Eton pupils' marks disallowed over second exam paper leak

Boys studying art history are said to have shared details of paper, it emerges a week after deputy head quit over suspected leak

Eton college has been hit by further controversy over exam questions being leaked to its pupils, after it emerged that sixth formers’ marks had been disallowed for the second time this summer.

The Guardian has learned that Eton pupils studying art history had their marks in one paper disqualified after the exam board, Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), investigated reports that pupils at the school had prior knowledge of the exam’s questions.

The news follows the revelation by the Guardian last week that a deputy headteacher had left the famous boarding school, and sixth formers taking economics had had their final results altered after the teacher was said to have circulated exam questions.

Both cases involve CIE’s Pre-U certificate, regarded as equivalent to A-levels and popular in many independent schools but which has come in for criticism over the high potential for security breaches.

Independent school teachers frequently act as chief examiners for Pre-U papers, allowing them advanced access to questions – and raising fears among other headteachers that some have taken unfair advantage of Pre-U courses.

The head of one school, a member of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) of leading private schools, told the Guardian that the controversy had “made up our minds” on putting pupils in for A-levels rather than the Pre-U certificate.

Ofqual, the exam regulator for England, is also said to be taking a close look at the Pre-U’s structure.

Pre-U certificates are only sat by 4,300 candidates a year, a tiny number compared with the 828,000 A-levels sat in the UK this summer. Tight security means A-level chief examiners often do not also work as teachers or in schools.

CIE is the only board to offer the Pre-U exams. CIE is part of Cambridge Assessment, a non-teaching department of the University of Cambridge, which includes the OCR exam board offering conventional GCSE and A-level exams.

Chris King, the HMC chair, who is head of King’s grammar school in Leicester, said: “We have been concerned for some time, particularly in the smaller entry qualifications, about the exam boards’ reliance on teachers to both set exams and teach the students who will sit them.”

A letter from Eton’s headmaster, Simon Henderson – obtained by the Guardian – sent to pupils and families said details of the Pre-U art history paper “was sent by a teacher at another school to pupils there in advance of the examination.

“This communication was then forwarded to a boy at Eton and circulated amongst the majority of boys in advance of them sitting their art history examination.”

Eton college said in a statement: “Following an investigation by Cambridge International Examinations, pupils at Eton who sat Pre-U art history this summer were deemed to be inadvertent recipients of confidential information in relation to one paper.

“This matter related to information that Eton pupils had been sent via a pupil at another school in advance of the examination. No member of staff at Eton was involved in any way.

“Whilst the pupils had done nothing wrong, CIE awarded them assessed marks for that paper according to its established method. Eton co-operated fully with CIE’s investigation throughout.”

Earlier this week the Daily Telegraph reported that an art history teacher at Winchester college had been suspended after giving pupils “prior information on exam questions” in the Pre-U art history exam.

CIE confirmed that the two cases were linked, and that the exam material obtained by Winchester pupils was shared with pupils at Eton.

As a result of CIE’s investigation, Henderson told parents: “There is no suggestion that anyone at Eton has done anything wrong.

“However [CIE] has decided that they cannot accept the marks of any candidate at Eton for this component because to do so would threaten the integrity of the exam and certification.”

Pupils were told their marks for the first part of the art history paper would be discarded, and the pupils would instead receive a final grade based on an average of their marks and forecast grades.

King, the HMC chair, said independent schools wanted an urgent meeting with CIE in the wake of the Winchester and Eton exam leaks.

“A meeting has been set with the Cambridge International exam board to discuss this summer’s Pre-U qualification to seek assurance that sufficient safeguards are in place.

“We need to ensure that senior teachers who take on the responsibility for setting exams are not placed in an impossible position, and the very few who may be tempted to give their pupils too much help cannot do so,” King said.

A spokesperson for Ofqual said the regulator was not aware of any other cases involving CIE Pre-U or other CIE qualifications.

“We review all instances of reported malpractice each summer, and the actions the exam boards have taken. We will consider if any further action, investigation or strengthening of rules is required,” Ofqual said.


Richard Adams Education editor

The GuardianTramp

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