Enhanced question paper security meaures

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Important information for customers

In the UK summer examination series in 2017 and 2018, Pearson was subject to a limited external breach of its Maths A Level paper. The police have made progress in their investigation from the first limited breach and have referred the first case to the Crown Prosecution Service. They are also finalising their investigation with the second case and we hope that they will soon be sending materials to the Crown Prosecution Service. We hope this latest update will act as a deterrent for any other isolated individuals that consider this course of action.

Below is the letter that we have shared with our customers on this critical development, which also contains a broader update on the measures we have taken and will continue to take to enhance security around our question paper process. Letters have also been made available for our customers to share with students and their parents which you can read on our Qualifications website.


Letter to customers:

Dear Headteacher,

With the summer examination series fast approaching, your centre will soon start receiving secure question papers. In light of this, I wanted to update you on the measures we have taken to enhance our approach to security; provide the latest information we have received from the police in their investigation after last year’s security breach; and offer guidance on ways your centre can help ensure the security of exam papers during this summer series.

**Question paper security measures

Breaches of security can occur for different reasons, including candidate malpractice, centre staff error and deliberate malpractice. Although they are not common, breaches of security can serve to significantly undermine trust in the system, so we continue to implement a number of activities to limit the potential for them to occur. Actions we have taken include:

  • deployed enhanced tracking technology for question papers, (which enabled us to identify the source of the breached question papers last year)
  • updated the JCQ Instructions for Conducting Examinations ensuring two individuals are required to check the date and time of papers before packaging is opened
    worked with JCQ Centre Inspection Service to implement new types of inspections, and carried out additional inspection visits of our own
  • added additional labelling to question paper packages and worked with the JCQ to align our question paper front covers so that the date and time of the examination are the most prominent item.

This summer we will be using the same enhanced tracking technology which enabled us to identify the source of the security breach in 2018. We are also piloting an additional digital solution (micro technology), to monitor the integrity of question paper packets. This uses technology that will allow us to track the date, time and location of packages in the extremely unusual event that they should be opened early.

GCE Mathematics Breach of Security Investigations Update

As you may know, our GCE Mathematics question papers were affected by external breaches of security in the summer 2017 and 2018 series. Whilst we are confident that the extent of the breach was limited to a very small number of candidates, we know these incidents impacted public confidence. We have confirmed that both 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. 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.

Your role in ensuring security is maintained during this Summer series

As a Head of Centre, we value the vital role you play in upholding the integrity of qualifications. This includes your help in maintaining the security of question papers and supporting Examinations Officers.

We know that you work incredibly hard to do both of these. Below are two areas that may be helpful to bear in mind during the examination season:

  • please ensure that Examinations Officers are aware of your centre’s examination arrangements and work with them to identify and source any additional support during critical periods with significant time pressures
  • please familiarise yourself and your senior staff members with your centre’s question paper practices and procedures, and regularly inspect the secure storage area. Question paper security should never be the responsibility of a single individual.

We are committed to supporting you to be able to store papers securely. We have therefore also made available a letter which can be sent home to parents and/or students, if you so wish. Please visit our Qualifications website to download a copy of this letter. If you would like to discuss this note, or have any concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Thank you for your ongoing support, I wish you and all your students the best of luck for this summer series.

Yours sincerely,

Derek Richardson

Vice President, Responsible Officer

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