Call for evidence - Review of safeguards to prevent disclosure of confidential information about examinations

Published: 17/01/2018, 10:51am
CCEA Regulation is responsible for the quality assurance of qualifications offered in Northern Ireland and ensuring that each recognised awarding organisation takes responsibility for the quality and standards of its qualifications


CCEA Regulation is responsible for the quality assurance of qualifications offered in Northern Ireland and ensuring that each recognised awarding organisation takes responsibility for the quality and standards of its qualifications.

As set out in our rules awarding organisations are required to take all reasonable steps to prevent the disclosure of confidential exam papers and other assessment materials. If a breach of confidentiality is suspected by an awarding organisation, it must be investigated and appropriate action taken.

CCEA is the main Awarding Organisation (AO) offering General-GCSE and A/AS Level-Qualifications in Northern Ireland. As is the practice with the other AOs offering General Qualifications, CCEA contracts suitably qualified people to write individual questions and/or whole examination papers. Those contracted are required to have relevant subject expertise and, as such, will include teachers currently teaching the subject. In addition, CCEA engages subject experts (that can be teachers) to review draft questions and papers.

In light of the potential for any conflict of interest, all AOs, including CCEA, have well managed safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of examination papers. This review is looking at the robustness of the safeguards currently in place, and whether these need to be improved.

We are now calling for evidence from interested parties to inform our review, and welcome responses to the following questions:

  • Are there unacceptable risks introduced with the current practice whereby some question writers and/or examination paper reviewers are also teachers of these papers?
  • Do the benefits of the current arrangements outweigh the risks?
  • Are the safeguards in place sufficiently robust?
  • If current practice is to be continued, should the safeguards be strengthened? If so, in what ways?

We would welcome your responses by Wednesday 28 February 2018. The questionnaire can be accessed here.


There are benefits in practising teachers being involved in the writing and reviewing question papers. Teachers are well placed to predict how candidates will respond to question(s) and, as such, this supports the appropriate targeting within papers. Teachers also provide a necessary source of expertise with up-to-date subject knowledge and understanding. Current practice allows teachers to be involved in the examinations process but requires awarding organisations to manage any conflicts of interest.

TThe benefits, however, need to be balanced against the risk of malpractice and how this might affect public confidence in the integrity of GCSE and A/AS Level qualifications. Regulatory rules require AOs to take all reasonable steps to prevent disclosure and secure the confidentiality of assessment materials, in particular examination papers. In addition, AOs must investigate any suspected or alleged breach of confidentiality and take action against those responsible for the malpractice. Actions taken must be proportionate to the gravity and scope of any identified malpractice. As the regulator, we have guidance in place to support AOs as they decide how to comply with these and other rules.

Despite the safeguards in place, a small number of allegations or suspicions about teacher examiners is reported each year. Confidential information may have been passed to candidates or to teaching colleagues. These incidents can be reported by candidates (or their parents/guardians) or by teachers/Head teachers. AO monitoring procedures may also provide evidence of suspected malpractice.

It is not acceptable for examiners to disclose confidential information about examinations. Such behaviour undermines confidence in these important qualifications. Allegations or suspicions are investigated by the relevant AO and, where evidence is found that substantiates malpractice, appropriate disciplinary action is taken. This might result in a teacher being barred/prohibited from teaching.

Where an awarding organisation finds that confidential information about an examination has been disclosed to candidates, it will usually adjust the way in which the grades given to those candidates are calculated. Such adjustments are made so that candidates are not advantaged or disadvantaged by actions taken outside their control.

We are now reviewing the relative benefits and risks of teacher involvement with developing examinations and the effectiveness of the safeguards that used to prevent or reduce the risks of disclosure.

The nature of the evidence we are seeking

We are inviting contributions from anyone who has relevant insights or experiences to share. We wish to hear from people who:

  • have been involved with developing examination materials;
  • may have taught alongside colleagues who had access to confidential assessment materials before the examinations were taken;
  • were taught by teachers who knew, or said they knew, what was going to be included in specific examinations.

We would particularly like to hear views on:

  • the benefits and risks of teachers being involved in developing examinations for qualifications they teach;
  • the effectiveness of the current safeguards in place to prevent disclosure; and
  • if involvement of subject teachers continues, how safeguards could be strengthened.

We would also like to hear from you if you have insights into, and experiences from, other sectors and/or other countries that you believe would be relevant to the review.

All evidence will be treated in confidence by us and will be used solely to inform this review. Ofqual, as the qualifications regulator in England, is undertaking a parallel review and we would want to share our evidence and findings with them. We will not investigate any specific complaints or allegations raised through receipt of evidence. We would intend to complete a report based on our findings in Spring 2018.

Please respond to this call for evidence by 28 February 2018 by accessing the questionnaire here.

Note to Editors

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