Students could try to submit plagiarised work to improve grades this year, exam boards warn

Students could try to improve grades this year by submitting work that is not their own, exam boards have warned.

Teacher judgements will be awarded this year after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row due to disruption from the coronavirus pandemic.

Under plans, teachers will have wide flexibility in how they form their marks, including using questions set by the exam board, work done in class, and homework.

New guidance for schools on determining GCSE and A-level grades this year has warned it is “possible” some pupils “may attempt to influence their teachers’ judgements about their grades”.

“Students might attempt to gain an unfair advantage during the centre’s process by, for example, submitting fabricated evidence or plagiarised work,” the latest guidance from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said.

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“Such incidents would constitute malpractice and centres are asked to report these to the appropriate awarding organisation.”

The new guidance – published on Friday – also warns schools that students or parents might also put pressure on staff to try and improve grades.

Under a section over exam board questions which teachers can use to help form judgements, the JCQ guidance says these can take the form of a test – which can be remote– or as homework.

“However, if this work is going to contribute towards the determination of a student’s grade, it must represent their own work,” it added.

“Once all the students’ work has been marked, if there is reason to believe an outcome doesn’t reflect a student’s usual level of performance, because of a specific circumstance – for example, because of the conditions the student completed the work in – it doesn’t have to be included in your range of evidence.”

Exam boards said that robust mechanisms should be in place to ensure that “teachers are confident that work used as evidence is the students’ own and that no inappropriate levels of support have been given to students to complete it”.

“Awarding organisations will be investigating instances where it appears evidence is not authentic,” the guidance added.

Officials confirmed earlier this month these questions set by exam boards will be published online, allowing students to look up materials in advance that they may be set and which may contribute to their final grade.

While school leaders and education experts warned this move could benefit more privileged students, Ofqual, England’s exam regulator, said it would prevent questions from being leaked once made available to teachers – which could give some pupils an “unfair advantage”.

Earlier this week, the education select committee raised concerns over this year’s grading system, which they said could lead to a “wild west” of grades for students.

Robert Halfon, the Tory MP who chairs the committee, warned of the potential for grade inflation and a lack of consistency between schools in a letter to the education secretary.

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Meanwhile, headteachers are concerned that schools and colleges only have 12 weeks before they must submit grades to exam boards, adding that the wait for detailed guidance on awarding grades was “frustrating”.

Philip Wright, director-general at JCQ, said: “JCQ and the awarding organisations appreciate the urgent need for detailed guidance on how grades will be awarded fairly and appropriately this summer.

“We have worked with Ofqual and the DfE to ensure our guidance has been published as quickly as possible following the outcomes of the conclusions of their consultation.”

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said: “The guidance published today will support teachers with those decisions and support schools and colleges with their own processes, helping to maximise consistency across the country and ultimately maximise fairness for our young people.”

He added: “We trust teachers in their decision-making and students can be confident that they will receive grades that enable them to progress to the next stage of their lives.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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