Ofqual warning over social media exam leaks

Headteachers should remind their pupils not to be “distracted” by claims of exam paper leaks on social media, the chief regulator of Ofqual has said.

In her letter to heads ahead of the summer exam series, Sally Collier warned that “sharing exam papers or questions, real or fake, could result in disqualification” and told leaders to prepare pupils for the possibility that claims about their exams could circulate online.

Leaks of real and fake extracts from exam papers online have become an increasing problem in recent years as use of social media has increased.

Last year, questions from an entire Edexcel A-level maths paper were circulated on social media before the exam, prompting an investigation and arrests.  It followed similar leaks in 2017 and 2018.

Police also investigated potential malpractice in relation to an AQA religious studies exam paper last year after parents raised concerns that elements from the paper had been circulating on social network Snapchat.

In her letter, Collier said: “We know that students often take to social media after their exams to voice their views about exam papers, but there have been instances, before exams take place, of individuals claiming to have copies of live questions or papers, and in some cases offering them for sale.

“I urge you to remind your students not to be distracted by such claims, or to share them. Sharing exam papers or questions, real or fake, could result in disqualification.”

She added: “If you or a student has any reason to believe the security of an exam paper has been compromised please inform the relevant exam board immediately.”

Collier also revealed that exam boards “will be changing some of their established practices and introducing some new measures to enhance the security of their exam papers, and to detect the source of breaches of security should these occur”.

“Some of these will be apparent to schools and colleges and will be explained by the exam board,” Collier said. “Others will, intentionally, not be visible and so should not have any impact on how you receive, store and administer exam papers.”

The revelation follows the culmination last year of a review by the exam boards of malpractice, which recommended greater monitoring of leaks of exam papers on the dark web, along with a blanket ban on all watches in exam rooms.

Ofqual revealed last December that the number of malpractice penalties issued to pupils after they were caught with a communication device in their exam room rose by 7 per cent in 2019.

In her letter, Collier reminded heads that “mobile phones and smart watches must be switched off and stored away from students during exams”.

“Students need to know, in advance, that they must not take these items into the exam hall. We know that exams officers put a lot of  work into getting this message across, but still some students do not understand the possible consequences of breaching this rule.”

As revealed by Schools Week last week, the chief regulator also confirmed that Ofqual is currently working with exam boards and the Department for Education to establish whether any additional contingency measures should be put in place this year in response to the outbreak of Coronavirus.

“In the meantime, your students should continue to prepare for the summer exams as usual,” she said.