Seven things we learned from Ofqual’s 2019-20 annual report

The exams regulator Ofqual has published its annual report for the 2019-20 financial year.

Here’s what we learned.


1. Sixteen disqualified over Pearson maths A-level leak

The leak of Pearson’s Edexcel A-level maths paper is described by Ofqual as the “most significant security breach in 2019”.

However, the paper had been targeted before, and because of additional security steps taken, Pearson was “able to quickly identify the source of the leak and those students who were most likely to have had prior access to the materials”.

According to Ofqual, Pearson sanctioned two staff and 21 students, including 16 who were disqualified. Eight of those were further debarred.

Ofqual said it was “satisfied that Pearson took appropriate steps to secure the delivery of the 2019 exam and made sure that students were treated fairly”.

A criminal investigation is ongoing.


2. Exam errors down 21%, but still ‘disappointing’

The annual report states that the number of errors in exam materials fell by 21 per cent from 90 in 2018, to 71 last year.

Following the 2018 numbers, Ofqual followed up on each of the 90 errors with exam boards to find out the cause and the steps taken to prevent a reoccurence.

While Ofqual said it was “pleased to see a 21 per cent reduction in errors in 2019”, it was “still disappointing to see 71 errors identified in question papers, non-exam assessments and materials”.

“However, we did not consider the impact of the of the errors mitigated in 2019 to be significant.”


3. 4,000 pupils’ grades excluded from prediction statistics

The report reveals that last September, exam boards reported an error in their joint prediction matrices for AS-levels.

Predictions are used to make sure that students who would previously have achieved a particular grade achieve the same grade in a given year.

However, for 2019 AS-levels, ungraded results in 9 to 1 GCSEs had not been included, meaning “the average GCSE grade of just under 4,000 students (out of a total of nearly 600k) was inappropriately excluded from the statistical model”.

However, exam boards did not believe there was “sufficient evidence” to re-open the summer 2019 awards and Ofqual “agreed with this position”.


4. Social media companies asked to help tackle fake papers

Ofqual said it had “spoken with some of the main social media companies” to “explore ways they can help to tackle the sale of real or fake papers online”.

It follows “several instances of individuals on social media claiming to have copies of live papers in summer 2019, and in some cases offering them for sale”.

The annual report states exam boards followed up on posts identified and, where possible, sanctioned students who had requested or shared the information.

However, Ofqual said it was “not possible to collect reliable data on the number of hoax leaks of exam papers or associated materials each year”.


5. More security breaches, but fewer schools opened the wrong paper

The report reveals there were 68 security breaches associated with GCSEs and A-levels in 2019, the same number as in 2018.

There was a “marked decrease” in the number of breaches relating to schools or colleges opening or handing out the wrong exam paper, which fell from 40 cases in 2018 to 25 last year.

However the number of reported security breaches involving an actual or potential question paper rose from 14 in 2018 to 24 in 2019.


6. Covid prompted 15% capacity reduction as enquiries soared

Ofqual has revealed that at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, its organisational capacity was reduced by between 15 and 20 per cent, because of caring responsibilities among staff.

At the same time, there was a substantial rise in the number of public enquiries, following the announcement that exams would be cancelled.

“We received 704 telephone calls and 522 email enquiries in total in March, approximately double what we would usually receive in a normal month,” said Ofqual.

“We have redeployed around 20 staff to key areas of the business including public enquiries,” the regulator added.

Fruitless payments as a result of COVID-19 totalled £20,000 due to “irrecoverable costs of conference venues and travel arrangements”.


7. Ofqual handled 35 whistleblowing complaints

Between April 1 2019 and March 31 2020, Ofqual received 35 whistleblowing disclosures it considered were “qualifying disclosures”

Of these, 28 related to centres or training providers, and were “referred to the relevant awarding organisation for further action”.

Of the submissions investigated, two resulted in further action being taken, 15 found no evidence to substantiate the claims and 13 are still ongoing.

The remaining seven disclosures related to awarding organisations. Of those, five resulted in further action and two are ongoing.

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