Exam papers are to be micro-chipped for the first time this summer in an attempt to combat online leaks, one of the country's biggest exam boards has announced.
Pearson, which owns the exam board EdExcel, is piloting a new security initiative which will see micro-chips inserted into packs of A-level and GCSE questions.
The technology will allow Pearson to track the time, date and location of an exam pack if it is opened prematurely, meaning the school or exam centre in question can immediately be alerted to the breach.
It is hoped that the technology will make it easier for officials to swiftly identify the perpetrator and contain any potential leak before information is circulated more widely.
Derek Richardson, Pearson’s vice president, wrote to headteachers to explain the various ways that it is stepping up security ahead of this summer’s A-levels and GCSEs.
The move follows two consecutive years of EdExcel’s Maths A-level papers being leaked. Police launched an investigation last summer after questions were reportedly circulating online where they were being auctioned off for hundreds of pounds the night before around 50,000 students sat the A-level exam.
In 2017, last minute changes were made to the exam paper at some schools after it emerged that questions had been disseminated ahead of the exam.
Pearson said that a total of 29 candidates have been disqualified over the two leaks, and police investigating the 2017 breach have now passed a file to prosecutors.
A possible criminal offence would be theft, if the exam paper had been improperly obtained from the exam board.
EdExcel is not the only exam board that has fallen prey to online leaks. Last August, the exam board AQA also admitted that some of the contents of the GCSE Chemistry paper were shared by a pupil on social media before the, resulting in all students being awarded full marks for the affected question.
In his letter to school leaders, Mr Richardson acknowledged that “breaches of security can serve to significantly undermine trust” in public examinations.
Pearson will continue to use “enhanced tracking technology” on exam paper packs, which helped to identify some of the culprits involved in the leak last summer, he said.
Mr Richardson urged headteachers to regularly inspect the secure storage area which exam papers are kept to check for any irregularities, adding that question paper security should never be the responsibility of a single person.
Mr Richardson said that both the 2017 and 2018 EdExcel incidents were caused by “individuals deliberately setting out to subvert our controls”.
“We have continued to support the police in their investigations, but due to the complexity and unusual nature of these cases, it has taken time to investigate,” he said.
“The police informed us that in February, they referred the first case to the Crown Prosecution Service with the aim of bringing charges against those arrested.
“The individuals responsible for these incidents are therefore now being held to account for the disruption that they caused.
“The police are finalizing the second case and we hope that they will soon be sending materials to the Crown Prosecution Service.”
Pearson has also written to students and parents, encouraging them to come forward and report any information they might have about potential malpractise and warning about the consequences of involvement in exam leaks.
Source: The Telegraph