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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Leaked A-level inquiry goes on
student writing
Exam board investigation has so far drawn a blank
The exam board at the centre of the scandal over the sale of A-level exam papers has been interviewing a number of students in an attempt to trace the source of the leak.

Edexcel was left to go it alone a week ago when police dropped their inquiry, saying there was no evidence of any criminal offence.


The papers are freely available ... Have a friend from Hong Kong send it to you if you will

Student
An Edexcel spokeswoman said there was "no progress" to report but its investigation into claims that A-level papers were available in advance for 400 was ongoing.

Edexcel says it remains the case that only one student is known to have had one paper - he showed it to private tutors who reported it to the board.

The tutors have said they believe that others were available but there is no hard evidence of this.

The police said when they dropped the case that the maths paper could have come from "hundreds of sites" around the world.

'Timezone cheating'

In an internet newsgroup discussion about the matter, "John" wrote: "I didn't cheat. I hadn't seen any papers before or anything. I just think that the world is free.

"The papers are freely available. You are freely available to purchase them ... Have a friend from Hong Kong send it to you if you will."

This is a reference to so-called "timezone cheating": Someone in the Far East can have taken a paper hours before someone in the UK, who in turn is well ahead of the Americas. The process has been made easier by the growth of the internet.

"John" is John Hunt, co-founder of the web guide to broadband connectivity, ADSLguide.org.uk, who has just finished his A-levels.

Exams 'unfair'

"I don't care if people cheat - that's up to them," he told BBC News Online.

"If they know how to do it ... if they can arrange for the paper to be on their desk at home before they sit the exam, then frankly ... I think they deserve to get an A.

"Exams are 'corrupt' anyway. How unfair is it for people to sit a one and a half hour examination to judge their ability of the work they have done over a year...?"

That such an enterprising young man feels this way suggests an "us and them" attitude among students, with the exam boards as the bad guys.

Edexcel said that even if someone remembered every question and e-mailed them to a contact in the UK, it would be of limited use.

"If you are lazy and haven't done the work then it won't help you very much," a spokeswoman said.

Simultaneous

Another of the other big three English exam boards, AQA, insists that its papers are sat at the same time everywhere.

Spokesman George Turnbull said wherever candidates were - Singapore, Hong Kong, Africa - they sat the same exam at the same time as in the UK, precisely to rule out cheating.

The OCR board says its overseas involvement was limited mainly to British forces' schools.

"Timezone cheating is certainly an issue that we are aware of and have been dealing with," an OCR spokesman said.

"We took steps about a year ago to neutralise it. This is likely to be a growing problem as more and more people link into the internet and will be taking further steps quite shortly to deal with that growth."

But students should not think they had a monopoly on internet usage.

"We monitor, we check, we look. It is possible to track who is talking to who and to alert people," he said.

"Don't forget: We are also part of the net."

Students alarmed

But the leaked A-level paper was apparently available too far in advance to have come from timezone cheating.

The presumption therefore is that it must have come from a corrupt official or teacher somewhere with access to the packages of scripts which are supposed to be kept sealed until the time of the exam.

This might have been faxed into the UK from abroad, or scanned and transferred on the internet.

But Edexcel appears to be focusing its efforts on catching anyone who might have benefited from the paper, by checking exam scripts.

This hunt for cheats has caused alarm among honest students and their teachers because of Edexcel's earlier suggestion that an apparently dramatic improvement in a student's performance might be an indicator of wrongdoing.

People e-mailing BBC News Online said people often did better than predicted.

"When I was at school I was predicted C, D, D/E for my A-levels. When I sat my exams I eventually got A, B, B," wrote Sharon.

Raising grades

"I never cheated, I just studied hard. I know that you can do badly in mocks but still shine in the real thing, and I feel that a number of students who will do the same as I did will now have to suffer scrutiny and self doubt rather than appreciate the praise they deserve for the hard work that they do."

Samer Kassam wrote from Kenya to say: "Many candidates from my school failed in their mocks A- levels, so their predicted grade should be an E, but during that period me and my colleagues have spent hours during weekdays and weekends with teachers to sort our problems out."

And private "crammers", whose teaching staff include examiners, make it their business to raise students' exam performance legitimately, through intensive tuition - charging from about 2,000 to more than 10,000, depending on the course.

One of the best independent sixth form colleges, The Tuition Centre in north London, while stressing its commitment to broad educational objectives, says in its prospectus:

"Students come to the college with the aim of obtaining high grades in their examinations, usually in order to achieve university entrance. Our role is primarily to help each individual student achieve his/her best possible exam results."

List of achievements

The centre proudly publishes on its website a list of its former students' names, predicted A-level grades and what these were raised to in their actual results, and what university course they went on to.

This shows people going from CCC to AAA, for instance, and on to study optometry, or DE to AA and a university dentistry course.

The Abbey Colleges group, with centres in London, Cambridge, Birmingham and Manchester, offers one-year A-levels among its range of courses.

"The entire syllabus is completed from scratch - students quickly learn the basic facts and principles and then concentrate on applying them to exam questions," it says.

Short courses for A-level re-takes are offered "for those students who need to improve their grades rapidly".

Edexcel promises that, in investigating possible cheating, it will take into account whether or not people have been tutored.

See also:

18 Jun 01 | Education
Police drop exam leak inquiry
14 Jun 01 | Education
Police probe exam cheats
15 Jun 01 | UK
Buying your way to success
14 Jun 01 | Education
A-level students feel cheated
25 May 01 | Education
Tests changed after security breach
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