'Exam tips to teachers': Michael Gove orders inquiry


Secret filming courtesy The Daily Telegraph

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Investigations have been launched in England and Wales into claims that some examiners gave teachers unfair advice on GCSE and A-level questions.

The Daily Telegraph said it had filmed an examiner telling teachers at a seminar which questions to expect.

The Welsh exam board has suspended two people, but insists the claims relate to a misunderstanding of advice.

The prime minister's spokesman has said the exam system is in urgent need of reform.

And the Education Secretary Michael Gove says the claims "confirm that the current system is discredited".

The boards involved are investigating - as are England's exams regulator Ofqual and the Welsh government - which regulates exams taken in Wales.

Ofqual said exams should be run in a way that was "fair and open to all".

The Telegraph said it had secretly filmed a chief examiner telling teachers, who had each paid up to £200 to attend the seminar, which questions their pupils could expect in forthcoming exams.

It said the advice appeared to go far beyond standard "guidance".

'We're cheating'


When does helpful advice for students on exams become cheating? That is the question that is at the heart of the outcry about these allegations.

A good teacher will prepare their students well for their exams, studying all areas of the syllabus, showing them what will get them the best marks. They will use their experience to make a calculated guess about what might or might not come up in an exam. All the exam boards hold these seminars to inform teachers about their qualifications and tell them how students did in the previous year's exams. And that is allowed. The allegation here is that some individuals working for the exam boards went too far and said what topics would and would not come up.

The other issue here is the potential conflict between exam boards - as businesses - and the need to maintain exam standards.

Michael Gove is concerned that exam boards might be tempted to offer easier exams to attract schools to them - and thus contribute to a "dumbing down" of standards. Schools want their students to do well and are under league table pressure to do that too. The whole area is now under intense scrutiny.

The newspaper said its undercover reporters went to 13 meetings organised by exam boards used by English schools.

It alleged that teachers were "routinely" given information about future exams, including questions, syllabus areas to focus on and even the specific words or facts students must use to win marks.

It quoted a named examiner at a seminar on GCSE history as telling teachers that a compulsory question in the exam "goes through a cycle".

He gives the subjects for the forthcoming exam, adding: "We're cheating, we're telling you the cycle."

When told that this information was not in the course specification, the examiner said: "No, because we're not allowed to tell you," according to the paper.

Mr Gove said he had asked the new chief executive of Ofqual, Glenys Stacey, to investigate and report back within two weeks.

He 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."

'Not secretive'

Mrs Stacey said: "It's right that awarding bodies provide support and guidance for teachers, it's not right if they're selling privileged access to inside information."

Ofqual says it might consider "pulling" certain exam papers or questions in up-coming exams.

Michael Gove: "Exam boards could lose the right to set exams"

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "We are very clear that our exam system needs fundamental reform.

"The revelations we have seen today show our current system is discredited. We are very clear we will take whatever action is necessary to restore faith in the exam system."

The WJEC exam board, one of those named, said: "Most of the issues raised... relate to an incomplete understanding of the generic advice on teaching approaches given in good faith at professional development sessions with the aim of enhancing students' appreciation of the subjects studied and their assessment."

It added that the courses described in the article were "by no means secretive" as the information was freely available on its public website to ensure teachers and students were not disadvantaged in cases where teachers were unable to attend.

Another board, Edexcel, said examiners' contracts stated that no discussion of the content of future exams should take place.

Start Quote

You wouldn't dream of having, say, different boards offering driving licences”

End Quote Chris McGovern Campaign for Real Education

"Any breach of this clear contractual obligation is something we would take extremely seriously, and act on. On this basis, we are speaking to those examiners identified... in order to fully understand the context and complete nature of the conversations they had at these events," it said.

Profit motive

Teachers and head teachers say both schools and the exam boards are working under "intense pressure" .

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said: "For too long we have judged schools on their ability to exceed crude thresholds of exam passes, but this was only ever a proxy for a great education.

"As today's allegations suggest, passes can be achieved in good ways and bad ways.

"As long as the system is managed on crude data and cruder incentives, these risks will be rife: market forces crowd out ethics, and league tables crowd out judgement.

"These events remind us that the profit motive sits uncomfortably with the values of education."

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said the Telegraph's allegations were "extremely serious" and 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," he said.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said the system needed to change: "What we need to do is stop having examination boards competing against each other. What we have to do is to have one single examination board.

"You wouldn't dream of having, say, different boards offering driving licences. You've got to have one exam board, like most countries do, so that there's some integrity to the system. Without that, I'm afraid, it's just going to carry on getting worse."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    I returned to study my computer science honours degree in my 30's And found that the tutors ONLY taught the exam questions and nothing else. In the papers that gave the option to answer two of the five questions, we had not covered anything to help us answer 3 of the questions but we had repeatedly covered 2 of the questions for a whole year! I understand universities write their own exam papers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    As well as teaching I also mark for an Exam Board. The way papers are marked is more prescriptive, meaning students miss out on marks if they don't present info the correct way. This is supposed to be done to ensure consistency but in reality its a cost-saving exercise because it means papers are easier to mark. But teachers have a tough time because the Boards aren't transparent about this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I'm not surprised at all, when I took my GCSEs and A levels a few years ago, the emphasis was always on learning mark schemes and regurgitating information rather than really understanding the subject. This only short-changes students as they come out feeling they've done really well, only for them to go into the real world and realise that that is only an illusion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I know current teachers who have helped write exam papers and regularly share up and coming questions with students so they meet targets, thats the pressure of league tables

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Passing exams in the UK has always been about guessing what might come up and preparing for that. It's all about exam technique and those with less knowledge but who know what to expect from the exam will get higher marks than those with a greater in depth understanding of the subject who haven't been told by their teachers what to expect in their exam.


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