It’s vitally important that our exams and assessment system is robust and fair. This ensures that the grades students work so hard to achieve are respected by everybody, including employers and further education providers. Everyone involved in the administration of exams and assessments has a role to play in following the rules and regulations that are in place to protect the integrity of exams and assessments. When things go wrong, we need to quickly identify, report and investigate those issues.
In this blog, we’ll explain what malpractice is and how to avoid it. We’ll provide guidance on what to do if you suspect malpractice or maladministration has occurred. We’ll also look at some of the common scenarios that JCQ exam boards see each year, including the consequences that apply when things do go wrong.
What is malpractice?
Malpractice, including maladministration, means any act, default or practice which is a breach of the regulations that apply to the exam or assessment being taken. This can involve centre staff as well as students.
Malpractice doesn’t necessarily involve an intention to cheat or gain an unfair advantage. The vast majority of allegations that JCQ awarding bodies deal with involve unintentional breaches of the regulations, usually caused by a lack of knowledge of the requirements contained in the JCQ Instructions for Conducting Examinations (ICE). However, even when malpractice is unintentional, the consequences can be significant.
Malpractice also doesn’t necessarily only affect the students involved – a breach of the regulations could potentially impact all students at every centre taking that assessment.
When an awarding body has received a credible allegation of malpractice they have a duty to establish whether the malpractice or maladministration has occurred. The process that awarding bodies follow so is set out in JCQ Suspected Malpractice Policies and Procedures.
What can I do to avoid malpractice?
Planning ahead is the best defence against things going wrong. It’s therefore hugely important that all those involved in the administration of exams and assessments are familiar with all of the relevant regulations before the assessment starts. The people who need to know include:
- heads of centre
- exams office staff
- practical assistants
- language modifiers
- staff conducting specific assessments, for example, Art & Design NEA, MFL speaking assessments.
The best way to protect your centre and students against malpractice and maladministration is to make sure you’re following all of the requirements contained in the ICE. This covers all of the regulations around the conduct of examinations and assessments, including the obligation to ensure the secure storage of confidential exam papers.
As malpractice isn’t just confined to centre staff, it’s equally important that students know what’s expected of them. In particular, make sure they know:
- what to do in the exam room and how to behave
- where they’re meant to be, and at what time
- what they’re not allowed to bring into the exam room e.g. mobile phones, watches
- the possible consequences if they’re found to have breached the exam or assessment regulations.
- for an NEA, that any work they do must be their own – that they shouldn’t plagiarise by copying from the internet or from other students.
Malpractice can have serious consequences for centre staff and students. The details of offences and their applicable sanctions for both centre staff and candidates can be found in Appendices 5 and 6 respectively of the JCQ Suspected Malpractice Policies and Procedures.
How to report malpractice
It’s important to remember that all instances of actual, alleged or suspected malpractice must be reported to the relevant awarding body – failure to do so is an offence itself.
If you believe you’ve witnessed malpractice in exams and assessments, or suspect that it has taken place, you should contact your head of centre immediately. Your head of centre has a duty to report all such incidents to the relevant awarding body and to comply with any subsequent instructions from the awarding body.
To report candidate malpractice, please use form JCQ M1. To report centre/staff malpractice, please use form JCQ M2. Both documents can be found on the JCQ website.
If you have concerns about raising such issues with your head of centre, or if you feel that your senior management team is involved, then please contact the awarding body directly. Contact information for the awarding bodies can be found in Appendix 11 at the end of JCQ Suspected Malpractice Policies and Procedures.
We encourage anyone who has information regarding malpractice to come forward and report the matter. If you want to remain anonymous, this will be respected, unless an awarding body is legally obliged to report the identity of the person making the allegation. The identity of any employee making allegations of suspected malpractice within centres may be protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 if the disclosure is made to their employer or to Ofqual. Further information on whistleblowing and protected disclosures can be found at Public Interest Disclosure Act (Whistleblowing) – JCQ Joint Council for Qualifications
If you’re in any doubt about what to do, please contact the relevant awarding body.
Here are some common examples of centre and student malpractice cases that JCQ awarding bodies have encountered – including the consequences for those involved.
1) Case type: security breach
Outcome: several students disqualified, staff warned
A timetable clash meant that several students were sitting their A-Level Economics exam in the afternoon, rather than in the scheduled morning session. They were supervised in the morning by an invigilator. To support students’ revision, the invigilator provided them with a copy of what they thought was an old question paper. The invigilator actually, by mistake, provided them with a copy of the A-Level Economics paper they were due to sit that afternoon.
The students were aware of the error but, rather than reporting it, instead chose to study the paper in detail. The awarding body became aware of this when they received contact from a student at a different school who had been told what had happened. Evidence of the alleged malpractice was identified in text messages between the students.
The exam board asked the head of centre to gather evidence, including statements from the relevant staff members and students. The students involved were disqualified from all of the awarding body’s qualifications in that series and the staff involved were provided with written warnings.
2) Case type: deception
Outcome: teacher barred from delivering awarding body’s qualifications
Whilst reviewing students’ Health & Social Care assessments, a teacher amended students’ work, in order to enhance their work ahead of an upcoming moderation visit. This was done without the students’ knowledge.
The college became aware of this due to the teacher’s IT activity and reported it to the awarding body. Upon investigation, it became apparent that more work had been altered than the teacher had initially admitted, including making amendments for a unit they had not taught.
The outcome of the case was that the teacher was barred from any involvement in the awarding body’s qualifications for a period of four years.
3) Case type: Improper assistance
Outcome: students’ work not accepted, teacher barred from delivering awarding body’s qualifications and invigilator instructed to undergo training
During their Art exam, three students were given direction by their teacher regarding their art work. They were also permitted to listen to music via their headphones.
The Head of Centre became aware of this and reported it to the awarding body. Following the investigation, the case was put before the Malpractice Committee. The Committee found that the teacher had provided improper assistance and that both the teacher and the invigilator had committed maladministration by allowing the students to listen to music.
The teacher was barred from delivering the awarding body’s qualifications and the invigilator was instructed to complete additional training. The students’ work could not be accepted and so they received a calculated mark for the component.
4) Case type: maladministration
Outcome: Head of Department barred from delivering an awarding body’s qualifications for four years
A school became aware of a number of concerns relating to students’ Art exams. Concerns included students having access to their phones, assessments being completed in the incorrect timeframe, students being allowed to listen to music, and students continuing to work on their pieces after the exam. In addition, the Head of Art had tampered with some students’ paintings.
The Head of Art acknowledged that the exam hadn’t been conducted in accordance with JCQ regulations. She hadn’t read the JCQ regulations or the invigilation information that had been given to staff.
The school reported their concerns to the awarding body, who decided that the case clearly showed a failure to adhere to the regulations, as well as malpractice due to students’ work being tampered with. The Head of Art was barred from delivering the exam board’s qualifications for four years.
1) Case type: unauthorised materials
Outcome: student’s paper disqualified
Before sitting their Business exam, students were advised by their school that they weren’t allowed to take phones into the exam hall – and all students were asked to confirm that their phones were off and in their bag. During the exam, one student said that they’d finished the paper, then took out their mobile phone from their pocket and began using it.
The school submitted a JCQ M1 form to notify the awarding body, alongside an incident log detailing the above events, signed by the student and invigilator. The awarding body found the student to be in breach of JCQ regulations due to their possession of an unauthorised item and they were given 0 marks for the paper, meaning they didn’t pass the qualification.
2) Case type: copying and collusion
Outcome: Candidate disqualified, invigilator received warning and also required to undergo training
An examiner reported that multiple answers in the scripts of two students from one school were similar. The awarding body asked the Head of Centre to gather evidence regarding the matter.
When the Head of Centre interviewed the two students, one of them admitted to copying the other’s work. The investigation highlighted that the school hadn’t ensured there was sufficient distance between the two students.
The student who’d copied the work was disqualified from the qualification as a result. The invigilator received a warning and was required to undertake further training.
3) Case type: social media
Outcome: Candidate disqualified
At midday before they sat an afternoon exam, two students received an Instagram post containing the images of six papers. The post claimed these were taken from the question paper the students were due to sit that afternoon.
The two students reported it to their teacher immediately, who then contacted the awarding body which confirmed the images were of the live paper – and they conducted a thorough investigation to identify the sender.
Once the sender was identified, they contacted the relevant school, who confirmed that the student in question had a timetable clash, meaning they’d taken the exam earlier. When the student was approached, they immediately admitted to smuggling a phone into the exam and taking these images, which they then shared to Instagram.
The investigation identified the majority of the followers who’d viewed the post – some had only seen the post briefly and some didn’t have their phone with them at the time.
The student who’d taken the images and shared them received a disqualification which meant they weren’t able to pass the qualification.
4) Case type: plagiarism
Outcome: students given a formal warning by the awarding body
Before students completed their coursework, their college informed them about plagiarism and the need to reference their work. However, during the moderation process the moderator alerted the awarding body to suspected plagiarism.
The plagiarised material was predominantly confined to facts and definitions and the two students had copied and pasted this information into their projects.
The college was not found to have committed malpractice, as teachers had taught students about plagiarism and how to avoid it. However, the two students who had plagiarised were given a formal warning by the awarding body.
This blog was first published in April 2022.
About the author
Richard is the Head of Exams Integrity at AQA. The team is responsible for ensuring that the regulations for AQA examinations are adhered to and all allegations of suspected malpractice or maladministration are investigated to ensure fairness to all centres and students alike.
Richard joined AQA in 2017 after having spent over 20 years working in the legal profession. He therefore knows the importance of knowing and abiding by rules and regulations which helps maintain the integrity of the qualifications for the benefit of those who rely on them.