mr Tanweer’s dismissal.

They include forbidding teachers to discuss their role as an examiner with colleagues or pupils.

Speaking to The Telegraph, committee chairman Robert Halfon said that current safeguards had failed to deter teachers from cheating, adding that he believed the scale of the problem was “more widespread than indicated”.

“I am not confident that there are proper safeguards in place,” he added. “The fact that there were 719 cases of exam malpractice is something I am incredibly concerned about.

“I believe that Ofqual should be regulating CIE. I think the exam board needs to get its house in order, and convince the committee that malpractice has been rooted out.”

Chris King, Chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said: “Transparency is crucial and HMC welcomes yesterday’s select committee hearings on the security of exam questions.

“It is important that teachers continue set exam questions to ensure they are relevant and valid.

“Any new safeguards should be proportionate and ensure probity whilst ensuring hardworking teachers are not put off becoming examiners.”