'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 64.

    There was an experiment a couple of years ago where pupils with A and A* results at A level sat a paper on the same subject from the 1980's with the marking criteria appropriate for that year. As I remember, about 5% still achieved an A, with the rest scattered among the B's and C's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Years of liberal interference has corrupted a once excellent educational system. The outcome? The UK now has a generation cossetted half-wits with no focus or stamina!

  • 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 61.


    #42 I used to go to my local bookstore & BUY previous exam papers .

    Nothing new there! I passed my School Certificate, (in which you had to pass at least 6 papers in a single year/sitting), many years ago

    . I still have a book of old papers that I bought back then, and, yes, there was a regular pattern to the questions even then.

    And the questions were harder too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Save time and lets get to the top of the education league tables - don't teach and just give the answers to the exam questions. We'll have a morons, but Top-Of-The-League morons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Gove will see this as a sign to open up education to more privatisation. It'll be counter productive just like his English Waccy Baccy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    This is just part of the on-going process of making governments who have under-invested in proper teaching methods look good when ever-rising pass rates come out each year. They can't dumb down the questions every year, so now have to reveal what dumbed down questions will be asked. That's why employers are turning down candidates with GCSE's who are functionally illiterate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    It is unfair to say this results in lazy teaching. This insight only comes towards the end of a module closer to the exams. Students will have studied all aspects of their course by then. But through focussed revision will gain an in depth understanding of one key element of their subject which they never would have before. Where is the problem in that?! They become experts in that topic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    What on earth has happened to education in the uk , its gone all wrong somewhere along the line, to many folk trying for university not because they really want to but have been pushed into it , we are not all Einsteins we are just diluting the mix making it weaker , lots of folk would like to learn blue collar jobs !! "doh" there are none its just a ruse to lower the unemployment figures sad sad

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Damn ~ when I took my exams in 1987 ~ we suffered the opposite ~ the teachers FORGOT to teach half the relevant things in the exam. When we queries this ~ "why didn't we know about x,y & z" ~ they just apologised and said "sorry we didn't think that would be in the exam". Might explain why exam results have been improved each year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    The fact some teachers pay to go on conferences does not mean all teachers do. The idea this discredits the entire system is wrong. It merely brings shame to a small few, Examiners who seek a financial reward and wealthy schools who seek an advantage over their less afluent neighbours. This has to be viewed in perspective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    6. Simon said "I have been teaching for twenty years and year on year the exams are easier and the exam boards less scrupulous"

    At last an honest teacher - the rest of us non-teachers suspected this all along but most teachers are in denial.
    Many teachers (and LSAs) understand what's going on but their Heads will make things impossible for them should they speak out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    #42 I used to go to my local bookstore & BUY previous exam papers published by the exam board going back 5 years. As a basically lazy but not stupid student it was a pretty safe bet that if a variation of the same question came up 5 years in a row that practising answers to that question was a smart plan. It worked too. The advice given is this 'seminar' is hardly rocket science.

  • 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 48.

    Another often overlooked problem having differnet examination boards is the parent trap. If you have teenaged children then it is very difficult for patrents to change job as the new school will almost certainly be folowing a different slyabus. Mobility of labour at what should be the time ones career is gaining momentum is nigh on impossible.

  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Educational qualifications are a joke. How do they expect them to be taken seriously when the exigencies of commerce corrupt the examination system. It is disreputable for lots of examining authorities to be in commercial competition. There should be ONE examining board only.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    6. Simon said "I have been teaching for twenty years and year on year the exams are easier and the exam boards less scrupulous"

    At last an honest teacher - the rest of us non-teachers suspected this all along but most teachers are in denial.


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