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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Teachers accused of GCSE cheating
CD being put into a player
Teachers are worried about the fairness of the music exam
Teachers are accusing each other of "blatant cheating" in a forthcoming music GCSE exam.

Schools are sent music CDs which are used to test pupils' listening skills.

These discs can be checked several days in advance to make sure they work - but teachers are claiming some schools may use this to gain an unfair advantage.

Exam board Edexcel says it is fair that teachers can check that the CD is functioning correctly - but that this is on a basis of professional trust.

But there have been concerns that teachers have already been involved in online discussions about the content of the CDs to be used in this summer's exam.

Music teacher Robert Steadman says that the listening part of the exam has been "compromised" and should be replaced.

"This is an outrage. Surely the music teacher should not be the person checking the CD and nobody should be discussing the contents of the CD until after the exam," said Mr Steadman, who contacted the BBC News website with his concerns.

'Playing field not level'

An angry exchange over the fairness of the procedure broke out on a teachers' forum on the website of the Times Educational Supplement.

It revolves around a CD of music extracts supplied by the exam board for use in the listening paper for GCSE music.

There are claims that teachers who check the CD in advance will be able to target their pupils' last-minute revision accordingly - using this as a way of leaking the contents.

"Some teachers know what music is going to be on next week's exam? And by that rationale, they know what's not?" wrote one.

"So someone knows that for example, there isn't a piece of gamelan on the exam. Are they still going to revise gamelan with their classes?"

Others defended the pre-listening - with one saying "there is a world of difference between checking to see if a CD actually works and working out the questions".

But this drew an incredulous response from another contributor: "I am appalled that you were even give the CD, your exams officer is a numpty! and you are blatantly cheating... the playing field is certainly not level."


Another challenged the plausibility of allowing teachers to know what was in an exam - and for that not to influence their remaining teaching time.

"I do not believe that anyone who has heard the CD for a listening exam will not bias their lessons during the coming week when pupils are still getting confused about things that they [the teacher] knows will not appear on the paper."

A number of those contributing to this debate said they would contact exam board Edexcel to warn them of their worries about the fairness of this process.

Edexcel says that it sends discs to exam centres in advance so that pupils are not disadvantaged by a faulty CD - allowing time for schools to get a replacement if necessary.

And it says that its procedures are designed to ensure that the exam is "secure and fair for all candidates".

The recordings on the CD should be checked "under strict security", a spokesperson said.

"Any information gleaned from checking the recordings must remain confidential until the examination has been sat by the candidates."

The Examination Officers' Association says that subject teachers are allowed to check discs by some exam boards - and that they are "trusted to get on with it in a professional way".

Discs and tapes are sent out for exams in other subjects - such as modern languages - with an exams officer pointing out in an e-mail to the BBC News website that a school could receive 80 such recordings for the exam season.

Not all exam boards allow teachers to check music discs beforehand. AQA says that it "specifically instructs teachers not to open the packages containing the CDs before our exams".

A spokesperson for the AQA exam board said problems with CDs were "highly unlikely" and that as a back-up, two CDs are sent to exam centres. If there was a further failure, another disc would be sent by courier and the start of the exam could be delayed.

We invited your comments on this story. Here is a selection:

This is a definite breach of security. The materials received should be dealt with by an Examinations Officer. Teachers of the subjects should not be allowed access to the material until the day of the exam; even then this should again be dealt with by the Exams Officer. Security should be paramount when it comes to examinations. To then discuss their findings online is an absolute disgrace.
James Kerr, London

From the Examination Officers' Association: Exam officers try their best to deliver what the exam system demands following the rules and regulations laid down by Awarding Bodies, who are over seen by QCA. The procedure in the past regarding this issue is for exam officers to pass any discs over to a subject staff to check to see if they work. You can not have students sitting there ready to go on the day of the exam with the prospect of faulty discs. Unlike papers they cannot be emailed or faxed on the day if there was a problem. A specific time should be agreed to do the checks and to get discs back ready for the exam period. Trust and professional respect for fellow staff in important here. If centres had faultless discs then, like papers, this would not be an issue! The reality is things do go wrong for no specific reason and therefore people doing the job have to be trusted to get on with it in a professional way.
Andrew Harland, Reading

My daughter takes her exam tomorrow so I hope her music teacher hasn't cheated! Agree there should be better methods - CDs have been around for a while so presumably the cheating option has been too!
Sue, West Midlands

It should be straightforward - the examinations officer for each school should check the CD. The subject teachers should be told only that the CD is functioning properly or not. The content should not, I feel, be revealed in advance.
Michael Winston, Birmingham

Exam office staff should check the CD - obviously. Anything else should be dealt with as malpractice... This sort of thing needs to be sorted properly before there are even more concerns about 'easier exams'.
Jerry Cullum, Alton, Hampshire

The person who checks the CD should be unconnected with the school's music department, eg the Exam Officer or head teacher. The situation would then be parallel to other examination papers, which are kept secure until needed.
Ruth, Gloucestershire

As an Exams Officer, I have not got time to check every cassette or CD that arrives (about 80 in total). It is not just music - all language exam tapes/CDs need to be checked for GCSE and AS/A levels I have to rely on my colleagues' integrity, which, fortunately, I can.
M Sealy, Bath

Can't Edexcel test the CDs before they send them out?
Jan, Southampton

I agree with Jan... Surely it should be the sole responsibility of Edexcel to check the disks are working before sending them out? The only thing the schools should test is whether their individual CD players and sound systems work. If the teachers themselves get a chance to listen to the music, even if it is just testing, it would be impossible for what they hear not to influence their teaching - either consciously or sub-consciously.
Becki, Basingstoke

Why are these exams still utilising old fashioned methods of delivery? If these exams were delivered through a secure server there would be no need for disks or testing and would eliminate the possibility of cheating being inferred.
Kat, Essex

With the advent of MP3/ iPods and so on, why are exam boards even bothering with CDs at all? The examination material should be streamed over a broadband internet connection established from each participating exam centre at the given time. The broadband link could be tested in advance without recourse to accessing the exam material until the appointed time.
Andrew, London

We ran a French A-level aural (listening) exam using computer sound files rather than the issued tapes, after discussion with our exam board the transfer was made by an IT technician under the supervision of a French-speaking ICT teacher... the languages department never came near it!
Megan, Cheshire

Kat and Andrew are right to mention modern delivery methods, but maybe haven't seen the standard of the IT facilities at some of the schools I've worked. Relying on a broadband connection to stream live music exam pieces is about as realistic as taking English comprehension exams set in alphabetti spaghetti.
Brendan, London, UK

When I took A level sciences in the 1980s we would always have a 'practice' practical exam a few weeks before the A level that turned out to be exactly the same as the real practical exam. So this sort of thing has been going on for a long time. This is the tip of the iceberg teachers and school cheat and twist the system in a lot of ways in my experience.
Darren, Dover

We were given the entire list of actual questions, and answers to memorise, for our German oral exam some 20 years ago. There will always be poor teachers that feel the need to cheat on behalf of their students, in order to cover the fact they are failing at their job.
Angela, Scotland

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