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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 20:16 GMT 21:16 UK


Education

Inquiry into school test 'cheating'

One school opened the test pack ahead of time

Three officials have been suspended after half the primary schools in a local education authority received a tip-off about the contents of the National Curriculum English test for 11-year-olds.


BBC Education Correspondent Sue Littlemore: "A local teacher alerted the curriculum authority"
Government advisers say they are confident that teachers in the London borough of Wandsworth acted responsibly and did not pass the information on to children.

But the results of schools in the area will be scrutinised closely for any evidence of unusually high marks.

The case is likely to raise further doubts about the security of National Curriculum tests, which the government is using as a key measure of its success in raising school standards.

Earlier this year, the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, Chris Woodhead, questioned the validity of the tests. He said many were "administered in a creative way".

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has attempted to assuage such fears by instigating spot checks at schools to uncover any malpractice.

Last year, the QCA received 245 allegations of cheating, but uncovered only three cases where disciplinary action was taken against teachers.

Rumours

Wandsworth announced the suspension of the three education officials pending an inquiry into how rumours about Wednesday's English test spread through its primary schools.

The rumours correctly predicted that the reading comprehension test, which makes up a third of the test, would include a poem, and that the subject matter would be spiders.

However, the QCA says it is confident that the integrity of the tests has not been compromised.

In conjuction with Wandsworth, it carried out checks at all the borough's primary schools and found just one where a headteacher had - contrary to strict guidelines - opened test papers ahead of time.

It also found that half the headteachers in Wandsworth's 60 primary schools had heard the rumours about the contents of the tests, but said they had not acted on it.

Clues

It is understood that clues to the contents of the test were first passed on to a number of Wandsworth schools by a literacy consultant during a training session for teachers.

The authority has declined to comment on allegations that officials who became aware of the breach of security then "rang round" other schools with the same information, in a misguided attempt to ensure that none remained at any advantage.

The Chairman of Wandsworth's education committee, Malcolm Grimston, said: "The council expects the highest standards of its staff.

"We will take firm action against anyone found to have contributed to the speculation surrounding this year's test."

About 600,000 11-year-olds in England and Wales took the English test on Wednesday as part of a week of tests in English, maths and science.





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