In an article in the Telegraph, 15/04/13, Graeme Paton reports that new rules may be introduced to govern practical science exams after part of an A-level test paper was leaked onto a revision website.
The existing three-month “window” handed to schools to complete assessments with Britain’s biggest exam board may be narrowed to avoid future security breaches, it was revealed.
It comes after claims that an AS level biology test taken by more than 20,000 teenagers in 360 schools had been “compromised”.
Under current rules, pupils are supposed to carry out practical experiments under exam conditions and write up their findings, which are then externally assessed by examiners before counting towards final A-level grades.
Schools across the country are given between the start of March and mid-May to complete the paper.
The move is designed to ease the pressure on some schools that may not have sufficient lab space to allow all pupils to take practical exams at the same time.
But earlier this month it emerged that questions from this year’s Externally Marked Practical Assignment (EMPA) in biology – set by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance exam board – had been leaked almost word-for-word onto the “Get Revising” website.
Pupils from a number of schools are understood to have come across the questions, which were based on the issue of surface area-to-volume ratios, while attempting to prepare for the test.
Leading figures from the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents top private schools, insisted that the test had been undermined by the security breach and called for the end of exams sat over such a long period.
Bernard Trafford, head of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle, said: "It's just a stupid way to do an exam. If it needs to be done, it must take place within a proper timeframe."
Anna Wicking, head of biology at Manchester Grammar School, said: “All these breaches do is raise and further narrow the grade boundaries required of students which makes achieving top grades even more difficult for honest, hardworking students.”
AQA denied the paper had been compromised because the leaked questions had not explicitly referred to the EMPA and students would not be expecting them to be repeated in the test.
But it admitted that it was now reviewing the length of time afforded to schools to complete the assessment to avoid any repeat.
In a statement, the board said: “We don’t think that any student who saw the material before taking their EMPA would have had any particular advantage – because they wouldn’t be expecting that specific material to come up.
“So we can reassure students that the marking and awarding of the EMPA will carry on as normal.”
It added: “We are completing our investigations and will send a report of our findings to Ofqual. One of the issues we are considering is the ‘window’ that schools are given to complete EMPAs, and whether this is appropriate.”
A spokeswoman for Ofqual, the exams regular, added: “At this stage we have no reason to believe that there is a problem that would compromise the awarding. Should further information come to light then this would have to be reconsidered.”
The latest disclosure will heap further pressure on examiners to tighten up procedures following a series of high-profile controversies in recent years.
In 2012, some 250 exam papers were upgraded after markers working for the OCR exam board failed to properly add up pupils’ GCSE and A-level results.
A year earlier, at least 10 mistakes were found in A-level and GCSE papers set by exam boards across Britain – affecting hundreds of thousands of pupils.
By Graeme Paton, Education Editor, The Telegraph. Click here to read the article © The Telegraph.