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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Review of test papers security
college website
Inquiry centres on Carmarthenshire College
By BBC News Online's Gary Eason

Investigations are going on after a security breach which could have affected national tests involving thousands of youngsters.

Supposedly secret trial versions of questions for the tests were put on a private website by a teacher at Carmarthenshire College.

Some students have said that similar questions turned up in the actual tests they sat.

But the qualifications authorities said on Monday they were confident that any security breach had been very small and that in general terms the tests had not been compromised.

BBC News Online has learned that a wholesale review of the procedures used to design the tests is going on, involving the various qualifications authorities, exam boards and others.

'Problem contained'

The contents of the website involved were removed on Friday evening after the intervention of the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) in England, David Hargeaves.

The QCA is declining to confirm publicly the nature of the tests at this stage, but believes that only a small number of people had seen the pages.

Mr Hargreaves said on Monday: "I think it is a contained problem."

He is working with his Welsh counterparts, ACCAC, on an immediate investigation.

"We shall be looking to see what lessons can be learned from this episode," he said.

"As far as I can see there is no threat to the integrity of the tests but part of the lessons learned is that it could have been something much bigger than it is and we need to learn any lessons that may be drawn."

The college principal, Brian Robinson, declined to comment beyond saying that a detailed investigation was underway and he was working closely with the regulatory authorities to resolve the situation.

The homepage-style website - which the college stresses was not part of its official site - was run by teacher Steve Bell. He offered it as "a resource for anyone interested in teaching, learning or managing" the disciplines covered by the tests.

It did not pretend that the questions were anything other than those used in a trial at the college last October.

Students 'shocked'

Anyone reading the papers would not have known they were supposed to be secret.

An e-mail sent to BBC News Online said: "We are students at college. We are just sitting our exams. We were shocked to find the actual questions and answers on the net."

In fact, the site did not appear to have answers or a marking scheme, merely a blank computerised marking sheet.

Unusually for national tests, this particular series is spread over more than one day.

The wider review of the issues thrown up by what happened involves the various qualifications authorities, exam boards, and those involved in the pre-testing process.

Further announcements on that are promised in due course.

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See also:

22 Mar 01 | Education
Students given wrong test results
18 Aug 00 | Scotland
SQA puts figure on exam mistakes
12 Aug 00 | Scotland
Minister confirms exam mistakes
30 Aug 00 | Scotland
Exam results sent to wrong schools
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