Thousands of British teachers caught cheating to improve their pupils’ exam results

There were about 2,300 cases of teacher malpractice in one exam board’s A-level and GCSE exams over five years
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Thousands of UK teachers have been caught cheating to try to improve their pupils’ test results, figures from one of the country’s leading exam boards show. 

Nearly 2,300 malpractice offences were committed by staff in educational institutions offering OCR exams between 2012 and 2016, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request by The Sunday Times.

OCR is Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations, an exam board that sets both A-level exams used for university admissions and GCSE exams for 16-year-olds.

More than half of the teachers committing malpractice offences were accused of providing “improper assistance” to students taking exams. In comparison, there were 3,603 cases of candidates being caught cheating over the same period.

  Cheating in exams is the equivalent of taking drugs in athletics and the punishment [for teachers] should be commensurate

The data shows students being punished more harshly than their teachers, with about 1,000 being disqualified from the paper or entire qualification. In 14 cases, the pupil caught cheating was disqualified from all qualifications.

In comparison, 581 teachers caught breaking the rules were given warnings, 113 were sent for training and only 83 were suspended from exam roles.

In a statement, OCR said: “Like all exam boards, we take any allegation of malpractice very seriously and work closely with schools to resolve issues quickly and fairly. We report our malpractice figures every year to Ofqual.”

Alan Smithers, a professor of education at the University of Buckingham, told The Sunday Times: “Cheating in exams is the equivalent of taking drugs in athletics and the punishment [for teachers] should be commensurate.”

England’s exams watchdog, Ofqual, announced last summer that it was reviewing the system of allowing teachers to be involved in setting exam papers. It followed cheating scandals at two prominent public schools.

Mo Tanweer, a deputy headmaster at Eton, left the college amid allegations that he circulated questions from an upcoming economics exam to other teachers.

Winchester college suspended its head of history of art, Laurence Wolff, after allegations that he gave students prior information about exam questions.

In November, research from the RSA found the number of teachers caught cheating had increased fourfold, with 388 penalties for the offence in 2016, compared with 97 in 2013.

Speaking when the report was launched, its author and the RSA’s director of creative learning and development, Julian Astle, said education had become “like a game of ‘whack-a-mole’”, with schools finding ever more inventive ways to play the system.

“Our school system, with its focus on tests, targets, league tables and inspections, is full of unintended consequences and perverse incentives,” he said.

“It has become such a game that it is forcing teachers and school leaders to choose between helping pupils and helping themselves.”

Speaking to the education select committee in November, Michelle Meadows, an executive director of Ofqual, said it was considering preventing teachers from teaching topics for which they had been involved in developing the exam, but added that “there are some really thorny issues associated with that which would need working through”.

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