Exam boards to check teacher-examiners' lesson plans

Some teachers who help to write exams will have samples of their lesson plans checked by exam boards under new rules to tackle cheating by teacher-examiners.

Ofqual, the exams regulator, said today it will press ahead with proposals outlined in March to check lesson plans of teacher-examiners, despite objections from many of the respondents to a consultation on the issue. However, the checks will not be used in all circumstances.

The clampdown was first announced in September, in the wake of a cheating scandal that rocked several of England’s most famous private schools and has led to pupils having their results nullified.

Although Ofqual initially threatened to stop teachers from being able to help write exams altogether, it dropped the proposal after recognising they make a “valuable” contribution to high-quality papers.

Ofqual has now reviewed the safeguards that are in place to “prevent disclosure of confidential information” by teachers who set exams, after exam material was shared with pupils at Eton College and Winchester College.

It follows a consultation to which just 35 people and organisations responded, despite around 1,300 teachers being involved in writing exams in England.

Despite objections to its plan to have exam boards sample lesson plans, Ofqual decided “there are situations where this might be appropriate”.

“We do not suggest that this kind of safeguard be used in every situation,” the regulator said. “We have decided to include this safeguard in our guidance.”

Respondents to the consultation called the sampling plan “unnecessarily draconian” and “ineffective”, because teachers committing malpractice are unlikely to create a record of it.

“I write papers and would never dream of sharing the detail as it is not professional,” one said. “You should not make my job harder or more onerous due to the actions of a few dodgy characters.”

The decision to press ahead has been met with fierce criticism from Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, who said the measures “undermined the professional integrity of teachers” and are “disproportionate and deeply damaging.”

Ofqual has also decided that teachers who contribute to confidential assessment materials should not know if or when those materials will be used.

Unlike with lesson plan sampling, there was “broad agreement in principle that this is an attractive safeguard”, and Ofqual believes this option gives awarding organisations a “potentially valuable safeguard which would permit the use of teachers in developing even the most high-stakes assessments”.

Similarly, proposals to check on the social media of teachers who write exam scripts, to ensure they are not sharing any information they shouldn’t, were also broadly supported.

Awarding organisations must now also establish and maintain an up-to-date register of all conflicts of interest for examiners. Exam boards will be free to decide whether to make this register public.

Thirty out of 35 respondents agreed with this proposal, but most exam boards said this would make little difference to their current practice.

According to the consultation, the changes will cost the larger exam boards an extra £50,000 a year, on average.

“We have proposed a range of different safeguards that are designed to ensure that teachers can continue to be involved in developing assessment materials. It is for exam boards to decide which safeguards to use and when,” an Ofqual spokesperson said.

“We have been clear that we consider teachers make an important contribution to the quality of exam materials and we want that to continue.”