OCR fined £125k after GCSE exam answers found in textbooks

OCR will be fined £125,000 by Ofqual after partial answers to GCSE computing exam questions were found in textbooks it had endorsed.

An investigation found the exam board had failed to “identify and monitor conflicts of interest”, when the authors of some GCSE computing controlled assessments had also written textbooks it endorsed.

The textbooks included partial answers that were similar, and in one case “identical”, to some test answers used in the 2016 and 2017 assessments, Ofqual found.

OCR had “failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the confidentiality of controlled assessment tasks was not compromised in circumstances where those tasks were prepared by persons who had created training materials, specifically textbooks”, the regulator said.

OCR has apologised, but insisted the errors had “no impact on students or on exam results”.

The fine also relates to OCR’s failures to report suspected malpractice in its tests, and to incorrect guidance given to schools about the level of supervision needed during the exams.

In April 2016, Ofqual was notified by OCR that a textbook, OCR Computing for GCSE, published in August 2012 and endorsed by the exam board, appeared to include a solution to two parts of its 2016 controlled assessment tasks.

The issue was flagged up by a teacher who noticed similarities between pupils’ responses and then identified the solution in the textbook.

The error made headlines at the time, and was shared widely on social media.

Ofqual found that a code set out in the textbook was identical to the “mystery code” that formed part of the controlled assessment, and found that pupils with access to the textbook, which sold almost 50,000 copies would have had an advantage in the test.

Later in 2016, Ofqual was informed that another textbook, OCR GCSE (9-1) Computer Science, which had been published in May 2016 and which was endorsed by OCR, also appeared to contain a solution in a 2017 controlled assessment.

Again, Ofqual’s experts found that pupils would have been advantaged in the test if they had had access to the textbook, which sold more than 5,000 copies.

The investigation found that the authors of the textbooks were also the principal moderators of the controlled assessment units, and had devised the tests.

The authors had declared an interest to OCR, which did not have a “clear or sufficient process in place to follow-up declarations made by persons who had been invited to write assessment materials”.

OCR said in its own report on the matter that it had found “no assurances to confirm that OCR’s controls to manage conflicts of interest of its assessor personnel are sufficient”.

The board admitted that material from the textbooks it had endorsed was not considered by its assessment material evaluation committee when it reviewed proposed controlled assessment tasks, even where the assessor had declared their authorship of a textbook.

OCR also admitted it did not have in place “sufficient guidance or controls to assist assessors and potential assessors to make accurate and comprehensive declarations”.

Furthermore, OCR also failed to refer 72 instances of suspected malpractice from the 2015 exam series, 12 of which related to GCSE computing, to its compliance team for investigation.

it had also incorrectly informed schools in guidance for the controlled GCSE computing assessment that the test could be conducted under “medium control”, with only informal or partial supervision, when in fact they were supposed to conduct “a high level of supervision and control”.

Ofqual found that OCR had breached 15 conditions relating to the assessments, and decided to fine the board £125,000.

“Challenges around coursework malpractice in the subject are well known but we recognise there were a number of regulatory areas in which we failed to meet the standards rightly expected of us and we breached conditions. Importantly, these had no impact on students or on exam results,” said OCR in a statement.

“We have invested heavily and worked extensively to put things right, and have changed our processes in response. Coursework has now been removed by the regulator for all new computer science (9-1) GCSEs though OCR is committed to exploring the best way to ensure computer science students get authentic programming experiences in the future.”

Update, April 20, 2018:  Ofqual has confirmed it will fine OCR after issuing a “notice of intention” to issue a fine in March. The exam board has to pay £125,000 and £5,842 towards Ofqual’s costs within 28 days.

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