Exam papers are to be micro-chipped for the first time this summer in an effort to stop them being leaked online, one of the UK’s largest exam boards has announced.
Pearson, which owns the exam board Edexcel, is piloting a new scheme where micro-chips will be inserted into packs of A-level and GCSE exam packs.
This will allow Pearson to track the time, date and location of an exam pack if it is opened early, meaning the school or exam centre in question can be alerted to the breach, and hopefully before they can be leaked online.
The new scheme comes after two consecutive years of Edexcel’s Maths A-level papers being leaked in 2017 and 2018. Since then police have launched an ongoing investigation after exam questions were reportedly circulated online and auctioned off for hundreds of pounds the night before approx 50,000 students sat their exam.
Derek Richardson, Pearson’s vice president, wrote to headteachers to explain how it is improving its security ahead of this summer’s A-levels and GCSEs. In his letter, Mr Richardson acknowledged that “breaches of security can serve to significantly undermine trust” in public examinations.
Pearson said that a total of 29 candidates had 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 inappropriately obtained.
Last summer, the exam board AQA also admitted that some of the contents of their GCSE Chemistry paper were shared by a pupil on social media before the exam, resulting in all students being awarded full marks for the affected question.
Mr Richardson requested headteachers regularly inspect the secure storage area where exam papers are kept to check for any irregularities, noting that the security of question papers should never be the responsibility of a single person.